Beer: Brown Shugga' Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co. Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 9.9 percent
Shovelfuls of dank hops. Scoops of honey and brown sugar. A blast of grapefruit juice. Brown Shugga', how come you taste so good?
Lagunitas' barelywine-gone-awesome, Brown Shugga', has appeared in this space before, but under much sadder circumstances. In 2011, Lagunitas announced it wouldn't be producing the beer due to issues with expensive ingredients as well as the time and space required to brew and ferment the beer. For every case of Shugga' made, Lagunitas was shorting three cases of its better-selling regulars. So, the Shugga supply was halted, and Zach was angry. You wouldn't like Zach when he's angry.
This year, however, Lagunitas will avoid my Hulk-rage -- Brown Shugga' is back! The fall-release brew brings with it a unique origin story. Way back in 1997, something went terribly awry when Lagunitas tried to brew a batch of its Olde GnarlyWine Ale. To rescue the batch, the guys in Petaluma employed a tried and true method known by brewers the world over: pour in a shitload of sugar. Lucky for Lagunitas, the brown sugar they added lent a beautiful color, outstanding nose and delicious flavor to the brew. Brown Shugga' was born.
In a snifter (where this high-octane barleywine belongs) the Shugga' is a lovely shade of copper with outstanding clarity. One finger of creamy khaki bubbles trap in the aroma -- but not for long. Dive in and prepare to be surprised by the forest of hops to be explored. Bright grapefruit, a little pineapple, dank weed -- you'll need a machete to slice through the whole hop aroma.
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The hops are needed to balance the sweetness of the brew, which in the flavor is substantial. Brown sugar and honey are tempered by a smooth yet powerful bitterness that builds on the back of the tongue. An understated carbonation gently tickles the tongue amidst a smooth medium body -- it's pillow-soft, yet substantial enough to keep me interested. I can't imagine a more perfect mouthfeel for this brew.
Altogether, it's like a barleywine that leans toward the sweeter side of life. The balance is incredible, the flavor is incredible, and, as is the case with most Lagunitas beers, the price is incredible. The shugga rush is just a bonus.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.