Monday, November 18, 2013

Coming Back from the Hops Abyss

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I’m not what anyone would call a “hop head”.  For me, hops flavor and bitterness is just ONE element in a wide range of flavors beer can have.  I’m happiest when my beer has a variety of flavors.  Hand me a hearty Belgian beer with a mix of sweetness, spice, hints of fruit, and (yes) hops, and I’m happy.  Hand me one of those one-note hop-slamming IPAs, and we’ll be lucky if I finish it.

With that in mind, I was very pleased to read Jesse Tigges article in a recent issue of Columbus Alive.  The article, entitled “The Lupulin Shi(f)t – The Hop Love Has Gone Too Far”, is a well-written piece that talks about the fact that craft brewing’s focus on cramming more and more hops into a bottle has gone too far. 

As Tigges put it “We now have hoppier and hoppier brews – a crap-load of double IPAs, plus intensely and intentionally hop-heavy beers – and millions who love them.”  To his credit, Tigges tells us that “While needing more hops may be the case for many craft beer drinkers, I have ‘shifted’ in the opposite direction.”  He explains that the IPA style has “gotten old” and blasts breweries like Stone which release one IPA variant after another.

I couldn’t agree with Mr. Tigges more, and I applaud him for publicly questioning why American craft brewers are focusing on one IPA after another.  There are some amazing beers out there, and lots of ways to modify a style to keep it interesting other than adding hops to it.  (I even saw a mead… a honey wine… made with hops.  Why?  Mead is perfectly delicious just as it is.) 

Take the stout style, for example.  Try a Guinness.  Not bad, but somewhat bitter and not especially complex.  Now, try a Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro.  It’s a bit more complex, a bit less bitter, and brings out some of the chocolate notes hidden in the Guinness because of its hops load.  Take that a step further, and try The Daily Growler and North High Brewing’s Strawberry Milk Stout.  (What? You haven’t heard of that?  You haven’t tried it?  Get to The Daily Growler before it’s gone!)  Try something really far out, like Jamaica’s Dragon Stout.  Dragon Stout marries the dark chocolate elements of the stout flavor with smoke and a mild, milky sweetness.  That’s four different beers, all called “stout”, that taste very different from one another. 

I want to share one more of the points made in the Tigges article:  “Too many bars calling themselves a ‘beer bar’ (because they have 20 drafts) have more than half of those taps occupied by an IPA or similar beer.  This does not make you a ‘beer bar.’  Why can’t places branch out to more diverse and interesting options?  Isn’t that what the whole craft beer movement is about?  Trying something new and possibly better?'”

I could not agree with you more, Jesse.  I’ve got nothing against the IPA or the people who love the style.  Like you, I think there is a lot more to craft beer than upping the IBU rating.  And I’m not saying “banish IPAs”… All I’m saying is “There’s much more to craft beer than the IPA.”
Thank you for saying what needed to be said.  I hope Columbus beer drinkers, brewers, and bar owners are listening. 

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