Lagunitas, Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale

Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Grade: B+

A beautiful tan head leaps up from the crystal clear, dark copper ale. Dank and sticky hop aromas rise up from the glass, mixed with more than a little alcohol nose. The malt aromas are very prevalent as well, dark rye bread and toast, with some molasses and brown sugar as well. The hops are not easily overlooked though, the pine and resin aromas mix with some slightly lighter citrus and peach.

A medium body carries the bitter, and slightly sweet flavors over the tongue. Caramel and burnt sugars are in the forefront, with a generous helping of citrus and peach/apricot. The bitterness is in your face, making no apologies, and generally knocking your tongue into blissful submission. Somehow this bitterness isn't overwhelming, perhaps due to the perceived sweetness from the alcohol and the high hopping rate balancing it. While it certainly isn't a session beer, it can be sipped pretty continuously without significant fatigue. Unusual considering the alcohol level (9.75% ABV) and the bitterness (72 IBU). I think it's that the bitterness only stays on your tongue just long enough, and then dissipates. I've had beers that finish downright acrid and harsh, leaving a lingering flavor on your tongue that no amount of scrubbing can relieve. 

Lagunitas is sometimes hit or miss with me. Like most west coast breweries, they do IPA's well, but not much else. This isn't always a bad thing. Concentrating on that which you do well, and growing in that genre is sometimes more noble and praiseworthy than trying to become a jack of all trades, and ending up a master of none. Wilco Tango Foxtrot seems like a aberration compared to Undercover. How can a brewery make two such different and technically variant beers almost at the same time? Wilco was way to bitter, unbalanced, and hard to drink. Undercover is certainly not balanced, but in a very good way. It drinks very well. Too well. After a while you suddenly realize that this is indeed a very strong beer and that you need to sit down and have a few glasses of water. 

I prefer to drink my beer from a master, and Lagunitas is certainly one of the most masterful at handling hops. What shouldn't be downplayed, however, is their ability to pair these hops with the right kind of malts to make a cohesive and drinkable beer. To say that a brewery is "only" good at IPA's is to ignore the vast amount of skill and thought making an IPA takes. I just wish Lagunitas was more consistent with their beers. To follow Wilco with something as well brewed as Undercover makes the consumer very confused. Will this next Lagunitas beer be as awesome as Undercover? Or will it be as bad as Wilco? It seems like a roll of the dice every time.


Pat Wood said...

Great review of Undercover! You really hit the nail on the head with this one. I love how drinkable this one is, but really wish it wasn't so high in the ABV department. It'd be great to drink these throughout the night, but with a 9.75% you definitely can't.