As I’m wrapping up a dialog with longtime Lagunitas head brewer Jeremy Marshall, he tells me that the 2023 launch of Waldos’ Particular Ale—a behemoth triple IPA that serves as a yearly monument to Northern California weed tradition, aptly launched each April 20—was simply coming off the bottling line that morning. It’s been a few decade since my first style, however I can nonetheless keep in mind the way it felt: dense, resinous, overcharged. It was bittersweet—although, as a conjunctive, “bittersweet” appears to mood its constituent descriptors. Waldos’ Particular Ale was each extraordinarily bitter and extraordinarily candy: an effervescent all-syrup Tremendous Squishee of extra-ripe Citra and Mosaic hops, designed to reflect the stickiness and potent aromatics of a recent hashish bud. Lord, it was dank.
One of many defining phrases of Twenty first-century beer tradition, “dank” evidently stems from a separate however adjoining subculture. It’s a metonym, a phrase that stands in for an idea it’s carefully related to, an evocation of a shared understanding, like how the phrase “dish” can be utilized to discuss with a preparation of meals and never simply the vessel that holds it. And for greater than half a century, “dank” has been American slang to explain recent and pungent hashish. However the ties that bind weed (Hashish sativa) and hops (Humulus lupulus) run deep; their widespread ancestry might be traced again greater than 25 million years. The construction of a hop cone and a hashish flower are remarkably comparable, all the way down to the fragrant sulfur compounds (often known as thiols) they produce, that are key to understanding what the beer author Jeff Alworth calls “that ineffable high quality that we name dankness.”
Whereas it may possibly really feel as if dankness has lengthy had a spot within the beer world, its common utilization in beer wouldn’t come up till the mid- to late aughts. Earlier than then, the time period was extra more likely to have described the scent of a bar after many nights of Budweiser splashing onto the ground. Within the glossary of James D. Robertson’s 1984 e book The Connoisseur’s Information to Beer, “dank” was outlined as “barely moldy, because the scent in a moist basement.” Quick-forward to 2012, when a Homebrew Discuss message board poster would describe the dank Simcoe hop as smelling “like 10 cats pissing on a pine tree. It’s superior.”
By that point, the circumstances that may permit for the ubiquity of “dank” had been brewing. The West Coast IPA, with its ramped-up hop profile and signature intense bitterness, had discovered its exemplar in Russian River’s Pliny the Elder within the late ’90s, which set the course for craft brewers into the brand new millennium. Extracting probably the most taste out of recent hops grew to become the secret. “These hops had been recognized to the large brewers as simply alpha hops, so they might be extracted for commodity bittering,” Marshall says. “It was the craft brewers that basically stated, Properly, what would occur if we dry-hopped with these?”
Dry-hopping—or including hops late within the brewing course of primarily to construct a beer’s bouquet and taste versus early on so as to add bitterness—was the skeleton key that unlocked the IPA’s potential in methods early craft brewers couldn’t have foreseen. A newfound appreciation of the nuanced flavors of hops would beget a brand new era of hop breeds within the mid-aughts, headlined by Citra, arguably the Prometheus of the fashionable IPA. The hops had been fruitier, earthier, stronger and fragrant generally. If the uncanny similarities between good hops and good weed had been extra of an inside joke earlier than, the arrival of Citra (and later Mosaic, amongst different next-gen hops) rolled loud.
The next decade was an arms race—towards an even bigger, bolder, hoppier future—whose wreckage we’re nonetheless processing. “It’s fascinating, you may type of chart the place IPAs are in relation to dankness,” Alworth says. “When dank first got here out, folks actually beloved it… They wished their IPAs tremendous dank. After which if you had extra tropicality are available in with hazy IPAs, dankness was type of spurned. You didn’t need any dank in your mango IPA.”
“Dank,” even at its peak as a complimentary time period, by no means misplaced its connection to revulsion, that sense of unease and intrigue that concurrently pushes you away and pulls you nearer. The dankest IPAs conjure the aroma of hashish, but in addition discover a secondary connection to weed of their lingering bitterness, a jolt to the system that may as nicely be psychoactive. The hazy IPA—which leans closely on dry-hopping to attract out the fruitiness of the new-generation hops, however balances these flavors by way of a delicate texture—might be seen as a balm for the burnout of a palate-wrecked hops fanatic. To your years of service strolling by way of the pine forests lined in sap, right here is your reward: a brew that appears and tastes like a mimosa.
Amid the rise and fall of “dank,” the craft beer growth reached its peak and plateaued; tendencies (hazy IPAs!) fractured into microtrends (milkshake IPAs!) that fizzled out below even the slightest scrutiny; language went Dada (hazeboi, crispy boi, flying by way of the sky so fancy free). “Dank” reached escape velocity by way of meme tradition, coming into the mainstream with a type of irony-laden coolness that emanates from one thing that has lengthy since been uncool, like utilizing the Meryl Streep meme in 2023. Which, fittingly, brings us again to the place we started.
“It does appear to be the recognition of West Coast IPAs are coming again,” Alworth says. “You hear folks favorably coming again to the phrase ‘dank’ as a optimistic attribute. They could additionally use the phrase ‘old fashioned’ to associate with that, however once more, favorably somewhat than derisively.”