The bad boy of the brewing world, Lagunitas Brewing Company from Petaluma, Calif., makes no secret of the fact that it loves the bud-bearing plants. For those who don’t know, the hop plant used in beer and the marijuana plant both contain similar-looking buds and they are sisters in the plant kingdom. Marijuana, so I’ve heard, has some holistic healing properties, and hops are the magical bittering component of beer that balances the brew’s malt sweetness.
Lagunitas’s worship of the sister buds is part of the entire package. This beer company definitely has a sense of humour. This is encapsulated in its choice of beer names: Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, Hop Stoopid and The Kronik. However, the American government forced it to change the label for The Kronik, even though California state authorities initially approved it. It seems government officials thought the name was too similar to a street term used by pot smokers for their green herb.
A brewery tour there this past summer taught me the secret of how Lagunitas is able to pack so much pungent hop aroma and flavour into its beers. The brew house puts the “high” in high-tech. The brew is pressurized with very little hop aroma escaping from the brew kettles, which is unlike most conventional brewhouses that don’t have sealed units. There are only three of these German built “Rolic” systems in North America. To describe this in terms stoners can understand, “dude, Lagunitas’s brew house is like putting hop buds in a vapourizer pipe”.
Lagunitas also has a secret weapon to pack more flavour into its beers. Partly through ingenuity, but mostly through necessity, head brewer Jeremy Marshall has developed the world’s first “hop cannon” for dry hopping. Dry hopping is a technique of adding more hops after the beer’s initial fermentation to make a beer taste drier and to add more hop aroma to it without imparting the bud’s bitterness.
Lagunitas is in the heart of Sonoma wine country and with the rapid expansion of its brewery, the company had to put some of its fermenting tanks outside. Beer requires the utmost cleanliness during the brewing process, and having these tanks open to wild yeasts in the air from all the nearby wineries, even briefly, puts the beers at risk of infection. There’s also the danger of working on ladders in all sorts of inclement weather. Marshall found a way to dry hop under pressure by blasting a stream of hops into the giant sealed tanks of beer. Looking like something out of Back to the Future, this cannon has a cryogenic portion that freezes the hops before their addition to the tanks. This gadget has been a great source of laughs around the brewery, especially when a brewer is shooting hops into the tanks — it sounds like a casino slot machine making a payoff.
Lagunitas brews some entertaining suds; here are some of my favourites:
Lagunitas Pilsner: (5.3 per cent alcohol content) Malty, spicy, tangy and delicious. I can’t see anyone wanting to drink a Heineken ever again after one of these.
Lagunitas Imperial Stout: (8 per cent) Big, black and belligerent, a great homage to the Russian Queen of stout styles.
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid: (8 per cent) This beer starts and ends with large amounts of hop flavour.
All these Lagunitas brews and many more are available in our local market. If you’re looking for a local buzz to the suds, Lagunitas actually buys the barley (malt) for their beers from Alberta farmers.