Lagunitas is one funky brewery. Let me prove it.
Exhibit A: Tony Magee, the brewery’s founder, dropped out of college to play guitar in a traveling reggae band. Music is still central to Magee (who plays blues guitar at bars around the San Fran area) and his brewery (which, for a tap room, has a really impressive live music calendar). On top of the propensity for performances, the brewery began releasing a series of limited edition beers marking the 40th anniversary of each Frank Zappa album. Funky.
Exhibit B: Their labels, website, and public image are completely irreverent. For example, in response to the many typos mistakenly printed on their beer bottles, the brewery posted a brutally misspelled apology note on its website. Also on the website are a series of nonsensical stories, including “A Day in the Life of a Bubble in a Bottle of Beer” and “The Eyeball Triology”, the love story of a stray (literally, free and rolling) eyeball and a loose tuft of hair. Here’s the opening sentence of the trilogy:
Suddenly, the over and over in the beer from where it comes from came from to over and all at once there spiked a lugge and out came the eye and it was caught, no fell into his glass, no mug, no stein, no it wasn’t like that at all, in fact it happened in Cincinnati, no Cleaveland and anyway a mysterious new plan-9 pulse beam from outer space ca used spasm the muscles to eject the eye into outer node float to the two-step rain dance, no flop to the eye glass glassy eye of the beer foam to spill but at last if it rolled onto the bar and still everyone just stared and ask ed the obvious question on every mind and what did it really have to do with beer and as it happened it didn’t.
Exhibit C: Magee looks up to only two breweries: Anchor and Rogue. Why? “Because they friggin’ are what they are” and “because they just don’t give a f*ck”, respectively. His beers, like his philosophy, are free from preconceptions or expectations. Instead, they take bold, fun strokes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Either way, the approach doesn’t go unnoticed. Said Magee, “I think people see a certain amount of freedom in what we do.” It’s funkiness, and it’s appreciated.
As for his beer itself, this week at The Cloverleaf, I had the opportunity to try a flight of five Lagunitas beers side by side. They were all characteristically hoppy and high in alcohol, with three falling into the “pale ale” group and two “American Strong Ales”, AKA big black bombs.
The two standouts were The New Dogtown Ale and Wilco Tango Foxtrot (WTF). The New Dogtown was great in that it was a warmer APA that ended with – instead bitter hops – salty/sweet tea biscuits. Delicious and unexpected. As for the WTF, it was a great balance of big hops and warm, toasty chocolate. Not too heavy, not too bitter, not too sweet. It was clearly a riskier beer, but the complexities paid off. If it was labeled a Black IPA instead, it would probably be the best one I’ve ever had.
Lagunitas doesn’t make my favorite beer across the board, but they make a couple really great ones and their philosophy is one of the most refreshing out there. If you see one of their experimental bombers, grab one. The label alone will be worth it, but I bet you’ll like the beer anyway.