Beer: Born Yesterday Brewery: Lagunitas Brewing Co. Style: Pale Ale ABV: 7.5 percent
In beer, freshness matters. Brewers go to great lengths to get beer from their fermentors to your mouth in a timely fashion. The reason: science!
Like most foodstuffs, beer is a perishable product. The longer it sits on the shelf, the less it's going to taste as the brewer intended it to when he sent it off for packaging. The reasons for this decrease in quality are numerous, but they're most often caused by the ingredients used to make the beer as well as other compounds that may sneak in during the brewing and packaging process. Oxygen is the most common of these rascals -- it's found to some degree in every packaged beer and can react with a beer's ingredients to create changes in its flavor profile. This process, called oxidation, causes some pretty radical shifts: sweet and catty aromas increase; the flavors of fruity esters and fresh, floral hops decrease; notes of caramel, toffee, paper, wine, whiskey or leather can emerge; hop bitterness drops while the harshness of said bitterness gets a boost. Given enough time, almost any beer will eventually become an astringent, honey-sweet, cardboardy mess.
Now, sometimes these changes can be desirable. Many high-alcohol beers that seem "hot," or boozy, at the time they're released can mellow out nicely given a year or two in a cool, dark cellar. Those wine-like or leathery notes mentioned above would be right at home in a well-aged barleywine or imperial stout. But the other flavor developments -- namely the decrease in fresh, floral flavors and bitterness -- are death for a beer meant to be enjoyed fresh, like an IPA.
Luckily, brewers have a simple method to combat the deleterious effects of aging: get the beer to the customer, FAST. With perhaps no beer is this method more on display than Lagunitas Born Yesterday. To make this pale ale/IPA, brewers tweaked the recipe for Lagunitas' regular-release pale ale, New Dogtown. They then added absurd amounts of wet (that is, fresh and unkilned) hops picked just hours before in Washington's Yakima Valley. Packed with 10 pounds per barrel of Equinox, Mosaic and Amarillo hops, the beer was packaged and shipped within 24 hours to a select few states in Lagunitas' distribution network.
Guess what? Arizona was one of those states.
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The difference made by the addition of wet hops and the freaky-fast delivery is immediately clear. The aroma, for starters, is crazy-vibrant -- if I didn't know this was beer, I'd swear it was a tropical drink made of fresh-squeezed juices, served on some temperate beach near the equator. Tangerine peel, mango, pineapple, cotton candy, honeysuckle and low-baked sugar cookies are all perceptible in the aroma-blanket lingering above the clouded tangerine brew. The flavor has more of a citrusy bite, with sharp grapefruit peel and wet grass to go along with subtle juicyfruit tones. Bitterness is -- predictably -- pretty firm, tugging on the sides of the tongue with each sip. A touch of honey sweetness brings balance to the hop bomb, carrying into a clean finger-snap of a finish. No oxidation was happening with this guy; no sir -- it's as bright and vibrant as a fresh-hopped beer can possibly be.
Born Yesterday arrived in town in extremely limited amounts, so it may be hard to find. But the lesson that birthed it is clear: Fresh beer is better. Demand it wherever you shop, and never settle for a brew that's obviously past its prime. This beer may have been born yesterday, but you weren't.