Beer Review 0280: Lagunitas Brown Shugga’


2011 saw an absence of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s (Petaluma, California) limited release winter seasonal, Brown Shugga’. This was thanks to Lagunitas growing popularity and the fact that making Brown Shugga’ is more expensive than their other beers — for every case of Brown Shugga’, the company was short three cases of regular production beer.

But never fear: Brown Shugga’ has returned in full glory this year, along with more brewing capacity for Lagunitas. The story behind this beer is simple: the brewery was producing it’s Old Gnarlywine (which I rated 94 points) and had a failed batch. They tried to fix the mistake with brown sugar…and as the bottle says: “Feeding brown cane sugar to otherwise cultured brewery yeast is a’kin to feeding raw shark to your gerbil.”

Classified as an American Strong Ale, Brown Shugga’ clocks in at 9.9% ABV, and 51 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).


The pour on Brown Shugga’ delivered a large, soapy, stark white head that lasted around well past when it should have expired. The beer was a deep burnt orange in color, nearly amber, and had a clear body that was free of particles and sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thick pillows of sudsy foam, clinging to the glass like a gluey fog.

The first thing that hit the nose on this brew are the hops. Holy hops! Tons of pine, resin, grapefruit, and various tropical fruits. This is a very sweet smelling beer, with a stark note of caramel and bready malt, along with a prevalent whiff of apricot and a touch of garlic. There’s also a hint of the high alcohol, but it isn’t distracting from the hop firework display. Overall, this smells like a very sweet Imperial IPA that has one hell of a malt backing.


On the taste, the sweet apricot comes to the forefront, followed by some pine and grapefruit. Then there was a blast of lemon that led to a total hop silence — the malt bill completely takes over for a moment, unleashing a toasty, almost roasted blend of grain, a big, thick, oily note of caramel, supported by just a hint of citrus. The finish comes on with a slight alcohol burn that ushers back in the hops with a decent amount of tropical fruit, coupled with a burnt caramel. Brown Shugga’ is a medium-bodied beer with a creamy mouthfeel, aided by a soft carbonation.

So, did you think this would be just an IPA with some brown sugar added? Guess again. Lagunitas have done something special here — they’ve put brown sugar in a beer, but you don’t really taste it, you FEEL it. This is a sweet beer that is not overwhelming, and the sugar adds to the deep malty flavors that are already there; hence, the brown sugar is not the star, it just enhances all the existing cast. I’ve never had a beer that was this hoppy up front, and that malty in conclusion. My palate is sending the white flag of surrender up as I write. “Sweet Release,” as it says on the bottle, indeed.

Lagunitas Brown Shugga’, 95 points. Price: $9.99 US for a six pack.



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