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Local Beer Is Great, But Fresh Beer Is Better

Illustration for article titled Local Beer Is Great, But Fresh Beer Is Better

I'm lukewarm on most traditional holidays, the ones that require shopping and showering and dancing around maypoles and/or respectful disbelief in the supernatural; some of these holidays come with ham and presents, but even then the risks can outweigh the rewards. I still consider myself a joyous, festive, work-averse guy at heart, however, which is why I'm so willing to embrace any and all fake new marketing holidays that come my way.

There's been a bumper crop of fun, dumb holidays the past few weeks. St. Patrick's Day was of course the loudest and proudest, and while I did make it to the Irish-owned bar down the road to perform my liver's annual Guinness ablution, I don't get that fired up for St. Paddy's. It's a bit too close to being a real holiday, and I don't really care for cabbage and puke. Plus it comes too close to Pi Day, a delightfully fake holiday that gets quite a bit of attention in my neighborhood near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the nerds my wife works with makes commemorative T-shirts and everything (by everything I mean pie, at least two kinds; she's a good nerd).

The first four days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament might be my favorite fauxliday of all, and this year the Saturday coincided with another strong new cause for celebration: Allagash Brewing's Saison Day. A local bar tapped a keg of the new Allagash Century Ale, a brett saison, at 10pm, and had a dozen or more other saisons to choose from too. I couldn't make it that night, but I did get there on Saison Boxing Day, by which time they were out of the Century Ale, freeing me up to try even more of the other weird stuff I'd never seen before.


I had great brett saisons from California's Lost Abbey and New York's Other Half, which reminded me once again that there's high-class beer every damn place now. It's not just in Maine, anymore: Now they're making quality Belgian farmhouse ales in sleepy beer backwaters like Brooklyn and San Diego County. This lesson was reinforced a couple of days ago when I tried a few excellent new-to-me beers from Cincinnati (yes, I will review them soon; yes, the headline will contain a trollish reference to the city's revolting chili culture).

I'm not saying these beers are any better than the ones brewed closer to my home; I choose New England beers for most of my pleasure-drinking, because I like supporting local businesses for all the usual hippie reasons and also because there are a lot of great brewers around here. But one dirty secret that the localism fetishists ignore is that just because a beer was made in your town does not mean it will be fresh when you drink it. Local beer can rot on the shelves for just as long as imports do.

Most stores and bars these days carry too damn many brands of beer, making it impossible to keep it all in good working order. The better news is that the trend toward freshness dating on beer labels has been gaining momentum lately, particularly among shippers of the hoppy styles that are most adversely affected by aging. India pale ales don't go bad like meat goes bad. They don't get slimy and smelly and poisonous, but I almost wish they did. Instead they just slowly fade into mediocrity as the hop character erodes. One of the Bissell brothers of new Maine fame told me that their beer is at its best three or four days after it's brewed. That's a mighty short window, and I have no idea if he's telling me the truth (good dude, but, well, he drinks …), but it's pretty widely accepted that a hoppy beer will have lost detectable luster within a month after packaging.

This is why I'm a fan of Stone Brewing's Enjoy By double IPAs. Stone is big on gimmicky self-promotion, but they're also big on making excellent beer, and in this case it all comes together in a legitimately consumer-friendly hustle whereby the very name of the beer tells you when it's going to be past its prime. Each bottling of Enjoy By is given 35 days between packaging and expiration, with the death date usually timed to coincide with a holiday. The last one was Pi Day, and the current release is Enjoy By 4/20.


You may be aware that Adolf Hitler was born on April 20. Now, Stone's pulled some questionable stunts in the past; I wouldn't put much past any big, established company with the gall to launch a crowd-funding campaign to pay for a brewery expansion project. But that said, I would like the record to reflect my firm belief that Stone is not, in fact, run by Nazi sympathizers. So this means Enjoy By 4/20 must have been brewed to honor this year's running of the Boston Marathon. That's a classy gesture, what with the bombing trial going on and the near-certainty that there will be at least one blizzard during the race. You're all right, Stone.

The Enjoy By recipe is complicated, with 11 different hops mentioned on the brewery's website. There's some debate within the rich and vibrant beer-debating community as to whether the recipe is always the same. I believe it is; it's impossible to compare one edition to any that came before, due to the freshness factor, but I'm willing to believe that any slight variation from batch to batch stems from uncontrollable factors like hop quality and the regular old vagaries of brewing.


Enjoy By smells like an evergreen forest with slightly overripe pineapples and mangos impaled Christmas-star-style on every tenth tree. It's spectacular. There's a slight raw sugar sensation on the palate, but for the most part this beer is all hops, a thoughtfully bombastic mix of North American (Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade, etc.) and Southern Hemisphere (Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, and a couple I've never heard of) varieties. There's a hint of booziness, but nothing untoward out of a beer that's 9.4-percent alcohol by volume.

This is the first Enjoy By available in 6-packs as well as the traditional 22-ounce bombers. A big bottle costs about $9, and I've seen reports of the 6-packs running around $15. That's pretty steep, but it's not unreasonable given the double IPA market and Enjoy By's excellence.


Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.


Illustration by Sam Woolley.

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