Founded in 1993 by Tony Magee in Lagunitas, Calif., and a year later moving to Petaluma, Lagunitas Brewing was the fifth top selling craft brewery in the United States in 2014. Since the mid-2000s, Lagunitas has been one of the fastest-growing craft breweries, going from 27,000 barrels in 2004 to 600,000 barrels in 2014. A second brewery opened in Chicago in 2012 and another brewery is slated to open in 2017 in Azusa, Calif., increasing its brewing capacity to almost 2 million barrels annually.

Last year, Lagunitas sold a 50 percent stake in the company to Heinekin International to help expand its global operations.

Known for its iconoclastic interpretations of traditional beer styles, I feel that the beer that I hold in my hand will be no exception.

Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball bottle

The Hairy Eyeball, an American strong ale, is one of Lagunitas’ limited release beers.

I pop the top to no fanfare and pour this concoction into the glass and watch as an off-white head rises to at least two fingers with a beer color of reddish-mahogany; beautiful. Tons of tiny carbonation bubbles cling to the underside of the head, yet I hear no fizz.

I take in my first aromas and they are hard to detect, though I do get molasses, brown sugar and grains. I indulge in what I anticipate will be a malty beer and I am not surprised, as I get a load of sweet malt, toffee, hay, barnyard grasses and some touches of chocolate, citrus and raw biscuit dough.

Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball

The mouthfeel is coating, syrupy and cloyingly sweet with a very light hop bite and a touch of overripe citrus. Carbonation is as expected, mild, but ideally suitable for the style. The alcohol is well hidden and only shows itself ever so slightly as the beer warms.

Update (March 8, 2016) — This post originally indicated the Chicago brewery opened in 2012, it opened in 2014.

Lagunitas The Hairy Eyeball
BREWERY: Lagunitas Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Petaluma, Calif.
STYLE: American Strong Ale
ABV: 9.1 percent
IBU: 56.66
PRICE: $7.49
RELEASE DATE: January 1997
AVAILABLE IN: 22-ounce bottles
BEERS POURED: One
Overall, this is typical of a strong ale but seems to be a touch too sweet for the style. Bready malts and molasses dominate and do not let many other flavors come through. Because of this, the balance seems to suffer a bit. A good beer, but lacks in balance and complexity. Maltheads rejoice, this one is for you
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