Informed citizens tend to blame Budweiser for most of society's ills, and justifiably so. Between the doltish marketing, crummy beer, and thousands of lives lost every year in catastrophic avalanches of Clydesdale shit, it's tempting to call for the company's immediate disbandment, or at least exile to someplace even worse than St. Louis.
Alas, we can't enact either revenge fantasy. Budweiser's parent company, Anheuser-Busch, is now owned by Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate InBev, which means we can't kill it off without some whole big international fiasco. And we can't force it to move somewhere shittier than St. Louis for the obvious reason. So the best recourse is to remember Budweiser's sole contribution to civil society: The introduction of the "born-on date" stamped onto each bottle and can of their doomed-from-the-womb product.
The born-on date debuted in 1996, and the concept was simple: If you spotted a beer that was past its 110 th day, you were to immediately contact Bud's rapid-response team, who would eliminate the offending beer with extreme prejudice. (They've since loosened the rules, but the general principal is intact.)
It seems common-sensical that fresher beer would taste better in almost all instances, particularly those involving bland, lower-alcohol brews, but the macro-chuggers I grew up with never gave freshness a first thought until Bud popularized the notion. I remember a childhood friend whose dad proudly crammed the garage fridge with as many cans of Coors Light as it could hold, and his stock-rotation policy consisted simply of setting aside a couple weekends a year to drink the joint dry.
India pale ale is the most popular style of good beer, and it's also among the quickest to degrade. A six-month-old IPA isn't going to taste bad, per se, and it's certainly not going to do you any harm, but the best part of the hoppiness that makes the style distinct will have long faded. The hardest part about being a beer blogger is nothing—nothing about this is hardest, it's just drinking and typing. But the second-hardest part is trying to track down fresh IPAs to review.
Most brewers now stamp their IPAs with birthdays, or at least enjoy-by dates—in fact, one of my favorite double IPAs is Stone's Enjoy By [Date]. This is a big help to the general consumer and particularly to the rater, because while I'll happily drink anything up to a year old, I'm not comfortable passing judgment on a super-hoppy beer that's been sitting around for longer than six weeks or so.
Tröegs Brewing Company, in Hershey, Penn., makes a lot of really good beer, headlined by their seasonal prestige release, Nugget Nectar imperial amber; I think the best of their year-rounders is Perpetual IPA. (They've chosen to let the I stand for "imperial" rather than "India"; most beer folk classify it as a standard India pale ale.)
I've liked Perpetual for as long as I've known it, but it wasn't until I recently got ahold of a 10-day-old bottle that I fell in love; it was so much brighter and livelier than the couple-month-old samples I'd had previously, which really reinforced the idea that "freshness" isn't just a marketing scheme.
The color's on the hazy orange end of the standard IPA spectrum, with a moderate white head of mixed-size bubbles. Perpetual is treated with seven kinds of hops in three different applications, one of which involves passing the beer through their "hopback" vessel, where it's exposed to whole-flower Mt. Hood and Nugget. This attention to detail is evident on the nose, which is dominated by a blast of juicy tropical and citrus notes—grapefruit, apricot, pineapple—with undercurrents of pine resin and a light caramel maltiness. It smells superb.
It tastes as advertised, though you really need to pour this beauty into a glass and stick your nose in to get the full effect, particularly of the malt—a blend of pilsner, crystal, and Munich—which is otherwise overshadowed by the hops. Perpetual IPA is outstanding beer, marred only slightly by a cleaning-solvent hint on the tail end of the long pine-lemon finish. Individual results will vary, but for me, this beer was the ultimate proof of how freshness can elevate a good IPA to greatness.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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