Yesterday, I regaled you with the thrilling tale of my recent pilgrimage to Moylan’s Brewery in Novato, California with The Commander and Lord Copperpot. While Moylan’s was exceptional, we couldn’t linger for too long in the lovely hamlet of Novato. We had to get to Santa Rosa in time to make an appearance at a wedding rehearsal dinner before spending the remainder of the weekend plundering the Russian Rivery Brewing Company. But a funny thing happened between Novato and Santa Rosa…we drove through downtown Petaluma, California…home of the renowned Lagunitas Brewing Company. What kind of Aleheads would we be if we didn’t at least pop in to visit the creators of Doc’s all-time favorite Imperial IPA…the Hop Stoopid?*
*Answer: Bad Aleheads.
While Moylan’s had a sports-bar feel, Lagunitas was something else entirely. Picture the fictional taproom at the brewery you’ve been designing in your head for years…that’s what Lagunitas looks like. Petaluma itself (at least where the brewery is located) wasn’t particularly attractive…and the drive up to the brewery has an industrial, office-park feel to it. But things change immediately once you walk through the gorgeous wrought-iron gates with the tell-tale Lagunitas dog-logo tacked to the top. An outdoor, zen beer-garden opens up before you with pea-gravel walkways, tree-lined borders, and picnic tables sprinkled throughout. A covered bar is connected to the garden with one wall essentially open to the outdoor space where a local band pumps out some relaxed tunes under the shining California sun.
The Commander, Mashtun and I grabbed the last three available seats at the bar (pretty impressive considering we got to the brewery at 3:01pm…a full 60 seconds after the Taproom opened). We knew our time was limited so we each grabbed a very reasonably priced flight of brews so we could sample as much as possible before hitting the road. Lagunitas had all of their standards on tap (the Hop Stoopid, Little Sumpin’ Extra, Little Sumpin Sumpin’, Undercover Shutdown, Censored, Mondo, Lucky 13, and Imperial Stout), but I went with four of the five “Specials” (one-offs that generally aren’t available anywhere else). In order from worst to best:
Fusion IV: None of us were crazy about the Fusion IV…an odd strong ale/wild ale hybrid that was a little too heavy on the farmhouse funk and horse blanket. The pungent, musty aroma and limited carbonation turned me off a little and the body was oddly lacking in malt sweetness. It was an interesting beer and perfect in a flight sample glass, but I would have been woefully disappointed if I had ordered a full pint. Just a strange beer all around. 2 Hops.
Cappuccino Stout: Very flavorful, very rich beer with a big burst of roasted espresso beans and nice chocolate aromas. The chocolate and coffee drown out the malt and hops a little too much and I thought the body was a touch thin, but despite its lack of balance, it’s a nicely drinkable Imperial Stout with good complexity and tons of interesting notes. 3 Hops.
Port-Aged Hairy Eyeball: The Hairy Eyeball is robust enough on its own, but aging it in Port barrels brings it to another level. Redolent of dark stone fruits, big, sweet malt flavors, and just the barest hint of hops cutting through, this is a true, rib-sticking, Winter brew (even though we drank it on a 90-degree, end-of-summer afternoon). It’s the kind of beer you swirl in a snifter and let the massive, juicy aromas wash over you. Delicious. 3.5 Hops
Little Sumpin’ Wild: One of Lagunitas’ best brews, the Little Sumpin’ Wild is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale that truly does justice to the style. Beautiful Belgian yeast notes make their presence felt immediately in the nose, and there’s a great citric, West Coast hop profile balancing everything out. It smells like a Duvel with a liberal helping of good ol’ American hops sprinkled in. If that sounds good to you…well…it is. Supremely drinkable and refreshing with the classic, smooth mouthfeel that sets Lagunitas apart, the Little Sumpin’ Wild is a rock-solid brew that I would drink every day if I could. 4 Hops.
Sadly, our time in Petaluma was short, but at least we had Russian River to look forward to. During my next trek to Northern California, I’ll be making a much more extended stay to Lagunitas…a brewery that should be on every Aleheads short list of “must-visit” ale factories.