Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lagunitas SF Fusion: Hop High

It's mystery-month here at Beer Hates Me! I'm tackling an extremely unique brew that, to my best knowledge, is no longer available to the general public. It was brewed for San Fransisco Beer Week 2011 this past February and acquired directly from the brewery from a friend. He was told that it was Lagunitas' SF Fusion: Hop High, and being the die-hard Lagunitas fan that I am, I had to try it out and analyze it for purposes of this blog.
The Beer:
Much like my other experiences with Lagunitas beers, this one tasted amazing. It is considered an Imperial IPA and had the hop quality & quantity to justify that classification. But unlike other IPAs I've explored in recent months, this one lacked the strong pine & herbal qualities that are often associated with double & triple IPA beers. Instead, Hop High brought forth a more fruity and floral sense to it. Even being packaged into a large Mason Jar with hand tightening on the lid, the beer retained the aroma, appearance, and taste of being poured straight from a tap. Whoever was tending the bar where this was poured, obviously has Popeye-level forearms. It took me nearly 15minutes to get that damn lid off!
As for the taste, it wasn't much of a surprise that Lagunitas knocked this one out the park. Every beer of theirs that I've tried has been a favorite of mine and this was no exception. Hop High, despite its name, only hit you with the hops on the initial taste. A few moments in my mouth and the hops stepped back and the malts stepped forward. Perhaps this is where they justified the moniker of "Fusion" for this brew; while at first presenting itself as an IPA, the beer soon transitions in taste to something closer to that of a Barely Wine. The dark amber color of the beer is mirrored by a strong taste or caramel and honey that lasts until the next sip resets your palate with sharp pine & grapefruit. Bitter, sweet, fizzy, & fresh - oh Lagunitas, is there anything you can't do?
The Buzz:
As with the flavor qualities of this beer, the alcoholic qualities were also layered. According to online sources, Hop High was listed with a 9.3% abv. That's quite high for many IPAs, but not unreasonably so for one considered an Imperial IPA bordering on Barely Wine levels of sweetness. For purposes of this blog, I choose to only consume 36-48oz of any beer. Hop High, however, was delivered to me in a 64oz jar. So I figured that if I drank around 2/3 of the jar, I'd hit my mark right in the middle of that required amount. Knowing that there would be no way to preserve the beer though, I decided to share the rest with friends at a party. While I sipped away on glass after glass, a few home-brewing friends took their turns at sampling this once (possibly) in a lifetime beer. They all thought it was great - layered and complex - worthy of the Fusion branding.
It was a good idea to share that remaining 1/3 though, since what I did consume certainly put me in a heavily buzzed state. It came on slow and steady however. Not enough to send me to bed immediately, but enough to know that there was a certain punch to this beer. The bitter sweetness that came with it probably didn't help in slowing down the consumption either. Because the flavors would switch, my palate never got overwhelmed and my brain never said to stop. Thankfully, my dedication to science and to this blog, programmed my brain into quitting once that jar was empty. And thankfully, I was surrounded by other drunks who helped empty it.
The Hangover:
The Lagunitas hangover - my arch-nemesis. It's destroyed me before with Censored Rich Copper AleBrown Shugga, utterly ruining both of those beers for me. In fact, Lagunitas has provided me with the worst hangovers of any of the beers I've tried on this blog. But those two varieties were both 6-packs, brewed & bottled in Petaluma, CA then shipped here to southern California and stocked on a grocery shelf. Hop High, though, was brewed and "jarred" up in Petaluma and then personally delivered to me. This beer came straight from a tap at the brewery and was only available for one week in the Bay area. The length of time between creation and consumption could not have been much shorter. Perhaps my hangover issues were a result of some odd bottling process. Or maybe they were so rough because of a weird morphing of ingredients from the time they were added until the time they were consumed. Whatever the reasons were, I was anxiously awaiting the results for this month's test. Thankfully, I did not have to wait long.
As with most morning-afters, I awoke early to dogs looking to eat and pee. And in that time, the headache and dizziness were in full mother-fuckin' effect! So while the pups ate and peed, I popped Advil & drank a glass of water, hoping that this was just a common hangover that would dissipate quickly and quietly while I returned to sleep for a few hours. Alas, that was not to be the case. Waking a couple hours later, the headache and dizziness only intensified. Worse, it was a rare Sunday that I actually had to work. So I struggled through a shower, groggily grabbed a coffee, and prayed for an easy day in the office. Fortunately, it was just me and my work and my hangover in the building and I was allowed to wallow in misery and discomfort all alone. Unfortunately, Lagunitas once again kicked my ass!

The Verdict:
It was a real treat getting to experience this unique and limited beer. SF Fusion: Hop High is exactly what I expected a Lagunitas Fusion beer to be - layered, complex, and incredibly tasty! It really amazes me the depth with which some craft breweries can and will go to simply in the name of creation. They certainly could not have turned a profit on this beer. It was created for one week only in one part of the country. There was no distribution behind it, and yet it managed to be flavorful and complicated in ways other beers never achieve. Although it wasn't the best beer I've ever had, it was certainly one of the better ones, and up there in terms of the most interesting.
Yet, once again, Lagunitas has proven to be my physiological downfall. I simply cannot process their beers in a normal manner. Clearly, after three attempts at three different beers, there is something that Lagunitas does or includes with their selection that my body doesn't agree with. Aside from a chemical breakdown and deeper controlled ingredient test, all I can conclude at this point is that Lagunitas beers will no longer be consumed in greater quantities than the occasional glass (or at most two), unless I am sadistically seeking pain and punishment the following day.
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