Beer Review 0217: Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale

I love a beer with a good story behind it. And does this ever have one!

Lagunitas, based in Petaluma, California, used to have weekly parties where they would open the brewery to local residents and friends of the folks that worked inside. Back in 2005, the parties began to get larger, and local media began talking. Apparently, the parties were “420 friendly,” or an environment where if someone wanted to partake in marijuana, folks would turn their heads the other way. And everything went smoothly. This seems to be common practice in Petaluma.

But when people started talking about it, and writers started writing about it, attention was attracted. Enter the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), who set up an undercover investigation for the Lagunitas parties. The investigation lasted eight weeks, with the authorities attempting to purchase marijuana from brewery employees. No such transactions were ever made; however, on the eighth week, which just so happened to be St. Patricks Day (you can imagine how much larger the party probably was), the ABC patrol shut down the brewery, saying Lagunitas did not police their partygoers enough, allowing illegal activities on property.

The brewery was allowed to reopen soon after until the case went to trial the next January. The ultimate ruling was Lagunitas had their brewery license suspended for twenty days, meaning they could not ship any beer, but could still brew it. It didn’t hurt the company; in fact, they took the time to install a new bottling line. And this beer, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down, came of the situation.

Officially called an American Strong Ale, Lagunitas says this is an “Imperial Mild,” brewed with lots of hops and meant to be bitter (66.6 IBUs, or International Bitterness Units)…just like the company was when they were shut down. The bomber-size bottles of this brew proudly proclaim, “Whatever. We’re still here.” This is a limited release, available each April.

The pour produced a large, soapy head that was lasting atop a beautiful, copper-colored beer. This one was mainly amber but had some red highlights when held to the light. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, and the lacing was most excellent, leaving thick and sticky sheets all down my glass. Agitating the beer produced lots of alcohol legs — Undercover Investigation Shut-Down is a fairly big beer, coming in at 9.8% ABV (alcohol by volume).

On the nose, the aromas were a little subdued, but what was here was very balanced. There’s an average hop presence along with average malt — notes of grapefruit and pine dominate, coupled with caramel, toffee, and some sweet bread. There’s a hint of alcohol in there and it touches on dark fruit, but never makes that element of the picture very clear.

Hitting the palate, you’re greeted with an expertly balanced drink. In fact, I noted that this was the best balanced beer I’ve sampled in a while; there’s pine and grapefruit hop that sets a blaze to some rich, sweet caramel and toffee. This excites the taste buds for a finish that gives the tongue ample hop bitterness, but soothes with lots of sweet candy-like caramel. And the whole thing goes down with a pleasant alcohol warmth, just letting you gently know that this beer is here and means business. Mouthfeel was equally as nice, medium and creamy.

Lagunitas, this is damn tasty, and it’s a shame you got shut down. But when you produce a beer like this, I can’t say that I’m sad about it. Pick this up if you can find it — it’s a winner.

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, 92 points. Price: $9.99 US for a six pack.

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