Beer Review 0129: Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine

If you don’t keep up with the latest happenings in the craft beer world, let me inform you of some excellent news: Lagunitas, based out of Petaluma, California, is expanding.

Tony Magee, founder and owner, took to Twitter late Monday night and very casually announced that Lagunitas would be opening what basically amounts to a mirror of its California facility in Chicago, which happens to be Magee’s hometown.

Yes, this will double Lagunitas capacity. But the bigger picture, as explained by Magee, are diesel emissions and cost of fuel. Since Lagunitas enjoys large distribution in the United States (32 of 50 states), hauling all that beer from California eats fuel, pokes holes in the ozone layer, and leaves the wallet incredibly light. By having a brewery in Chicago, crossroads of the country, Lagunitas will actually pay for the new brewery by saving money not having to truck beer all the way from west to east coast. And it’s better for the environment, too. I know I enjoy clean air on the regular.

The Chicago Lagunitas facility should be ready for production by the end of 2013. Along with the new brewery will be new jobs, of which a specific number should be announced soon. Congratulations Lagunitas! To celebrate, let’s review one of your (hopefully) tasty beers.

Olde Gnarlywine is an American Barleywine, produced on a limited release basis by Lagunitas. How limited? Well, I’m not sure — in fact, I’m not sure when this comes out, or if they even produce this beer every year. I’ve been sitting on this bottle for awhile, as a beer like this is a perfect candidate for aging.

This beer earns the name ‘Gnarlywine’ because of how difficult it is to make — this brew sits in tanks for over a month to make sure things are just right.

Olde Gnarlywine poured beautifully, with a small but lasting creamy head. The beer was a deep burnt tangerine-red color, clouded in body but free of particles and sediment. Lacing left on the glass was thick and sticky, and started from the moment the head dissipated. This one is a looker, for sure!

On the aromatics, holy wow. Intense and heavy malts are abundant, with a very sharp and sweet note of caramel, backed up by a little coffee and toffee. There’s a biscuit and bread-like scent going on, along with some earthy yeast, and there are hops, too — a surprising amount of grapefruit and pine. With 10.6% ABV (alcohol by volume) in this beer, there is a whiff of booziness, too. Complex and wonderful.

As for the taste, this barleywine is exceptionally sweet up front with bright flavors of caramel and toffee, defying the 69 IBU (International Bitterness Units). There’s some hop balance in the middle of the taste, which brings just a touch of bitterness to the beer in the form of citrus (orange), pine, and a bit of grassiness, but that turns fast back to the sweet end, coating the mouth almost like syrup. This is a thick mouthfeel, almost chewy, and the alcohol presence is big but not overly boozy. For a barleywine, this one is bold in terms of the hints of hops and how so sweet it is.

Allow this to warm, and you are in for a treat. The flavors just get richer; they don’t really intensify, but everything described above gets deeper.

This is an outstanding beer. While it was almost too sweet, the hop presence was nice and unexpected. And the sweetness would go great for dessert, so ditch the pie and cake and drink this instead. You can’t go wrong here; if you’re looking for a big beer that will bring it, look no further than Lagunitas Gnarlywine.

Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine, 94 points. Price: $3.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber bottle. YEAH! That’s right — $3.99 — this beer went on deep discount at my local bottle shop for some unknown reason. Stock up, as I bet this would age wonderfully!

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