LAGUNITAS’ A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was already a coup, justly ranked among America’s best beers in two categories (wheat beers and pale ales). Trying to improve upon that formula requires either bravado or a true bolt of inspiration. Lagunitas has both.
This seasonal offshoot, A Little Sumpin’ Wild, pushes an already bold base profile even further—up to 8.8% ABV, 72 IBUs, and an OG near 1090—and then tops it off with a Belgian yeast. But this is not just any sample scraped off some farmhouse floor; it’s from Westmalle, forefathers among Belgian Trappist ales and ‘inventors’ of the modern tripel. Their high-gravity strain is robust, capable of high attenuation, and favored for its spiciness and complex phenols. Rarely, though, does it encounter such hop-heavy worts as Lagunitas’ (indeed, this must be one of the hoppiest Belgian-style beers around), so success in this summit of East and West was hardly guaranteed.
Luckily for us, the brewers at Lagunitas are a clever bunch and the beer they’ve delivered is a real delight. Like its year-round relative Sumpin’ Wild pours a pure honey color with a bountiful white head and generous lacing. Its aroma is unmistakably Belgian, though, bursting with candy, banana, sweet esters, and appropriately floral hop notes. Implied bitterness in the nose may be gentle, but once on the palate Sumpin’ Wild is not shy about its West Coast origins. Grapefruit, lemon, and even mango flavors intertwine with an increasingly assertive bitterness in the finish that’s strangely complemented by cutting and slightly solventy phenols. On the midpalate the wheat flavors so charming in the original version are now subordinate to the yeast’s fruity esters and hop bitterness alike, but still manage to make their presence felt. Meanwhile, sweet honey and caramel malts leave a little residue on the palate along with a little alcohol tang and perhaps a touch of alkalinity. Carbonation is clean and strong though not as prickly and fulminating as a true Belgian golden ale. Correspondingly, the body is also a touch girthier and more in line with a standard American pale ale—hardly heavy, though, and appropriate for all the hops on hand. The finish has some sweet yeastiness while remaining citric overall, moderately bitter, with a good final dose of nectary hop resins and grapefruit.
Overall it is hard to say whether Sumpin’ Wild is any better than its base brother—the hop profile is of necessity a touch less complex and the grains textures of the body less luxurious. But in all other respects the synthesis of styles is simply masterful. A truly beguiling brew.
Served: 12 oz bottled September 24, 2013