A few weeks ago, we here at DC Beer got a cryptic email from Lagunitas.  The Northern California brewery wanted to know if we’d be interested in coming out to brew…in 9 days.  We were indeed interested. 

When co-editor Chris arrived at the brewery, the veil was lifted: Lagunitas was embarking on a nationwide tour, Couch Trippin’, in the run-up to its own Austin music and beer festival coinciding with SXSW.  Participating bands and members of the music and beer press were invited out to help craft the base brew (Fusion 19) and blend city-specific batches poured only in their hometowns.  Represented were San Francisco (Kim’s Bay Brews), Chicago (Good Beer Hunting, Consequence of Sound), Nashville/Atlanta (Beer Street Journal), and DC (Brightest Young Things and us).

After an extensive tour and a healthy number of beers, we cracked to it.  Lagunitas’s operation is damn big – they’re the 6th largest craft brewery in the US, after all – and much of the brewing process is automated, but they made sure we all had a chance to open a malt bag into the mill and dump some oats into the mash tun.  It was preordained that the base beer would be a brown, so it wasn’t until the boil that we got to exert our full influence.

Up in the loft – an elevated rumpus room looking over the brewery, imbued with mythical status by brewery staff – we gathered to choose the dry hops for the base beer.  A selection of pellets was laid out on the bar, but we didn’t just stick our noses in.  No, in the spirit of Lagunitas’s NorCal heritage, the hops were vaporized for taste-testing.  In the end, a consensus formed over a blend of vinous, gooseberry-tinged Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand and Mosaic, the complex, blueberry-ish NW cultivar currently in fashion.

The resulting dry-hopped brown will serve as the common ground among all the city-specific blends.  So we were off to the barrels to determine the final products.  Head brewer Jeremy Marshall pulled samples out of four barrels for us to taste unadulterated. 

  • A mixture of RIS and Kronik in High West rye barrels used to age Boulevardier cocktails
  • Straight Kronik in those same barrels
  • Straight Kronik in barrels used to age Manhattans
  • Bretted saison aged in red wine

Now, I thought for sure I'd be vying for the last option, given how much I've loved wine-barrel saisons this year.  And indeed, the straight funk pulled out verged on the sublime, but I was concerned about how the flavors would play with the base beer.  The grain bill and dry-hopping of the brown led me to expect a sweet, floral end product, so my DC partener in crime, Stephanie, and I zigged when I'd fully intended to zag and went with the Manhattan barrels.  Thankfully, each market got their top choice of blends, so there was no haggling or name-calling.

The resulting blends will be featured when the Couch Trippin' Tour rolls into town.  They'll hit Austin, their final destination, on March 12th, so expect more news on the DC release before that.

Big thanks to Ron Lindenbusch, Ryan Tamborski, Fred Abercrombie, Tim Decker, and everyone else from Lagunitas for hosting us in such great style.