Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lagunitas Brown Shugga

This month I'm going back. Way back. Back into time... Join me as I tackle the very first beer I requested and recognized as a craft brew. Curiously enough, this is a beer from the same brewer that I also recognized as being a stalwart of the hate that certains beers have on me. Lagunitas...you bitch! You lure me in with sideways glances and touches of greatness, only to leave me grasping for breath after a swift kick to the junk. Whatever did I do to you???
The Beer:
The year was 2004. It was New Year's Eve and everyone was heading to Catalina Island for a weekend of partying, eating, and drinking. A dozen or so friends rented a cottage on the island where we'd welcome in 2005 with a bang. Being a tiny island with limited resources, we opted to stock up on food & drink on the mainland prior to departure. My job was to secure a portion of the beer for the weekend. Rather than go the easy route and hit up the local 7-11 for 30packs of Bud & Coors Light; I ventured out to a newly found beer distributor to peruse their selection. After spending what likely appeared to be an eternity just staring at the wide variety of imported and domestic craft brews, a helpful clerk asked me what I was looking for. I told him my preferences and he went to the back to grab me a six-pack of Lagunitas Brown Shugga. He gracefully went on to tell me how this was the newest seasonal from the brewery and one of the hottest items on their shelves. Thinking that I struck rare-beer gold, I promptly asked him if they had another 6-pack to purchase. He told me there probably was and that he'd bring it up to the register. After stocking my cart full of other select beers both known and unknown, I checked out and headed for the island eagerly anticipating my newfound treasure. What I discovered was a beer unlike any I had ever tasted up until then. Technically considered a Barley Wine, I had no clue what or how these flavors could exist in a beer.
The Buzz:
Not only was my palate shocked by what it was experiencing, but apparently my body was equally surprised by how such a smooth drink could pack such an alcoholic punch. Prior to Brown Shugga, I had only thought of wines and liquors as something that could be high in alocoholic content. And due to my personal distaste for either of those drinks, I automatically equated high abv with harsh tastes. Lagunitas Brown Shugga was my first foray into a smooth, drinkable beer that could easily floor you before the 6-pack was done. But I was naïve and eager to impress those amongst me with my unique beer and sophisticated taste. Little did I know that this beer would also destroy me physically and...yes...even emotinally.
Fast forward to 2010 and my sensebilities and knowledge of beer has grown exponentially. I know good beers from bad. I recognize yearly from seasonal batches. And I appreciate flavor over intoxication. This time around, I knew what I was getting into with Brown Shugga. I knew the complex layers of dried fruit and bitter hops would coat my mouth with a thick slightly spicey finish. The dark copper color and light tan head poured perfectly into my glass. And being a Barley Wine, what better serving method than a stemmed wine glass. At 9.84% abv, I didn't expect to have the desire to drink more than the 48oz limit my test dictates. What I did't realize though was that my body would only need 36oz to feel as though it had had enough.

The Hangover:
For those of you who have yet to buy into the masichistic notion of this experiment, please allow me to present you with item #1 – my second foray into Lagunitas Brewery in less than a year. Why Lagunitas? Why? What did I ever do but sing your praises and accomplishments? What do you do that poisons me so? Although not quite as bad as the hangover from Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale, I once again awoke early to a pounding headache and a burning stomach pain. Following suit, I fed the dogs, took some pills, drank some water and went back to bed. After a few hours I woke again to find that those symptopms from the early morning hours still lingered. And worse, my body felt as if it was exhausiting fumes of alcohol out of every pore in my body. A shower and coffee did help some, but not to the extent that I was comfortable to operate heavy machinery. So, after hopping in my truck and heading into work, I was sure some fresh air and a breakfast would do the trick. But alas, no aid was coming for me or my symptoms. Only time would heal these inner wounds. Only time...

The Verdict:
The best way that I can sum up this month's beer is nostalgia. Not only was Brown Shugga as good as I remembered, but sadly the hangover was just as bad as I recalled. Lagunitas is a brewery that I so badly want to be MY brewery. While others tout Stone, Pyramid, Sierra Nevada, or one of the other California microbreweries as their local favorite, Lagunitas was supposed to be mine. I found it back in 2004 and introduced it to my Michelob-swilling friends. I was ahead of the curve before I knew there was even a curve to be ahead of. But after two failed experiements this year alone --- coupled with the harsh memory of how Brown Shugga wrecked New Year's Eve so long ago, perhaps I'll have to move north and settle for Anchor Steam. Hmmm, maybe next month we'll find out if I do.
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