The Lagunitas Brewing Company of Petaluma, Calif., is such a massive brewery these days that—thanks to being half-owned by Heineken International—it no longer counts as a "craft brewer" the way the Brewers Association defines it. With a second large production facility in Chicago and a third opening soon in Azusa, Calif., Tony Magee's brew operation will have a brewing capacity somewhere close to two million barrels a year before long. All this, despite naming many of their most popular beers after hilarious marijuana slang.
A presence in the Oregon market for over a decade, Lagunitas has been known at least that long for Stone-style hop intensity, high alcohol, and occasionally attracting legal attention. Famously, the California ABC (the equivalent of our own OLCC) staged a raid on the Petaluma facility and closed it down for a 20-day period, following accusations that—gasp—some of the employees might have been dealing a little pot on the side. The suspension ended without any charges filed, and as owner Magee put it: "No one was willing to sell it to them, but everyone was willing to give it to them for free." (Magee's Twitter account at @LagunitasT is full of bon mots like this, although much like another famous president at the moment, he's had to tone it down a bit, post Heineken investment.)
That raid has forever been immortalized in the form of Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, a 9.6 percent beer that drinks sort of like a really, really strong ESB. Then there's the Censored copper ale, so named because it was originally called Kronik Ale, but Lagunitas found that the liquor authorities in a number of states totally harshed their buzz and refused to approve any labels with pot references.
With such an illustrious history of fine beer and meandering label text, it's perhaps a given that late April is a special time for the place. Across the U.S. this 4/20, bars will hold special events to launch this year's installment of The Waldos' Special Ale. This is named after the Waldos, a group of hippies who lived in Marin County in the early '70s. (See this week's Smoke Signals column for more on the ties to the 4/20 thing...) It's in this spirit that Lagunitas named a beer after them. The brewery can't actually print the number on the label, since Atlanta-based Sweetwater Brewing already releases a wholly-unrelated 420 Pale Ale.
How is it? Well, when beer writers (or the guy who writes Stone beer labels) use the term "dank" to refer to a drink's flavor profile, this is it. But there's more than just a ton of hops in this sucker—at 11.5 percent this year, it's got massive amounts of malt backbone, making it more than a mere scent bomb. Without a doubt, it's Lagunitas' hoppiest yet—just make sure to pop it open no later than 4:19 p.m., so the following minute can be thoroughly enjoyed.