October 30, 2015 by Justin Roczniak
In Philadelphia, we frequently bemoan antiquated liquor laws which force separate points of sale for beer, wine and liquor. Beer cannot be sold in grocery stores without some questionable interpretation of existing laws, and restaurants cannot give you more than two six-packs at once. (It is still perfectly legal to leave the store and immediately come back and purchase two more, however.) Cases can only be purchased at beer distributors, and so on.
Despite this, Philadelphia has the best beer selection in the country. Why is this? Apart from our 14 craft breweries within city limits and 35-ish within a hundred-mile radius, we’re close enough to the coast that importation isn’t cost-prohibitive. Shipping costs over the Rocky Mountains usually prohibit East coast breweries from marketing out west (good luck ordering a Yuengling Lager in San Francisco, for instance), but West coast breweries can’t afford to ignore the market back east. As such,¬¬ we get their beers as well.
With that in mind, today I’m going to eschew the usual local beer review and instead go for the Lagunitas India Pale Ale, direct from Petaluma, California, or Chicago, Illinois. (The Chicago brewery opened only recently, in 2014, while the main California location has existed since 1993.) The bottle did not indicate where this particular batch came from, so I’m going to pretend it came from Petaluma in sunny Sonoma County.
Lagunitas would be the fifth most popular craft brewery in America right now, but Heineken purchased a 50 percent stake in the company recently to distribute its beers internationally. This means, under the rules of the Brewers’ Association, they cannot be considered a “craft brewery” as they are more than 25 percent owned by another, non-craft brewery.
This does nothing to discredit the quality of their beers, however. Lagunitas produces not only this excellent IPA, but several unconventional beers, like the high-alcohol pale wheat “Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale”; the limited-release espresso-and-milk “Cappuccino Stout”; and of course the barley, wheat, rye and oat malted “Lagunitas Sucks.” Today, however, we’ll focus on just their bog-standard, normal old Lagunitas IPA.
Picked up a six-pack at Old Nelson’s Food Market at 31st and Market streets. It was about $15 or so; the place isn’t exceptionally cheap or expensive, especially for being so close to campus. Poured into a shaker pint glass, deep amber to light copper in color. The thick, off-white head dissipated fairly slowly despite the high alcohol content. Lagunitas claims the beer is “made with 43 different hops and 65 different malts” (a typical beer has no more than three of either!) and discerning individual flavors is difficult. There is a little citrus, plus a piney aroma towards the back of the palette. A lot of carbonation mellows out the complex malt profile, which becomes more pronounced as the beer warms and flattens. Lagunitas’s 43 hops and 65 malts aren’t published, but they do mention Centennial and Cascade hops and crystal malt in their YouTube “virtual taste” video, which put it solidly in the West Coast IPA style. Has a clean mouthfeel and overall dry taste, again typical for a West Coast IPA.
As much as the flavor is well balanced, it isn’t overall as clean as say, a Sierra Nevada IPA. That may be why they aren’t as popular: if you’re using 65 different malts, the flavor is going to be just a little confused. Despite this, it’s an immensely drinkable IPA and is objectively better than its other main West coast competitor.
Evidently looking at the book of hop and malt varieties and saying “Yes, we’ll use these” worked for Lagunitas. I can’t even think of 43 different hops and 65 malts, let alone put them together to work this well. The beer is 6.2 percent alcohol by volume and 51.5 International Bittering Units. It’s available nearly anywhere beer is sold in this city. Go out and pick up a six-pack today, you’ve got nothing to lose.