Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale

Beer: Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale
Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 7.85%

Lagunitas sucks, but at least they know it.

I have a list of favorite winter brews, and right near the top is Lagunitas' Brown Shugga. I love its origin story, which goes like this: Something went terribly awry when the brewery was attempting to make a batch of its Olde GnarlyWine Ale in 1997. To rescue the batch, a bunch of brown sugar was added to the boil, and the hoppy, sugary-sweet Brown Shugga' was born. I also love its flavor -- every year the dank, grapefruity, syrupy goodness had me holding up the bottle and demanding, "How come you taste so good?!"

So when Lagunitas announced that they wouldn't be making any this year, I was not a happy camper. All work and no Brown Shugga' makes Zach something something.

They have an excuse, at least. According to Lagunitas' owner Tony Magee, the expensive ingredients, lengthy time in the brewhouse and extra time in the fermenters led to its demise this year. For every case of Shugga' made, Lagunitas was shorting three cases of its better-selling regulars.

"In order to brew the Shugga' this year, I would have had to push my year-round friends -- our IPA, PILS, Little Sumpin', Pale, and Maximus -- to the back of the bus," Magee said on BeerAdvocate. "Not gonna happen."

But Lagunitas' brewers recognized that Brown Shugga' had a solid fanbase, so they offered a one-time holiday ale in which to drown their sorrows. They named the new brew Lagunitas Sucks to beat the haters to it, and were further self-deprecating on the beer's packaging. "There is nothing cool about screwing up this badly and we know it," the beer's label declares. Also, in the corner, straight from the little doggie's mouth: "We suck." 

Poured into a tulip, Sucks shimmers dandelion-yellow and perfectly translucent. Nickelodeon-style spatters decorate the glass as the off-white head slowly recedes. The aroma reveals notes of each ingredient used in the beer's making: A medley of cereal grains -- barley, rye, wheat, and oats -- made their way into the mash, and the brew was then dry-hopped, making it "full of complexishness" (Lagunitas' words). The result is a nose that's super-duper dank, like a bag of sticky weed. Tons of mango, passion fruit and pineapple are also stuffed in there, along with touches of hay and lightly toasted biscuits.

Lagunitas Sucks tastes like Christmas -- if you celebrated Christmas in the Bahamas. Tropical notes continue into the flavor, with sweet and delicious pineapple, apricot and mango accompaning grass while the malt lends a little sweetness and a touch of crackers. The smooth, medium-light body breaks into a bit of fizz before the crisp, clean finish.

I have to admit, I went into this tasting a little biased against any brew that attempted to make up for the loss of my dear Shugga', but Sucks is bright, dank, sweet and drinkable. While Lagunitas may suck, the beer does not. Though Magee says it'll only be around around for this one year, the brew's been well-received even by the wrathful masses. I imagine it'll make an appearance under a different name someday soon. Until then, you can find it in 12-ounce bottles and on tap across the Valley.

Food pairing suggestions:
Pair Lagunitas Sucks' fruity hop notes with even more flavors of the tropics. A meal of Caribbean pork and plantains will work well -- the aggressive bitterness of the IPA will be calmed by the marbling of the pork, which also works to bring out fruit aromas in the beer.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to good beer.

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