Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brown Shugga' (Substitute) - How Come You Taste So Good?

Beer: Lagunitas Sucks Brown Shugga' Substitute
Brewery: Lagunitas (Petaluma, CA)
Type: Double IPA
ABV: 7.85%

A good friend of mine was in DC recently and happened to have a little extra room in his customs beer allotment to bring me back a few goodies from the local liquor store, so a big beer cheers to Brad for picking this up!

Lagunitas (lah-goo-KNEE-tuss, as their labels and boxes helpfully explain) is one of the larger craft breweries in California in terms of distribution and scope.  You'll find Lagunitas offerings pretty much everywhere in the country, including New York State, Florida and DC, and although not all of their brews will get that far, the big ones certainly do, such as their big hop IPA "Hop Stoopid", "A Little Sumpin' Sumpin'" Pale Wheat Ale, their saucily-named "Wilco Tango Foxtrot" Strong Ale, and their surprisingly tasty Cappuccino Stout, among many others.

One of the biggest brews in their lineup is Brown Shugga', a strong ale that gets a seasonal release come around October when the chilly evenings of the autumn start to nip at your nose.  But in 2011, brewmaster Jeremy Marshall had to make the extremely difficult decision to forgo that year's Brown Shugga' batch because of constraints at the brewery.  At the time, Lagunitas was about to expand their brewhouse capacity significantly - a process many craft breweries go through when their demands expand beyond their usual means, forcing the brewery to seek outside investment to renovate or move.  But when the time arrived to start thinking of brewing Shugga' and with the renovation not quite complete, Marshall reasoned that in order to meet demands for their other brews (which take far less time to brew and produce a greater volume), Brown Shugga' would have to be put on hiatus.  Marshall and the folks at Lagunitas knew that such a decision would not be well-received by the fans, and so as a sort of apology beer (the best kind of apology), they released their mea culpa brew Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale Brown Shugga' Substitute, a double IPA that fit within the tight brewing schedule.  As can be expected, the fans, though upset by the year without Brown Shugga' were delighted with the new brew and demanded that Lagunitas offer the brew every year.  Which they apparently did, because it is back on the shelves, though minus the "Holiday Ale" part of the name, while sticking with the "apology", "we suck" spirit of the original substitute.  Here's the apology on the base of the six pack box:

Only the penitent brewer will pass.  Penitent...penitent...
Since the release of Sucks, the brew has become a must-have, seriously-hyped addition to the craft beer pantheon, as folks have been lining up for this rare release, putting in long drives and offering costly trades to get their hands on it.  Fortunately, my friend was able to pick this up without too much trouble (nor cost, coming in at around 11 bucks a sixer), so we're able to give it a go today.  Unfortunately, I haven't got the chance to try Brown Shugga' yet to compare it to this substitute, but at least this means that I will be able to explore the brew on its own merits.

Poured into my Duvel tulip, which is my go-to glass for aromatic strong brews like this one.  I can't find a freshness date on the bottle, but I'm guessing around October 2012 or so.  Light honey caramel in colour, with about a half inch of head, which settles nicely into a thick ring with some icicled lacing.

Nose is generously hoppy and tropical, with grapefruit, mango, orange and a resin bitterness as well.  Touch of grain and caramel sweetness as well.  Impressive.

Certainly an enjoyable double IPA, quite bitter and a bit drier than I'd expected it to be.   It begins sweet and caramel, though milder than some of the other examples of the style.  The bittering hops are all there, and there's a dry-hopped quality to it.  Citrus is overtaken a touch by the resin bitterness, though grapefruit pith and mango are still there.  Bready and a little bit soapy to the finish.

Lighter bodied, easy to drink, moderate to high carbonation.

I enjoyed this brew to be sure, and I'm happy to have the better part of a six pack left to hold on to and explore a bit more.  I can't say that I'm blown away by it, however; it feels a bit off balance - drier and more bitter than I think I'd like, but it's a fine beer nevertheless.   Not something I would go that far out of my way to get again, which considering how infrequently I get my hands on American craft brews, is a decision I have to make.  Whenever I pick up a haul, I try to mix it between brews I've had before that I really liked, brews I've been meaning to try, and a few randoms.  If I was in the States permanently, and close to some of these awesome liquor stores, I'd mix it up a bit more and try brews like this again.  But when my trips are limited by time and expense (and my how much I want to press my luck at the border), I have to be decisive.  I'd certainly recommend trying this brew if you come across it, but I wouldn't going all out to acquire it.  At any rate, I'm certainly excited to keep my eyes open for some of their usual Brown Shugga' - just to see what all the fuss is about.  (Grade: B+)

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