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.
The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.
Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.
Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.
On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.
Victory HopDevil is a year-round IPA that is brewed with whole flower American hops. The beer makes use of Victory’s hopback machine, which acts like a giant French press that is filled with hops. HopDevil comes in at 6.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 50 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour delivered a very nice looking beer, capped with an average size, off-white head that was both creamy and soapy in texture. The head lingered around and was easily regenerated when swirled in the glass; color of the beer was a nice shade of golden-orange, and it had a just a touch of haziness to the body. There were no particles or sediment, and lacing was excellent, coating the glass in solid sheets of foam.
On the nose, there’s a ton of hops, specifically grapefruit and pine. Those two aromas are astringent, but the backing players of orange peel and general citrus add in some color. I thought the aroma had a perfume-like quality, with very minimal malts, perhaps a bit of light caramel and sweet bread. And this is an IPA that takes on a bit of a soapy note, too.
The flavors start out suspiciously mild with just some herbal hits up front, but it opens up wide to reveal stiff wallops of grapefruit and dark pine. The lighter, more fruity flavors swirl around but are minor, leaving behind some fleshy, juicy orange and lemon. The finish gets more and more bitter the deeper you get into the glass, drying out the palate with grapefruit and pine, along with a lingering note of toasted bread. HopDevil is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
This is a decent beer with excellent flavors of grapefruit and pine, but it lacks the depth needed to be an outstanding brew. By the end of the glass, my palate was somewhat tired of drinking because the finish started to get medicinal. I’d recommend you check this out if you’re really into grapefruit and pine hops; otherwise, this is good but average.
Victory HopDevil IPA, 85 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
In one of the more unique collaborations for 2013, San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery has teamed up with Elysian Brewing, based out of Seattle, Washington, to create two beers featuring pumpkin, both packaged in cans. This marks the debut of Elysian on this website as they don’t yet distribute in North Carolina, but we’ve reviewed several 21st Amendment beers, and they typically impress.
21st Amendment began operations in the year 2000 and are located just two blocks from where the San Francisco Giants play baseball. Both principal founders — Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan — took a brewing science course at UC Davis, trading their successful careers to follow the passion of brewing beer. As you might suspect, 21st Amendment is named after the actual 21st Amendment of the United States, which repealed the evil Prohibition.
Elysian opened in 1995, the creation of Dick Cantwell, Joe Bisacca, and David Buhler. The company has a production facility and operates three pubs, often churning out 20 different beers to have on-tap. Widely known for their beers featuring pumpkins, the brewery runs the Elysian Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, held each October. They’ve made over 300 unique beers since opening; at least 30 of them have involved pumpkin.
He Said, the collaboration, comes in a four-pack, which contains two cans of each beer. The second beer up for review is a Belgian-Style Tripel brewed with pumpkin puree and juice, galangal, and tarragon. If you’re like me, you had to look up galangal; let me save you some time: it’s a type of ginger that comes from Asia. The beer uses Trappist ale yeast and like it’s Baltic Porter partner, comes in at 8.2% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Out of the can, this beer produces a large, bright white head that is foamy and frothy. It hangs around a good while, but doesn’t regenerate especially well; color of the beer is a light golden, and the body has a touch of haze to it, but no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving clumpy chunks stuck to the side of the glass.
On the nose, we’ve got a standard Tripel style ale with a subtle hint of pumpkin and ginger. The Trappist yeast adds a touch of bready dough and sweet honey, while the malt bill is grainy and straw-like. The sweetness mixes well with some orange peel, and there are classic touches of clove and bubblegum. The alcohol is well hidden, and overall the aroma is very nice.
The taste is dominated by both the ginger and tarragon — the tarragon has a very earthy herbal quality to it, and that is very potent all throughout the taste. This beer is zesty, and kind of unwinds across the tongue in fits and spurts; there’s some orange peel but it quickly gets muted by the ginger, but it comes back…in and out like a detuned radio. A sweet hit of pink bubblegum brings on the finish, which is where the pumpkin shows up, for just a second. For a Tripel, I found He Said to be a little more bitter than normal, but it still qualifies as light bitterness to me; however, when coupled with the earthy herbal flavor, it makes for a strange combination. The final notes are faded orange peel, ginger, and grain. This beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.
While technically labeled as a “pumpkin beer,” it’s really hard to qualify this as a full-fledged member of that style. This is a Tripel with a bit of an identity crisis. That said, I never thought the beer really hit the ground running, and it’s a bit muddled overall.
21st Amendment/Elysian He Said Belgian-Style Tripel, 85 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four-pack of two different beers.
Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Smuttynose Brewing Company is named for Smuttynose Island, the third largest of nine islands that comprise the Isles of Shoals, located seven miles off the New Hampshire and Maine coasts. The island is best known for a brutal double axe murder that took place in 1873.
The brewery began production in 1994 and are currently expanding, with a new facility being built — there’s even a website where you can watch a live camera of the building process. Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the page which shows a time lapse from the beginning of construction until now; the facility is very close to completion.
Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale comes from their Big Beer Series, which sees limited release of several different offerings in 22 oz. bottles periodically throughout the year. This beer is their take on the Farmhouse/Saison style, a beer that is native to the border region of France and Belgium. The beer stye was traditionally made in cool weather for farm workers (“Saisonaires”) to consume in warm weather. At a variable ABV (alcohol by volume) each year, the 2013 Smuttynose version comes in at 7% and uses a Belgian yeast strain to impart the traditional Farmhouse flavors. It’s also brewed with sage.
Pouring makes for an average size, frothy and foamy bright white head that quickly shrinks away. The beer is straw yellow in color and is cloudy when held to light, but is absent of particles and sediment. The carbonation is very active, zooming bubbles to the surface from the bottom of the glass. Lacing never happened; in fact, at just 7% ABV, this beer left some alcohol legs.
On the nose, there’s lots of crisp spices up front — although this is brewed with sage, I could never specifically detect it. It’s just an herbal blend, predominantly highlighted by clove and white pepper. Straight away, I noticed some alcohol. This beer is very bready, and that comes through in the malt and especially in the yeast, fresh-risen dough and toasted crust. There are touches of grain and orange peel, and a small hint of pink bubblegum.
The flavors are a bit of a mess, save for the middle, which is a nice blend. Crisp herbal grains start out, but there just isn’t much body here, leaving behind some watered-down flavor. But a wave of candied oranges kick things up a notch, imparting clove, orange peel, and some pink bubblegum. Just before the swallow, sweetbread segues into a big hit of sweetness — too much, really, and a final dose of oranges and wheaty grain. Smuttynose’s take on a Farmhouse Ale is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel that has a slight drying effect.
This beer hits its high point in the middle of the taste, but the punch of sweetness kind of makes the drink tiring on the palate. Also, for 7% ABV, this tastes more like 9%, although ease of drinking is still high. A very good beer but not what I’d reach for when I want a Saison.
Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale, 85 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
It is with great sadness and heartbreak that I start off a beer review on this note, but sometimes life is hard. On August 24, Matthew Courtright, a brewer for Stone Brewing Co., died from complications after a forklift accident on the job. Mr. Courtright was just 27 years old, and not only was he living a dream working at Stone, he was an unabashed home brewer, taking time outside his hectic schedule with Stone to make home brew. Because he loved beer and he loved making beer.
Mr. Courtright worked for Stone in Escondido, California, but called Michigan his home. He worked at Liberty St. Brewing in Plymouth, Michigan before moving to Stone. Judging from his page on Instagram, he loved Stone and he loved Escondido and he certainly loved beer. But he also loved going back to Michigan and visiting his family and friends.
I personally did not know Mr. Courtright nor do I know any of his friends, nor do I know anyone that works at Stone, nor do I know anyone who was personally affected by his loss. But the passing of this young brewer makes me, as it should you, take pause and remember that there are real human beings behind the ales and lagers we love. Craft beer is made by people not very different than you or I, people who are after a great tasting experience that makes you take pause and think about the world, brings a little light to your day and smile to your face. It, like anything else in life, has its risks and rewards. And so it is to Matthew Courtright, Stone Brewing Co., and the craft beer community that we raise a pint of Stone’s 17th Anniversary ale — perhaps a beer that Mr. Courtright himself worked on.
Stone Brewing Co., celebrating 17 years in the business, has released a very German influenced IPA to mark the occasion. Named Götterdämmerung, or “twilight of the gods,” the beer is a 9.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) IPA brewed with all German hops and pilsner malts. Hops used include Magnum, Herkules, Merkur, Opal, Emerald, Strisselspalt, German Hersbrucker, and Sterling. Cool names, eh? Stone consider this beer an unconventional tour of Deutschland by way of Southern California. Sounds just like a trip Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, co-founders of Stone, would want to take you on with one of their beers.
The pour gave way to a perfectly golden colored beer that produced a small, bright white head. The foam was soapy and had some staying power atop a beer that was exceptionally clear, nearly sparkling. The body contained no particles or sediment, and lacing was outstanding, leaving behind solid, thin sheets of suds.
On the nose, instead of getting a big burst of hops, the aroma is quite subdued and showcases some lighter fruit hops. Big notes of peaches and blueberries mingle with some lemon peel and tropical fruits; the malt backing is grainy and sweet and not really there. As the beer warms, the hop aromas combine and are quite sweet for 102 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), reminding me of honey. I wouldn’t quite call the aroma dull as far as the scents you can pull out, but it’s dull in terms of how it doesn’t really grab your nose and make you pay attention.
The taste starts out as inconspicuous, with a very mild peach and berry note — yes, the berries are unique, especially in a beer brewed without any type of fruit — but it quickly ramps up thanks to the 9.5% alcohol. In rushes some lemon peel before a crushing bitterness starts, along with some cracker malts. The bitterness is almost too much, skirting the edge of medicinal, but it rides a nice wave with the huge alcohol presence. The finish has the hoppiness of an Imperial IPA but the malt backing of a Pilsner, which only enhances the bitterness and alcohol.
The impression I was left from Götterdämmerung was one of a rough draft — it almost seems like Stone finished working on this brew halfway through. It’s not bad, by any means — it just feels unfinished. While the idea of a German IPA is unique and worthy of exploring, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if those pilsner malts were replaced with something more beefy. Stay far away if you don’t like boozy beer.
Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA, 85 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.