Friday Froth: Face Heater

James Gribbon

The holidays are over, football is over, it's still cold, and meteorologists are gesticulating like Kermit the frog introducing the next act. It's time for strong drink.

The boys at Lagunitas Brewing in California screwed up their first try at making a barleywine ("Gnarlywine," natch) in the late 90's, but they were left with an interesting recipe wherein they threw in some brown cane sugar. The resultant brew wasn't what they were going for but... it was pretty good. Pretty damn good. They called it Brown Shugga, and it became a big hit for them when it was released every winter. In the winter of 2010-11 though, they hit a snag. The brewery was expanding, and construction forced the brewers to choose: do we make the time-consuming 'Shugga and cut production on our staple beers, or do we cut 'Shugga, and risk pissing people off? They went with option two.

The announcement of Brown Shugga's temporary demise was met with patience and understanding and thousands of people agreed that Lagunitas totally sucked and how dare they. The brewers' answer to the hue and cry was twofold: first, they brewed a limited edition double IPA, then they named it Lagunitas Sucks. Noses: they were thumbed.

Sucks is an unremarkable, and very clear, amber in color underneath a very thick head. The initial froth in your glass will follow the beer all the way to the bottom. The nose is a super floral citrus, like an orange blossom. That citrus reveals a dark side in its taste, becoming zesty and bitter. The bitterness hits all over the tongue but slides coolly across like legs into fresh sheets. Roll this one around in your mouth and a tiny sweetness occurs. That sweetness is just a vague thought though, the remembrance of a dream: there in flashes, then gone. Your hand with reach for your glass like your mind for that memory because this limited edition beer is delicious. It's also available on tap and in bottles, but not for too much longer.

Even more limited edition is the Island Reserve series from Cisco Brewers, and they rarely leave home base in Nantucket. Their Madaquet IPA has earned enough renown, and been produced in sufficient quantities, to make it all the way down to Connecticut. It pours a marigold color, but is resistant to light passing through its cloudy body under a cumulus head. The aroma is mystifying - there is a bit, just a bit of citrusy hops, but the predominant smell is... what? Grains of paradise? Allspice? I can't put my nose's finger on it. That infuriating, alluring essence carries over into the taste. There is a nice sweetness, I'm guessing from a dose of wheat in the malt bill, but Madaquet finished super dry. Hops have to do with this, but are there oak chips? Was the finished beer rested on a bed of them, maybe? I was fascinated by the beer as I drank my snifter down. It was like reading a gifted author, you get through a phrase and just think 'wow.' 

I walked into The Ginger Man in SoNo not knowing I was going to have the above, but "Soul Kitchen" was playing, so I liked my odds. As you can see, I was in luck. We are all in luck, as The G'Man will be hosting a beer pairing dinner with Sixpoint on February 25th, with five courses and five beers for $75. 

In other good news, both The Ginger Man in Norwalk and Coalhouse Pizza in Stamford will have a fresh release of New England Brewing's Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA on tap by the time you read this. If they have it, New Haven county readers can rest assured NEB has distributed FBD closer to home. I'd check Plan B in Milford, and places like The Cask Republic, Prime 16, Delaney's, and Rudy's in New Haven.

Not a hop fan? I have something for you, too. 

Ridgeway Brewing is a U.K. based brewer, and they makes Elves. (Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, etc.) Their Criminally Bad Elf barleywine pours a crystal clear tawny color usually associated with muscato or the skin of a Miami retiree, and smells for all the world like strawberry Twizzlers. I hate myself so much right now for typing that. It's true I could say its aroma is evocative of the sugary wort from which it was produced, with a hint of figs, but that's only after my brain stops ricocheting "TwizzlersTwizzlersTwizzlers" around my skull and replaying a soundbite of the cellophane being peeled off of one.Stupid brain

ANYWHO, that sweetness is a bit down in the mix of the ale's flavor. There's a good amount of body to this barleywine, and not much head, but there's a light interplay between a slight hop bitterness and a breath of toasted malts. The hops aren't bitter in the style of American craft brews where they can be like an entire lacrosse team crashing a party, but just sort of a Euro-style background bitterness, with no herbal or aromatic content. This is a very straight forward, old school example of the barleywine style. There's nothing in the way of crafty decoration, but there is a whole lot of winter-banishing alcohol - 10.5%, to be precise - because you know what's fun on cold, dark nights.