Hopocalypto

Stone BrewingMost retail beer will have a “best before” date somewhere on the bottle, though some even have a “best after” date, usually stouts that will benefit from aging. IPAs, however, are not usually recommended for cellaring, since, over time, the hop bitterness will fade and the beer will become something entirely different than what the brewer intended. Double IPAs often become something akin to barleywine, with smooth character, little hop bitterness, yet retaining that higher alcohol content. I still have some of Saint Arnold’s Divine Reserve #11, released in March 2011, and these days it tastes nothing like its year-round incarnation as Endeavour. And while some brewers implore you not to save their DIPAs but rather to savor them fresh, the Stone Brewing Co. out of Escondido, California has taken that IPA gravitas one step further with their Enjoy By IPA, creating an ale of extreme freshness with a date emblazoned across the label, meant to be consumed by the 21st of December – not least because, if the Mayans have their way, there won’t be a 22nd.

Experimentation has really become the hallmark of American craft brewing, and there are a number of different ways brewers play around with hops. Traditionally, hops would be added to the wort during the boil in order to extract the alpha acids that contribute that characteristic hop bitterness in IPAs. The delicate aromatic oils of the hops are often lost in this process, however. One alternative is “dry hopping,” in which hops are added after the boil and after primary fermentation. This augments the hop aroma – notes of citrus, pine, or grass – without adding a lot of bitterness. Another technique along these same lines is “wet hopping” or “fresh hopping,” in which the hops are brought directly from the vines to the brewhouse, usually within 24 hours. This enhances the aromatics even more than the normal vacuum-sealed or pelletized hops.

Stone is no stranger to pushing the envelope, and what they’ve done with Enjoy By is attempt to ensure those fragile hop characteristics reach consumers before they get a chance to fade on store shelves, brewing a “devastatingly fresh” beer. With a lineup including IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA, Ruination IPA, and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, neither is Stone a stranger to bitterness. Which, of course, is right up Petrol Station‘s alley, who has proceeded to win Stone’s Most Bitter Bar challenge two years running. So it came as a surprise to the denizens of the Bayou City that Enjoy By 9.21.12 and 11.09.12 came and went with no prospects for its arrival in the home of Stone’s Most Bitter Bar. With much wailing and gnashing of teeth the cry went out, along with a call from what must be Petrol Station owner Ben Fullelove’s situation room, complete with a Cold War-style direct line to Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch. It probably comes with the Most Bitter plaque. In any event, after the last round went only to Ohio and Colorado, it was revealed that Texas would be included in the much wider distribution for 12.21.12.

Houstonians are all too familiar with hard to obtain beers, as the Divine Reserve series from Saint Arnold is notoriously difficult to obtain, and the newly released Bishop’s Barrel series even more so. Stone has done something a little different, creating a crowdsourced marketing juggernaut by asking fans to vote, tweet, and “like” their way into acquiring this Enjoy By release. Then, even once your city or state has received some, Stone is running a contest to see which region wants to see Enjoy By return badly enough after the expiration (in the case of 12.21.12, that’s assuming we’re all still here the next day). According to the Enjoy By web page, for the last release, 11.09.12, Ohio defeated Colorado with a new high score of 3,426 points, tallied with a combination of Facebook votes and Twitter hashtags using #EnjoyBy and the respective states.

*Do not attempt. Professional driver, closed course.

Why take part in such an overt marketing gimmick? Because objectively, it’s a damn fine Double IPA. They’ve used an array of primarily aromatic hops (high in beta, rather than alpha, acids) throughout the process, then dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy strains. The result is a highly aromatic brew that could fill a room with floral, herbacious notes, redolent of a freshly cut bouquet. The sheer volume of hops necessary to attain this olfactory delight might suggest an overly acerbic brew, and while there is certainly some bitterness – this is a Double IPA from Stone, after all – it’s in no way overpowering. A touch dry, but not mouth-puckeringly so, honey malt, and it finishes with a whiff of pine. The aroma is really what keeps me revisiting this brew, burying my nose in the glass every time it’s brought to my lips.

Rest assured, I’m not some Stone Brewing fanboy, and all of this is not to say that we don’t have our own local standout Double IPAs like Endeavour, Rodeo Clown, or Southern Star’s Pro-Am 2012, approaching hallowed Pliny the Elder status. But Enjoy By is one small step for excellent DIPA’s, and a giant leap for fresh beer. If you’ve tried some, you want to see it back, and if you haven’t, that’s even more reason. On the current Enjoy By scoreboard, the Central region has been far ahead of either the West or East, bolstered by a strong showing in Missouri, however Mizzou and Texas were lagging far behind the national leader, Massachusetts. In the last week or so, however, Texas has overtaken Missouri and closed the gap on the Massholes, still trailing with ~1300 points to their ~1500.

Spec’s downtown has their supply in the back, so you have to ask for it. Last week it was limit 1, this week it was limit 2. I’m sure they’re tailoring their distribution to allow more people to get their hands on it while also ensuring they’ve sold out before the Enjoy By date. Petrol Station and Hay Merchant have both had it on tap as well, but wherever you get it, be sure to let Stone know you want to see it back in Texas by tweeting with the hashtags #EnjoyBy #TX.

You’ve got two weeks before the world ends. But more importantly, the beer will have gone bad.