We here at Drunkspin have a well-established affinity for fake holidays, which is why today brings us much pleasure despite the rainy Monday Aprilness of it all. It’s Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maine; Boston Marathon Day in the wealthier parts of Eastern Massachusetts; and Weed Day everywhere! I’m not particularly into colonial cosplay, public self-abuse, or the devilgrass, but I respect the subcultures that embrace these traditions, plus I’m just a sucker for any holiday that doesn’t require church, gift wrap, or disavowal of grain.
When mapping out the Drunkspin editorial calendar at the beginning of the year, I penciled Stone Enjoy By 4.20 into today’s slot, but then I realized that would only give readers a few hours of shopping time to react to the positive review. So we ran the Enjoy By post a few weeks ago, which left us scrambling for a way to commemorate today’s triple holiday.
American Patriot Beer seemed an obvious choice, but I’ve never had it, and it doesn’t sound very good. There’s also Sam Adams’s marathon-commemorating 26.2 beer, but it’s only available in the Boston area and therefore isn’t really an appropriate thing to review on a national site. A beer from North Carolina’s highly acclaimed Wicked Weed would have worked, but it’s not sold in my state, and I didn’t think of it in time to try to scum up a gray-market sample. So what recourse do we have but to make an exception to our high-horsed rule about not reviewing any SweetWater beers so that we can cram in a review of their 420 Extra Pale Ale?
First, a quick rehashing of how that particular horse got high in the first place. SweetWater is one of the dozens or hundreds of breweries that can’t resist stupid puns and innuendo in their marketing, and a lot of it is at least mildly sexist. I try to draw a distinction between references to sex, which are not inherently negative, and explicitly sexist references to blondes, boobs, wenches, hand jobs, or anything else that places one gender (guess what? It is most often the female one!) in a subordinate position. What I’m saying is that I’d be fine with a Let’s Fuck IPA, but not with a Suck It, Bitch stout. Seems a simple rule of thumb, and SweetWater violated it when they sent me a sample of Happy Endings beer along with a bottle of skin cream, so I made fun of them and said I was done reviewing their beer.
But here we are, because it’s a holiday, dammit, and also because one of the unsung benefits of white-dudehood is being able to opt in and out of social-justice movements without consequence. I suck. But this beer is good, and the marketing is relatively inoffensive!
SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale made its debut on April 20, 1997, and it tastes more like the year than it does the day: It’s got that era’s hallmark Centennial and Cascade hops, along with a more balanced hop-to-malt flavor profile, rather than the super-dank pot-hop characteristics you find in newer West Coast pale ales and IPAs (think of the Stone/Lagunitas/Green Flash model). I like this slightly retro approach. It opens with a slightly soapy but pleasantly spicy aroma, followed by a bready malt flavor that betrays relatively gentle hopping by contemporary pale ale standards. There’s some orange and pepper in there, too, with the hops leaning more citrus than pine. The soapy part fades quickly, but the bread sticks around, making this beer somewhat novel among today’s pale ale market.
SweetWater’s got some cheesy—and at times offensive—marketing, but they also make some decent beer, and 420’s a fine one for any patriots, exercisers, or filthy hippies looking to get festive today.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
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