April 20th is a celebrated holiday across the world—whether legally or not. The date is of course selected as a nod to the term “420”, which is deeply rooted in cannabis culture. But how did this particular number become synonymous with weed?
That story begins in a very predictable time and place, the early 1970s in California, where a group of San Rafael High School students met at 4:20 p.m. each day to search for a hidden plot of marijuana plants. The Waldos, as they called themselves, met daily outside the school at the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur to smoke pot and continue a treasure hunt at the Point Reyes Peninsula.
The group used 420 as a code for weed and, thanks to some time spent with the Grateful Dead, the term was eventually popularized around the state, country, and now the world. The Waldos’ 420 origin story was featured in High Times and caught the eye of Lagunitas Beer Weasel and Chief Marketing Officer Ron Lindenbusch. Lagunitas had always had a friendly relationship with marijuana—perhaps too friendly at times, as they learned during the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre—and saw an opportunity for a new beer.
The Waldos and Lagunitas have struck a balance between dank, herbal hops and just enough malty sweetness.”
Lindenbusch reached out to a friend at the magazine who helped him get in touch with the Waldos, forming a relationship that culminated in the annual April 20th release of Waldos’ Special Ale. A triple IPA, Lagunitas calls the yearly offering the dankest and hoppiest beer it has ever brewed. Lagunitas invites the original five Waldos to the brewery for hop selection and the brew day each year, and even though the Waldos never found the secret stash, the beer they and Lagunitas gave us is a treasure of its own.
Waldos’ Special Ale pours with a distinct West Coast IPA look. A healthy finger of slightly off-white head sits atop a mostly clear golden-orange body. It’s beautifully bubbly and well-laced beer begging to be drank. The aroma reinforces the beer and weed connection with a deeply dank and resinous nose. Those notes are complimented with some bright and sweet-fruit aromas that balance the earthiness. There’s little-to-no hint of the coming wallop of booze, but the sticky sweetness in the nose does suggest more oomph than your standard IPA.
Some interesting medicinal flavors are also present, and while that’s normally a quality I can’t stand, it oddly works with this beer. Much more like a botanical elixir than something you drank for a cold as a child. Waldos’ Special Ale gets sweeter as it warms, but remains imminently drinkable due to an extremely slick mouthfeel. That slickness allows the beer to avoid the cloying sweetness that can linger on the palate with a high alcohol hoppy ale.
The Waldos and Lagunitas have struck a balance between dank, herbal hops and just enough malty sweetness. In doing so, they have turned an interesting story into a delicious beer.