For this week’s installment of Tasting Notes, we kick it old school with a classic by getting into a hearty pour of Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma, California).
First created back in 1997, Brown Shugga’ is a Barleywine-style Ale that actually came into existence when the brewers at Lagunitas botched a batch of Olde GnarlyWine Ale and attempted to save it by adding “loads of brown sugar.” Although this quick fix made it so they were able to reach the same original gravity of GnarlyWine, they discovered that they ended up with something completely different in terms of flavor and aroma. What they did get was the “dangerously slammable”, mighty tasty Brown Shugga’ (10% ABV) that has been a hit with the brewery’s fans ever since.
The 2018 batch of Brown Shugga’ is out now and will be available through December. You can expect to find this Limited Release brew available in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at select beer-friendly establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, Illinois, Washington and throughout the rest of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s nationwide distribution area.
Now that we have covered Brown Shugga’s history and release details, let’s crack open a few bottles and get all sweet on these Tasting Notes!
Tasting Notes for Brown Shugga’ from Lagunitas Brewing Company
Appearance: Brown Shugga’ pours up a deep, red-hued copper in color while wearing over two fingers of rocky, tan-tinged foam. When held to direct light, the copper softens a bit as dark amber tones push their way through. The beer is pristine in clarity and displays an extremely exuberant carbonation presence. Head retention is good, eventually falling to just under a finger of pillowy foam that leaves behind some serious sheets of lace on the glass. Absolutely stunning to look at.
Aroma: Surprisingly, the first thing to hit the nose is a substantial waft of orange zest and pine from the hops. Caramel, toasted grain and toffee then work their way in and are followed by a smooth note of molasses. Sugary booze meets a refined, balancing hoppiness? We’ll have a sip of that fo sho.
Taste: The beer sneaks onto the palate with an unassuming biscuity malt presence that steadily builds to sweeter notes of caramel, toffee, brown sugar and molasses. Lightly floral and citrus hop notes link up beautifully with the caramel and toffee to strike a nice level of balance. Resiny pine notes turn up late to close out the flavor profile with even more hoppy goodness.
Mouthfeel: Medium to full-bodied with a medium carbonation, Brown Shugga’ is nice and creamy on the palate, exceptionally smooth, and incredibly easy-drinking. After a playful bout of push and pull, the sugary sweet notes and the citrusy/piney hops amicably decide to sprawl out together in a relaxed state of balance (not at all cloying, but not overly bitter either). Despite being slightly pronounced in the nose, the 10% ABV is pretty tame overall. The aftertaste is all caramel and pine.
Final Thoughts: Now that our glasses are all empty and discussions have been had, the best way we can describe Brown Shugga’ is that it comes across as an American-style Barleywine that strives for balance while maintaining enough of a hoppy bite to keep it from being allowed in the arena of the English Barleywine. What do we mean by that? Well, it is an experience that features enough sweetness to live up to its name while that big American hop presence dials in the right amount of bitterness to find an inexplicable, almost miraculous level of balance.
Just like in the beer’s origin story where the brewers at Lagunitas ended up with something completely different than they expected, the same could happen to anyone who orders a pour of Brown Shugga’ . . . but in the best possible way. The name creates certain sugar-filled expectations. The enthusiastic hops then turn up to offer a bit of a surprise. The initial shock wears off as it all then comes together to form a uniquely balanced beer that is ridiculously drinkable for its size. That uniqueness leaves a lasting impression from sip to sip, glass to glass, and year to year. It always keeps you coming back for more, and that is why it is a classic. Get you some Brown Shugga’ while you can. Prost!