There’s a sweet bit of brewing trivia wrapped inside the story of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s seasonal release Waldos’ Special Ale, and it’s not on the topic you might think it is upon learning that this especially aromatic and potent brew’s official release date is April 20, aka 4/20—although the label only mentions a certain 4:19 in the afternoon . . . um, what were we talking about?
If Lagunitas is playing it safe on the label, you can’t blame them. Ten years back, the brewery was busted and temporarily shuttered for running a “disorderly house” when their informal weekly get-togethers, scheduled at 4:20pm , got too . . . mellow. With a thumb-in-the-eye to match their characteristic tongue-in-cheek, Lagunitas marked the ignominy with a beer called “Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale.”
No, wait, that’s not it, because, man, there’s something else. In 2013, some hop-heads in Atlanta, Ga., threatened Lagunitas with legal action over their brewery’s trademarked “420” pale ale. Lagunitas said whatever, and dropped any reference to 4:20.
According to this version of the story, the Waldos, a preternaturally punctual group of San Rafael High School stoners, met up a minute early, at 4:19pm, one day for an ultimately fruitless quest that nevertheless—and allegedly—spawned the 4:20 slang term for . . . Weren’t we talking about beer or something? (See our cover story for more on the Waldos, p15.)
Hitting stores a week early, the 2016 Waldos’ Special Ale release is available nationwide in six-packs and on tap for a limited time. “It’s the biggest, hoppiest beer we make, probably,” says Karen Hamilton, director of communications at Lagunitas Brewing Company. Back in 2011, according to Hamilton (“Was it 2011? Wow, time flies!”), the original Waldos met with Lagunitas’ brewmaster and selected a level of hops to match their mood, which is high, a high level of hops.
Waldos’ pours golden and foamy, and boasts a resinous, piney aroma that is, indeed, so distinctly dank that any fruity, malty character the beer has struggles to rise above a green fog of Humulus lupulus. At 11.5 percent alcohol by volume, this cottonmouth-inducing brew is no tutti-frutti triple IPA, gamely hiding its strength—if anything, it’s more gratuitous than your average IPA, which has long been a purely stylistic category since brewers learned to control microbial spoilage without the use of high alcohol and hops, thanks to the work of—dude, that’s it! The Waldos met at, let’s say 4:19pm, under a statue of Louis Pasteur, the father of fermentation science. Wow, I mean just, wow.