Craft beer so often exists as a form of protest. Against boring, corporate beer. Against teetotalers in the 1940s. Even against the authorities themselves. Lagunitas' Undercover Shut-Down Ale is another form of dissent, albeit a very personal, and very specific one.
Lagunitas is well known for the wake-and-bake, live-and-let-live culture championed by its founder, Tony Magee. And like any large company, that tone eventually permeates even the furthest reaches of the organization. So it was no surprise to visitors of the brewery's taproom in a loft on some old out-of-the-way farmland in Petaluma, California that drinking and smoking were tolerated, and even encouraged. The kegs were tapped at 4:20p every Thursday.
According to Ron Lindenbusch, officially known as the Beer Weasel at Lagunitas, it was mostly family and friends, and whoever else wanted to make the trip were welcomed in the small loft bar (long before the current brewpub and patio were built). At some point the California Alcohol Beverage Control got suspicious (perhaps the conspicuous starting time tipped them off) and sent in some undercover agents who attempted to get in underage, get over-served, and buy weed off anyone willing to sell it. But none of that happened in the 8 weeks of the sting — mostly they were just offered some free weed whenever they asked. It's almost adorable.
But on St. Patrick's Day 2005, the agents rushed in anyways and busted some folks for smoking in the yard outside and charged the brewery with Disorderly House and Moral Turpitude (which would have been an even better name for the beer, IMHO). The original one-year suspension of operation was reduced to 20 days, and the brwery got to choose when they served those days. So they picked mid-January, and used the time to install a new bottling line and got a ton of press out of the ordeal.
Ron Lindenbusch, Beer Weasel
In California, the ABC also approves beer labels, so Tony and Robin, self-titled Miss FancyPants-head-of-accounting, decided to close out the saga with a bit of intellectual mischief, calling the beer "Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale," knwoing it'd cross their desks. A year later, an ABC agent showed up to give Lagunitas their license back. Tony walked up to him and asked, “Does your mother know what you do? She must be very proud of you. When you were a kid, did you want to grow up and be a jerk and shutdown parties and shutdown small companies and breweries?” The agent responded, “No, I actually wanted to be an astronaut,” to which Tony shot back, “Well, you came up a little short on that one, didn’t you?"