Beer Review 0563: Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball American Strong Ale
Lagunitas (pronounced LAH-GOO-KNEE-TUSS) Brewing Company started producing beer in 1993 with a simple Red Ale. That’s been a long time ago, but that one beer launched this company into something that would turn out to be huge: today, Lagunitas is one of the largest craft breweries, and they are currently expanding to a second facility beyond the current Petaluma, California homestead — the second location will be smack in the middle of the country, in Chicago, Illinois.
The Hairy Eyeball, which falls into the somewhat vague American Strong Ale style, was resurrected in late 2013. Previously a 12-ounce offering, this beer is now produced for bomber bottles. Lagunitas says this is one of their more malty offerings, and is formulated for “when you wake up feelin’ like you need to shave your eyeballs to see the new day.” Hairy Eyeball is 9.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 56 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Releasing this beer from the bottle kicked up an average size, creamy head that was slightly off-white in color. The beer itself was amber-red, with an exceptionally clear body and no evidence of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving a thin coating of soapy suds.
The nose very much reminded me of an amped-up Amber Ale; big, smooth, and sweet notes of caramel, bread, and grain mingle with lighter hints of milk chocolate and citrus hops. There’s lots of malt here and it’s quite sweet, but not over the top. The alcohol is present, giving off a stiff hit; when allowed to warm, some nuttiness begins to emerge as well as toasted bread.
On the palate, we’ve got a slow beginning with citrus (orange peel, especially) and bread, but Hairy Eyeball quickly opens to show layers of very sweet, nearly sticky caramel and milk chocolate. Middle of the mouth has some sugary toffee and Tootsie Roll; the alcohol starts to ramp up if you swirl it around your tongue, and it continues through to the finish. Sweet at first, the finish pops with creamy caramel, syrupy milk chocolate, then starts to get a little dry and bitter with hints of grapefruit, pine, and orange peel. By the end, the alcohol really warmed me up, and it’s perhaps a bit much. I’d call this brew medium-bodied, but some might find it full strength given the heavy alcohol presence; it has a medium, creamy mouthfeel with gentle carbonation.
This is a definite change of pace for Lagunitas, who generally put out hop-forward beers. That’s not the case here, and the end result is an overly sweet Imperial-style Amber Ale that is heavy on the alcohol. I enjoyed it, but I’m likely one and done with The Hairy Eyeball. Age might tone down the alcohol some, but I think the caramel and chocolate flavors would suffer overall. It should also be said that for a 9.4% ABV beer, this carries an excellent value for the price.
Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball American Strong Ale, 85 points. Price: $3.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.