Last week I received an email from Lagunitas Brewing about Born Yesterday Fresh Hop Pale Ale. The point of the message was to inform me that the brewery planned to send me a bottle of beer. Surprisingly, this beer would arrive via UPS Next Day Air. They wanted me to know exactly when it was coming and they wanted me to drink it right away.
Born Yesterday Pale Ale is Lagunitas’ foray into the world of fresh hop ales. The brewery was curious to find out if fresh hop beer is really that much tastier when it is ultra-fresh, so they bottled it on Monday afternoon, immediately packaged it up for UPS, and sent it to me (and several other writers) via overnight express. At 9:45 Tuesday morning, the beer arrived at my door and at 3:00 P.M., I popped the cap and drank it.
Was it good? Hell yes. Was it better because it was so fresh? Probably. Sadly, I have nothing to compare it to. I am guessing that bottles of Born Yesterday are just now making it to Seattle. I look forward to trying it again when it is a week old and then again when it is ten days old and three weeks old. For the sake of journalism, I should probably also try Born Yesterday when it is a month old. I am nothing if not intrepid.
A previously brewed version of Born Yesterday won first place at this year’s Yakima Fresh Hop Ale Festival. That’s a big deal in the world of fresh hop beers.
With insane amounts of fruity, citrus notes, this beer delightfully lacks all balance and only remains upright because of the strength of the hops. I picked up a lot of pineapple and mango on the nose, and also at the front end of the flavor profile. Then a nice, orange rind bitterness rounds out the finish and lingers just a bit.
What Does Fresh Mean?
Here’s what I look for in a fresh hop ale. Admittedly this is my personal opinion and it is not based on any accepted style guideline. The beer should highlight the hops, bringing to life the character of the hop varieties used. Otherwise light or neutral in character, the beer should be floral, citrusy, resinous, piney, or all of those things, depending on the hops’ character. The beer is the canvas and the hops are the paint.
I once tasted a rauchbier (smoked beer) brewed using fresh hops. I did not like it. Worse than that, it actually pissed me off that someone would violate poor, defenseless hops like that. I still get mad thinking about it. I may never forgive that brewery.
The Fleeting Beauty of Youth
So, given my standards, is fresh hop beer better when it is fresh? Absolutely. It is inevitable. Post-fermentation hop degradation is a reality. Hop character fades over time. This is true with any beer but especially true with fresh hop beer.
Why is time the enemy of hops? The reaction of the beer with oxygen in the bottle’s headspace, along with inevitable acid hydrolysis, breaks down the terpenoid and susquiterpenoid compounds. Big, fancy words that explain one simple and unfortunate reality: hop character degrades over time. Degradation of the bitter character is slower than degradation of the aromatic character.
Next time you open a bottle of IPA, smell the underside of the bottle cap. Guess what you’ll smell? I smelled the bottle cap of the Born Yesterday I received from Lagunitas when I opened the bottle. It smelled like nothing, a tribute to the beer’s freshness. Some people claim that the cap liner actually absorbs some of the hop character, but I’m no scientist and just like to sniff bottle caps. I also listen to my beer.
Fresh Means Fresh
So, yes, fresh hop beer tastes better when it is, you know, fresh. No big surprise there. I’m just glad Lagunitas Brewing felt the need to prove the point.
Born Yesterday Pale Ale is version Lagunitas New DogTown Pale, brewed with a fresh, wet, un-kilned hops—10 pounds per barrel.
Hop Varieties: Amarillo, Mosaic, and Equinox.
Availability: Limited six-packs and draft in California, Oregon and Washington.
Disclosure: Many breweries send me beer. I don’t always write about them. Actually, I rarely write about them. If I do, there must be a reason.