Drink them while they are fresh

Boulevard 80-Acre Wheat Ale

You might have heard that Stone Brewing released a beer called Stone Enjoy By 09.21.12 IPA in the last few days ago. (That’s not the date on the bottle above, and we will get to that right after explaining what Stone is doing.)

Stone released 09.21.12 only in Chicago, New Jersey and Southern California, and come Sept. 21 (also a Friday) “if any beer remains on the shelf it will be immediately removed.” A press release calls this a “35-day package-to-drink cycle.” Most Stone beers list a shelf life of 90 days, some longer.

Stone head brewer Mitch Steele talks about brewing the beer, the hop additions, and the hops used as well as the volatile nature of hop aroma in this Double IPA in this video from Stone.

Of course other beers dosed with large amounts of late hops — at or near the end of boiling, then in dry hopping — are just as fragile. (Yes, I just use IPA and fragile in the same sentence.)

Research at Sierra Nevada Brewing has determined the levels of the compounds that produce those floral, spicy, etc. aromas that have made highly hopped beers so popular drop dramatically the first three days after bottling. They migrate from the liquid to the head space to the liner of the bottle cap, and perhaps eventually into the atmosphere. After three days an “average” IPA might contain the same level of myrcene, for instance, as a pale ale immediately after bottling. How fast the aroma continues to fade in the following weeks depends on many factors, including storage temperature and the amount beer is agitated in shipping.

Just another way that American IPAs are different than the historic India Pale Ales that presumably continued to improve, at least up to a point, during a long boat ride.

The bottle at the top is Boulevard Brewing’s new 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer.1

What struck me as I poured a bottle into a glass last week was, first, that the hop2 aroma (fresh citrus, like buying pineapples fresh where they are grown) jumps from the glass when it still two feet from your nose — but, then, the “best by” date, only a little more than two months off. This on a bottle just released. That’s a short lease.

Turns out that Boulevard does not plan to continue to keep the date Stone-short (a new phrase that makes sense only within the context of this post). Julie Weeks at Boulevard emailed this explanation from brewmaster Steven Pauwels:

“When we introduce a new beer we want to make sure that the customer has a chance to taste the beer the first time at its optimum. Any new beer in our heritage line-up gets short coded during the launch-phase to make sure the consumer gets to taste it as fresh as possible.

“During the development phase we work a lot on stability and come up with best by date that we confirm with real life data when the beer gets to market.”

I will continue to seek out this beer as fresh as I can get it, and I hope on tap. It’s 5.4% ABV, so not officially a “session beer” but one you can have a few of during the course of a Saturday afternoon watching college football. And there’s a lot more hop going on than the 20 IBUs would suggest (Blue Moon White has 18 IBUs, Fat Tire 19 IBUs), a reminder that hops are about a lot more than bitterness.

Which, of course, is the point of Stone Enjoy By 09.21.12 IPA.

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1 Extra credit if when you saw the beer name the first time you thought of James McMurtry’s “60 Acres.”

2 If you can keep up with Jeremy Danner on Twitter you know “Bittering is a blend of CTZ, Bravo, & Summit. Cascade in the whirlpool and Cascade and Nelson (Sauvin) for dry hops.”

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16 Responses to Drink them while they are fresh

  1. Zac August 22, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    I had the 80-Acre as soon as it hit Columbia and it was great, one of my favorite new beers of the year. I had some more this past weekend and could notice a slight difference. It’s good to know that commercial brewers struggle to keep hop aromas as much as we homebrewers do.

  2. Bill August 22, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    I’m looking forward to trying the Enjoy By (I’m in the Chicago burbs) to finally get a sense of what I’ve been reading about over the years with the crazed West Coast releases where folks line up to try as-new-as-possible IPAs from Alpine, say, or Russian River’s Pliny the Younger.

  3. Jeff Alworth August 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Hey man, welcome back.

  4. Alan August 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    What is the arc of the dramatic loss? Is it from 100% to 90% or 30%? If it is dramatic over three days does that mean it is noticeable in one day and significant in two? If so, what is its actual half life? What its its actual stability as a taste profile. Hours?

    And isn’t any product that loses its fundamental characteristic dramatically over three days, well, a profoundly silly product? [This is coming from someone who grew up working in the family cut flower trade and trained in Holland markets and knows decomposition and value intimately.]

  5. Stan Hieronymus August 22, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    This, of course, goes to the skill of the brewer.

    Let’s say I (because I’m not going to speak for a real brewery) know just what the aroma profile will be when I send it off to market. Perhaps I have added extra dry hops, more than you’d want on Day One, to account for that first “hit.”

    And now, if I package the beer well, if I pay to have it shipped well, if I spend money on training, I have a product with a certain shelf life. There is a lot to know, because ongoing research in Belgium is finding variation from one hop variety to the other.

    The alternative, of course, is a totally stable product, but without that aroma people have discovered they like.

    I refer you to NEW BEER RULE #4: The god of beer is not consistency.

  6. Alan August 22, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    This is not a question of consistency but stability. Consistency means bottle variation of one scale or another. This is degradation at a pace that runs into meaninglessness.

    I also wonder if it indicates a division between an interest in beer and an interest in hops.

  7. Stan Hieronymus August 22, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    It’s an interest in aroma and flavor.

    Should you choose not to offer them because they are not stable or should you find a way to assure they are consumed fresh (and that the freshness remains as long as possible)?

  8. Alan August 23, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    That is the experiment, isn’t it. Is this valid or running along the edge of the point of beer. How does the hunt for the Higgs boson help me?

    And at what point in the rapid degradation is “a point” as we say with wine? Maybe you offer them with a disclaimer: not what it was, will be or maybe even is.

  9. Stan Hieronymus August 23, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Isn’t a “best by” date a disclaimer?

    It’s always worth remembering that although Mitch speaks of these aromas with great affection in the Stone video that not everybody likes them (and an even smaller number want them in their beer).

  10. Alan August 23, 2012 at 6:08 am #

    But if it changes within the period of time before the best before, then what is “best”? Not so much about liking anything but experiencing it at all. What does something actually taste like if taste is in motion? Too bad the shifting is not within the drinkers control like a mood ring.

  11. Steve August 24, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    Uh, guys?

    RULE #5: It is only beer

    RULE #8: More beer, less analysis.

  12. The Professor August 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    LOL
    Steve nailed it.

  13. Stan Hieronymus August 27, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    Steve and The Professor – A fair point, but part of the point of this blog is that there is also a time to consider both technical and cultural aspects of beer in depth.

  14. Bill August 27, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    I had a bottle last night, and I guess Rule 5 applies. It was tasty, but nothing beyond the realm of many double IPAs. If the idea is that the aromas were supposed to be more powerful, that wasn’t the case. So, it’s a matter of expectations — had I tried this without knowing anything about it, it would have been a really good beer. Last night, it became a really good beer after i had worked through the “but what’s the difference between this and the Hoptimum I had last month?” aspect. Informative, I guess, in that I now know ultrafreshness isn’t _that_ much of a be all and end all.

  15. Steve August 28, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    “…there is also a time to consider both technical and cultural aspects of beer in depth.”

    Interesting footnote to Rule 8, and this an election year… ;)

  16. Steve August 28, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    “Interesting footnote…”
    “Steve nailed it.”

    Of course, I have the luxury to be facetious because I’m on the outside of the perspective looking in, in this case. Usually I’m the one being admonished for over-analyzation.