Friday, 31 October 2008

Beer O’Clock – Lagunitas

RealBeer's Neil Miller returns with his best and brightest beer post since Noah was a drinker, and the very best excuse for failing to hand in his homework last week ...

It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting on a horse saddle, and that is not even the most  interesting part of this story. The saddle is actually the top of a bar stool and I’m contemplating a bristling 8.3% Double American Pale Ale which weighs in at a staggering 100 units of bitterness. To put that in perspective, most New Zealand mainstream beers would be in the teens or early twenties on that bitterness scale.

This monstrous “hop bomb” has been poured by one of the self-proclaimed “old hippies” who run the Lagunitas Brewing Company in California, USA. While my erstwhile companions have elected to start with the more approachable Pilsner or even the recommended Saison, I’ve headed straight to the hop. I detect a hint of approval at my order.

The beer is Hop Stoopid (8.3%) and it throws a massive juicy hop nose. My notes record that it is “full bodied, resinous, thick, gummy, big grapefruit notes, deep and such a very long bitter finish.” It’s a simply stunning way to start the day.

Named after an old stagecoach town, Lagunitas is a unique brewery with an irreverent attitude. Their bottle labels and website are famously funny. They make beers to honour Hunter S Thompson (appropriately called Gonzo Ale) and the walls are covered with anti-Bush posters and stickers.

One of their beers is now known as Censored Ale. It had always been called Chronic but after many years of high sales the Government suddenly banned them from using the name. When asked about why it was suddenly unacceptable, the agency admitted it had hired a couple of young surfer dudes and they were able to detect a whole lot of drug-related references in product names the older agents had missed. Here is how Lagunitas responded on their website:

“Anyway, we were going out to, uh, the ,uh, you know, thing, and all, and when we got there, well, uh, the dude was, like- "whoa man!" I mean, and we were all, uh, you know - "whoa!" and stuff, and when I said to him, like, you know, "hey man", and all they, I mean he, was all "what?" and stuff- and I just told him what you said and all and they were all man- "not cool dude", but whatever- so, uh, we split and went back to my lair and just hung out and whatever, but the whole thing was, like, just SUCH a bummer and all but, you know, it was cool and stuff, but you just gotta, you know, about the dude and all, like, it's cool and all you know, but what's up with that "blah blah blah"? Whatzit got to do with beer and all? I mean, really, dude, whatever...but, it's cool and all...”

After starting off Stoopid, the Czech Pilsner was always going to struggle to keep up. I thought it was pleasant beer – crisp and dry and nicely made with Saaz and Cascade hops. If Hop Stoopid was a party in my mouth, this was a pleasant afternoon tea.

Looking round the rambling brewery, we learnt that Lagunitas took their virtual brewery off their website after it cost them $30,000. Apparently, an operative from the American equivalent of OSH was browsing their website (during work time), took the virtual tour and noticed a couple of sheets of safety glass missing and hit them with a safety and health audit. It probably goes down as the most expensive virtual tour ever.

I was doing the beers backwards. I finished with the Saison which was yeasty, fresh, fruity with a touch of coriander and pepper. On the newly-minted mouth party scale, it was a catch-up over coffee -– perfectly appropriate in certain circumstances but hardly a rave.

The brewery has been going since 1993 and recently expanded from 3 to 5 brewing vessels. Though huge by New Zealand standards, it still has a presence in just 26 states.

Lagunitas Brewing Company is magnificent – a gust of fresh air in a stifling corporate age. You could happily spend days trying their huge range of wicked beers and just talking with the staff. I virtually had to be dragged onto the bus which was heading to another brewery.

My consolation heading to the bus was a box of Maximus tucked under my arm. This 7.5% American Pale Ale boasted that it was so bitter that it “may remove the enamel from your teeth.” This party is just getting started.

Cheers, Neil


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