The Beertender Fights the Man with Lagunitas Brewing Company

Something I'd like to do more often in the future is spotlight individual breweries that sell their wares in the St Louis area. To that end, let us talk today of a new arrival, the pride of Petaluma, California: the Lagunitas Brewing Company.

click to enlarge Petaluma, California, the home of Lagunitas Brewing Company - Robert Campbell, Wikimedia Commons
Robert Campbell, Wikimedia Commons
Petaluma, California, the home of Lagunitas Brewing Company
Owner Tony Magee founded his brewery  in 1993 in Lagunitas (pronounced lah-goo-NEE-tus), California. He moved the entire operation to Petaluma a few years later when it outgrew its original home. Predominantly an ale brewer, Lagunitas makes the kind of beers that cause American beer geeks to swoon: highly hopped, high gravity, unbeholden to style parameters and packaged with a sense of humor. A bottle label may jokingly disparage the brewers themselves, and the brewery's website admits, "Our brewers love the challenge of a new recipe, while our drinkers love the challenge of figuring out what the hell the weird story on the side panel has to do with the beer in the bottle."

Unsurprising then that this is the company that once produced a line of beers honoring employees' favorite Frank Zappa records.

Furthering their iconoclastic image, folks at Lagunitas have had their share of challenges to their business and are unafraid to tell the world about them. From unfriendly neighbors to governmental interference, forces have conspired to give the brewery official underdog status, and it has the beer names to prove it. One such beer, a hoppy amber ale, is called Censored, so called because the original title, the Kronik, was deemed unacceptable by the Label Approval Man. Another beer is titled Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale. That story is perhaps better heard from the source (video, um, possibly NSFW).

California is often credited with being ground zero for the craft-beer revolution, just as vintners and chefs from The Golden State have profoundly changed the way Americans think about wine and food. Lagunitas continues this tradition by producing adventurous takes on common styles while coming up with a few unique creations. Lagunitas wheat beers tend to be much hoppier and stronger than most, and many of the company's beers, including the brown-sugary Brown Shugga and hypermalty Hairy Eyeball, can only be categorized as, simply, Strong Ale. The by-comparison straightforward IPA is a classic West Coast hop bomb, and one of the best selling India pale ales in the country.

At a time when some brewers are really starting to push the boundaries of what a beer drinker will pay, it's refreshing to be able to report that this is a brewery whose beers won't give you sticker shock. A recent shopping trip brought me face to face with two exciting, new-to-me beers from different brewers, both high gravity, both sold in 22-ounce bottles. The first beer, an IPA from Indiana, sold for 12.99, while the Lagunitas brew, Hop Stoopid, went for only 5.49. Guess which brewery got my money.

Now, normally I'm not the kind of person that passes on a great experience due to cost alone. If I am genuinely excited about something, I'll pass on a handful of less exciting opportunities if it means I get to indulge in the more memorable one. The problem lately? With beer beginning to enjoy the cachet -- and therefore the hype and pricing potential -- of wine, some breweries are jacking up prices to the point that even this impulsive beer buyer has found himself saying, "Are you shitting me? For twelve ounces?"

But I needn't worry about that if I'm buying Lagunitas. Look for these beers, as well as Lagunitas Dogtown Pale (the source of the company's canine logo), Cappuccino Stout and other seasonal releases at your finer beer stores such as Lukas Liquors, Randall's and the Wine & Cheese Place.

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.