Monday, November 28, 2011

Lagunitas - Sucks Holiday Ale Review

Brewery: Lagunitas (CA)
Style: IPA
ABV: 7.85%
Grade: A

If you're lucky enough to find a sixpack of Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale, be sure to read the bottom of the carton for the sad, yet relatively amusing story it relates. Craft breweries often have a great sense of humor, even about themselves and their product, and Lagunitas Sucks is perhaps the finest example of that I've seen. What other industry would ever release a product called "[company name] sucks." Amazing. I love beer.

This "Brown Shugga Substitute" was brewed special for this year — for the first time — because Lagunitas ran out of capacity to brew their classic, widely-loved Brown Shugga. Like many craft breweries, Lagunitas is almost too popular for its own good, and is transitioning to a new brewhouse in order to keep up with demand. Until then, they didn't have the time and space necessary to brew Brown Shugga, which probably requires a long-ish aging period and hogs equipment necessary to make their primary lineup of beers. It happens, it's understandable, and you really can't hold it against them. But since a lot of people look forward to that annual release and Lagunitas simply had no way to make it happen, they anticipated the haters and released "Lagunitas Sucks" instead — which, as an IPA, probably didn't require all that much time tying up their equipment.

That's the story behind it, but here's what you need to know: Lagunitas Sucks is a fantastic beer (made even better by the name.) This is, honestly, one of the best IPAs I've had. I'm sure there are things out there that top it, but I can't think of a "regular" IPA right now that's significantly superior. So Lagunitas deserves forgiveness. We can all live without Brown Shugga for one year if we get this instead.

Even with a relatively high ABV and relatively mid-range IBUs, Lagunitas Sucks is all about the hops. There's no detectable caramel malt presence, much to my delight — there's enough bready malts in general to make it slightly sweet, just not enough to add a domineering flavor of their own. I get a possible whiff of citra hops in the nose; and then a beautiful, delicious mix of tropical-fruit hops, with mild spice and resin. The flavors are familiar, but more complex than other similar IPAs. The bitterness is very clean, with a focus on flavor; Lagunitas Sucks is meant to go down smooth. Of course, it's not super far removed from other IPAs; it's all in the ratios, I suppose, but whatever it is, it's perfect. This is one of the most enjoyable, pleasantly hoppy beers I've consumed, with no distracting off-notes or throat-coating, harsh bitterness. It remains perfect all the way through, as it warms, down to the last drop.

It does strike me as a bit odd to see IPAs like this being released as holiday beers. Of course, as a precedent, there's Sierra Nevada's Celebration, an annual classic. That's advertised as a fresh hop ale, so it does make some sense in that regard — beers released for the Christmas season can take advantage of the fresh crop of hops from the early fall (although recently "wet hop" ales have sort of Bogarted that claim-to-fame.) Regardless, whatever they want to call it, Lagunitas Sucks is a winner. Better than their regular IPA, which is already one of my favorite IPAs. I kind of hope they have more to apologize for in the future; god knows what wonders they'd come up with.

Availability: One time, seasonal release, as of now. Probably won't be too common, and it seems unlikely that it'll become a permanent part of their lineup, so it's definitely worth picking up if you can find it. Available in sixpacks.

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