The most influential beer trend ever to emerge from Los Angeles was a happy accident in 2015, when El Segundo Brewing was the cool new kid on the block thanks to its much-celebrated, Nelson Sauvin–driven double IPA, Hop Tanker. Being self-distributed and a fairly small operation, it was moving the beer super-fresh.
One day, as co-owner Thomas Kelley tells the story, a sales guy was visiting an account when the delivery arrived.
“A customer walks in and goes, ‘Did this just come in?’ He pulls a bottle out, looks at it and goes, ‘Oh my God, this was bottled today!’ and he bought like six bottles of it,” Kelley says. “It was, ‘What if we, like, marketed this?’”
So El Segundo organized a little event called One Dankness.
“They sold out that day — 10 cases of bombers to each of the accounts, and they sold out that day. Which is a phenomenal rate for one shop. That’s just a tremendous amount of beer to go through that quickly,” Kelley says. “We were like, ‘Whoa, we’re on to something here. This is super cool.’”
And thus Day One was born. It’s the rare marketing gimmick that actually results in a better product. It has gone on to define the El Segundo brand, which has become synonymous with ultra-fresh hoppy beers.
For hop-focused breweries across the country, it also became a benchmark. I’ve heard the sold-and-drank-the-day-it’s-bottled model discussed with reverence by brewers from all over the country.
The obsession with freshness for hoppy beers goes back decades; it was first marketed widely with Stone’s Enjoy By series, which encouraged customers to drink the beer within 40 days. El Segundo took this to its logical extreme — to go any further, you’d have to let people suck the suds from the tanks, Homer Simpson–style.
“People were like, ‘Fresh, like, what, a couple of months old?’” Kelley remembers. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, no — you want to drink this now. Like right now.’”
There are a lot of things about the L.A. beer scene that people in other places admire, but Day One has become a thing brewers aspire to. Today’s hop-focused brewers want their beer off the shelves within a few days, and their kegs kicked the day they’re delivered. After that initial success, El Segundo quickly expanded its Day One events all over Southern California, and then added collaborations. It’s a lot of work — brewers have to start their day at 2 a.m. to get the bottling line running and have beer out the door in time.
“It just went completely bonkers. We saw massive, massive response to it,” Kelley says. “People were lining up at shops — and this is before people are lining up at fucking breweries for $20 four-packs of cans. That was not a thing five years ago.”
Now, of course, it is a thing — crowler and tallboy releases from hip breweries often draw lines. A handful of super-hyped breweries even build their business and distribution models around the idea that people will show up in an industrial area and wait for the privilege of purchasing a $5 can directly from the maker.
And for that, you can thank El Segundo’s Day One. Yes, it’s partly the gravitational pull of hazies, which require extreme freshness. But it’s also those Day One events, which helped create a model for lightning-fast distribution channels that deliver super-fresh hoppy beers.
For Kelley, who moved out from Philly and made his beer bones as general manager at Library Alehouse, it was a breakthrough.
It’s now what people expect from El Segundo.
“I get people saying, ‘What do you mean, I can’t get my beer within three days after it’s bottled?’” he laughs. “And it’s like, 'You’re 120 miles from the brewery, we have 800 accounts, and you're buying a couple cases.' How many beers can you get that are under a week old when they get to you?”