Fresh beer isn't always the best beer. As arguments for freshness go, you could make one for juicy, resinous IPAs, and you certainly don't want to drink any hot can of Busch Light which rolls out from underneath a car seat, but as the American craft beer industry matures, it's beginning to make beers meant to do the same. Stone, the Escondido, California brewer of undeniable arrogance, will shy away from claims of being the first to put "born on" dates on their bottles and cans, but they were the first to use "Enjoy By" as the actual name of a beer. The Enjoy By series of IPAs (followed by a date on each) was to be taken so seriously Stone would come and retrieve any unsold beers from retailers.
This is why it was so interesting when Stone Enjoy After 10.31.16 hit shelves - in 2015. This week I opened the bottle I bought over a year ago. Here's what happened.
Enjoy After is a Brett IPA and, as far as I can tell, was only ever sold in 750mL bottles. They came printed with cellaring tips: recommended aging time, warnings against exposure to sunlight, and instructions to store between 50-70ºF instead of refrigerating. The description on the side of the bottle - mine was marked 5th Edition - runs an entire paragraph.
"What you hold in your hands is an experiment," it says. "... spiked at bottling with Brattanomyces, a wild yeast that, over time, brings about charmingly unpredictable complexities of spice, funk, acidity..." It finishes with a bit about individual results will vary "and that is both the intent and beauty of this beer." The timing worked out perfectly for this to be the second in the Old Beer Project I began with OEC Phantasma.
Enjoy After 10.31 pours a true, perfect gold in the glass, with a sticky head which melted down into a low lying island. The hops in this IPA were surprisingly apparent on the nose despite having spent just over a year in an actual cellar. The aroma was flowery and sweet alongside the Brett, like orange blossoms growing near a hay barn.
Big carbonation fizzed up in my mouth on first sip, and the hops seemed to have mainly left their bitterness behind, although there was a touch of citrus on the tip of the tongue, with a more sour funk coating everything else. Overall, after a few good pulls, a strange thing occurred to me: here I was, drinking a heavily hopped west coast IPA, deliberately infected with wild yeasts whose effect was only mostly predictable, which had been shut away like a misbegotten Victorian relative, and the storyline was its... mildness?
Stone is an immense operation with some terrifically talented brewers, so I wasn't uneasy about drinking the beer, like I was with the Phantasma, which no one - including myself - had any intention of drinking two and a half years after the growler was filled. Funny things can happen with experimental beers though, and more so with wild, living beers. My first bottle of Enjoy After could well have gone full honey badger: straight for massive testicular damage and enough yelping to bring down a blimp, BUT IT DIDN'T. The golden ale with the odd smell was something I'd bring home to mother.
I've often pointed to Rodenbach Grand Cru as an excellent beer to serve someone who has never had a sour beer before, and is nervous and shiver-y at the thought, like they were standing on the ice in a swimsuit, and strongly considering backing out of their first polar bear plunge. Grand Cru is not a beer with training wheels - it's a good, sour beer - and accessible in a way that won't put people off the concept in general, even if they don't like it. Enjoy After 10.31.16 likewise is a wild beer, but not feral. The malt, hops, and funky Brett (at the least the way I've treated the bottle), all show themselves in a mellow, refined, mannerly way. Fair work for a brewer known for its arrogance.
See you out there.