Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
British fans of decent American beer have got it pretty good these days, as well as a steady supply of more popular and 'accessible' beers from the likes of Sierra Nevada and Goose Island we're also spoilt with the likes of Odell, Flying Dog, Left Hand and much, much more. With the explosion of new British breweries that are now brewing full-flavoured, modern, American style beers you'd expect that many American breweries over here would be loosing market share to us plucky Brits and they might well be but still the Americans keep coming with Oskar Blues recently arriving on the scene and Great Divide returning to our shores after a brief hiatus.
Lagunitas IPA, cool for cats
I'm lucky enough to have been to the States several times and have drank most of these beers in their native environment. My favourite style of beer, the humble American IPA is best drank fresh and as close to the source as possible but if done well, exports can reach here in near-perfect condition (Odell do a wonderful job here) and if not the beers can often arrive here a shadow of their former selves. Anglophiles Doug Odell from Odell Brewing and Garrett Oliver from the Brooklyn Brewery visit the UK regularly, they want their beer to be available over here and they want it to taste right and what better way to ensure that the beer is in tip-top shape than to come over here and drink it themselves. In fact, Odell feels so indebted to our British brewing history that once an employee completes five years of service they are sent over here, to taste where the inspiration for their own beers came from.
That link between our two countries is crucial if these breweries want to make sure that their beer is successful over here so enter California's Lagunitas who have taken things one step further by sending over a full time Sales Manager to ensure that things are done right. Sales Manager might not be the right word as Scottish born Fraser Murray's official job title is North-Central Euro-merican Regional Captain for Tactical Zymurgicological Retail Beverage Deployment and Demand-Vectored Development which might not make an iota of sense but encapsulates the frivolous spirit of Lagunitas Brewing Company. I met up with Fraser for a few beers before Lagunitas launched over here in the UK, like myself he believes that the UK beer scene is still a long way behind the US where even terrible bars still usually have a decent IPA on tap. In the UK, Lagunitas want that beer to be their own IPA and Fraser was very kind and gave me a few bottles to try.
I'll confess I've drank Lagunitas IPA over in the States before and their Lagunitas Sucks double IPA is quite simply one of the best beers I've had this year. I feel that this gives me an advantage though because in knowing how good this beer tastes when it's fresh I know what I expect from these bottles. I was impressed, I've had some imported beers recently that have been so poorly kept that the essential hop oils that make them taste SO DAMN GOOD had ebbed away like grains of sand on the North-Lincolnshire coastline. Lagunitas IPA is a beer I think of not as a hop bomb but instead a balanced IPA for drinking every day and damn I wish I had this in my fridge every day. There's grapefruit and mango juice in spades and the fruit is backed up by a rich, robust malt platform, this is how West Coast IPA should taste.
Thanks to a partnership with Adnams Southwold, Lagunitas aim to have a constant supply of kegged IPA flowing into the UK from now on. I've already tried some at the Euston Tap and Earl of Essex in London and at the Hanging Bat in Edinburgh and can confirm that it is in tip top shape. One very interesting factor that will galvanise this beers success in the UK is it's price, you might guffaw at a fiver for a pint but compared to a rival US IPA that travels poorly and usually sells for upwards of eight pounds a pint this beer is offering incredible value for the quality and flavour you're getting. Although it's only available on keg for now Fraser assures me that bottles aren't far behind and more of their core range of beers should soon follow suit. Rumour has it that we may even see some of the heavenly Lagunitas Sucks double IPA and you can be assured that I'll be first in line when that keg is tapped.
Thanks again to Fraser and the guys at Lagunitas for the beers, if you want to try Lagunitas IPA it's still available at The Euston Tap and is popping up at good beer bars all over the country.