The IPA description, “Dank”, is back on the rise

As I’m wrapping up a conversation with Jeremy Marshall, Lagunitas’ longtime head brewer, he tells me that the 2023 release of Waldos’ Special Ale, a mammoth triple IPA that serves as an annual monument to northern weed culture from California, aptly released every April 20th—was rolling off the bottling line that morning. It’s been about a decade since I first tried it, but I still remember what it felt like: thick, resinous, overpowered. It was bittersweet, although, as a conjunction, “bittersweet” seems to temper its constituent descriptors. Waldos’ Special Ale was extremely bitter and extremely sweet: an effervescent Super Syrup Squishee of extra-mature Citra and Mosaic hops, designed to reflect the stickiness and powerful aromas of a fresh cannabis bud. sir, it was wet.

One of the defining terms of 21st century beer culture, “wet,” evidently comes from a separate but adjacent subculture. It is a metonymy, a word that represents a concept with which it is closely associated, an evocation of a shared understanding, such as the way the word “plate” can be used to refer to a preparation of food and not just the container that holds it. contains. . And for more than half a century, “wet” has been the American slang to describe fresh and spicy cannabis. But the ties that bind the grass (Cannabis sativa) and hops (humulus lupulus) runs deep; their common ancestry dates back more than 25 million years. The structure of a hop cone and a cannabis flower are remarkably similar, right down to the aromatic sulfur compounds (known as thiols) they produce, which are key to understanding what beer writer Jeff Alworth calls “that ineffable quality we call humidity”.

While it may seem like moisture has long had a place in the world of beer, its regular use in beer wouldn’t emerge until the mid to late 1900s. Before then, the term was more likely to describe the smell of a bar after many nights with Budweiser splashing on the floor. In James D. Robertson’s 1984 book glossary The Beer Connoisseur’s Guide, “damp” was defined as “slightly musty, like the smell in a damp basement.” Fast forward to 2012, when a Homebrew Talk message board sign would describe the wet Simcoe hops as smelling “like 10 cats peeing on a pine tree. Is awesome.”

At that time, the conditions were brewing that would allow the ubiquity of “dank”. The West Coast IPA, with its fast-paced hop profile and characteristic intense bitterness, had found its model in Russian River’s. Pliny the Elder in the late 1990s, which set the course for craft brewers into the new millennium. Extracting the maximum flavor from fresh hops became the name of the game. “The big brewers knew these hops as alpha hops, so they were drawn for commodity bittering,” says Marshall. “It was the craft brewers that really said, Well, what if we dry-hopped these?

Dry-hopping, or the addition of hops late in the brewing process, primarily to create a beer’s aroma and flavor, rather than add bitterness from the start, was the master key that unlocked the IPA’s potential from ways that early craft brewers could not have foreseen. A new appreciation of nuanced hop flavors would spawn a new generation of hop breeds in the mid-s, led by Citra, arguably the Prometheus of the modern IPA. The hops were fruitier, earthier, more powerful and overall aromatic. If the uncanny similarities between good hops and good weed were more of an inside joke before, the arrival of Citra (and later Mosaic, among other next-gen hops) made a statement.

The decade that followed was an arms race, toward a bigger, bolder, and more promising future, the remains of which we are still processing. “It’s interesting, you can make a graph of where the IPAs are in relation to moisture,” says Alworth. “When Dank first came out, people really loved it… They wanted his IPA to be super moist. And then when more tropicality kicked in with misty IPAs, humidity was somewhat scorned. You didn’t want anything wet in your mango IPA.”

“Dank,” even in its heyday as a catch-all term, never lost its connection to revulsion, that sense of unease and intrigue that simultaneously pushes you away and draws you closer. The best IPAs evoke the aroma of cannabis, but also find a secondary connection to weed in its lingering bitterness, a jolt to the system that might as well be psychoactive. The hazy IPA, which relies heavily on dry-hopping to extract the fruitiness of next-generation hops but balances those flavors through a smooth texture, could be seen as a balm for a hop enthusiast’s burnout. destroyed by the palate. For your years of service walking through sap-covered pine forests, here’s your reward: a concoction that looks and tastes like mimosa.

In the midst of the rise and fall of “humidity,” the craft beer boom peaked and leveled off; trends (misty IPAs!) fractured into micro-trends (milky IPAs!) that vanished under even the slightest scrutiny; language was given (hazeboi, crispy boi, flying through the sky so free of fantasy). “Dank” reached escape velocity through meme culture, entering the mainstream with a kind of ironic coolness that emanates from something long out of fashion, like wearing the meryl streep in 2023. Which, appropriately, brings us back to where we started.

“It seems like the popularity of West Coast IPAs is coming back,” says Alworth. “You hear people look back favorably on the word ‘wet’ as a positive attribute. They could also use the word ‘old school’ to go along with that, but again, favorably instead of derisively.”

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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