"Bittersweet", in the case of Lagunitas' Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (from here on, "Undercover"), is really a wonderful battle of bitter versus sweet.
Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale
This is a tremendously well balanced beer. And, like most from Lagunitas, Undercover is far better than much of its competition at the same price point.
Undercover's alcohol presence is high by volume, but only a bit more than moderately noticeable in taste. Biting bitterness is tempered by a silky smooth, but not overbearing, sweetness.
Yet, this excellent balance is achieved at the sacrifice of anything wildly memorable about the flavor profile.
Upon pour, a head initially a finger and a half tall rests atop the beer, with the half-finger fading quickly. Undercover appears ruddy orange, like a pumpkin far beyond being ripe, and is only translucent in the same sense as stained glass.
Traces of spotty lacing.
The head, more foamy than creamy, stifles the flushness of the aroma, initially allowing only a hint of lemon to rise to the nose. As the scent opens, it flourishes with a zesty orange nature and a characteristic difficult to pin down, but such that it provokes anticipation of resinous hops to follow.
Undercover's mouthfeel is moderately thick, maybe even slightly more than moderate for an amber, and leaves some stickiness on the palate.
Upon first sip, the hops initially sting the tip of the tongue and then relent. Overt bitterness is not immediately evident but grows quickly in the aftertaste, as does the peppery hop spice. Upon continued savoring, increasing bitterness is present with each of the following sips.
Yet, while bitterness is certainly true, Undercover offers a strong caramel characteristic. It is sweet; not like taffy, but something like a decadent toffee. Undercover is a successful exercise in dichotomy, effectively countering bitter with sweet.
Lagunitas' beers are known for powerful, dank, piney notes. Not here. Undercover's most delicious traits derive from the malt profile, not from the hops.
Lacking the trademark pine, Undercover is neither better nor worse than its Lagunitas brethren for it. Just different.
Given the history of its creation, Undercover seems surprisingly mature. Perhaps the opposite of exotic. Undercover is the conservative take on a style shared by the much more wild Ruination, Hop Stoopid, and Abrasive, et al.
Beer worth raving about? Probably not. Yet, Undercover is one that Lagunitas has executed nearly without flaw.
Undercover is a three star beer. However, its value - of which Lagunitas always delivers (Undercover being below two dollars per bottle at the local Total Wine) - earns it an extra half star.
So, 3.5 of 5 stars from TheCraftBeerGuru, with a recommendation (although second to other Lagunitas offerings including Sucks and Brown Shugga).