Hop Backlash Inevitable

January 24, 2009

Year One Of Beaglethorpe Brew Co.'s Homegrown Cascade Hops

Beaglethorpe Brewery's First Year Homegrown Cascade Hops

Maybe you’ve heard the murmurs among your beer snob compatriots. Perhaps you yourself have wondered it aloud over your twenty dollar cheeseburger and Alpha King.  Time was, if you weren’t a hop head, then you weren’t part of the cool kids club, you certainly had no balls, and were likely a sabateur sent by BMC (Budweiser-Miller-Coors) to crash our party. The hop shortage and subsequent price hike of the magical flower didn’t just raise the prices of our beer, it cut the hair off our Samson strength like so many InBev Delilahs. And many of us paid the extra dough. And craft brewers kept cramming as many hops into their homemade hopback contraptions. All trying to out hop eachother. Randall the enamel animal?

One of my first batches as a homebrewer was an ungodly quadruple IPA that split Pliny the Elder’s tongue. I was so proud of my monstrous child, that when my friends cringed, I laughed at their lack of fortitude, and I ran over to Sam Caglione at Dogfishead we chest bumped each other in mutual man love before brushing our teeth with Magnum Hop oil extract.

Garret Oliver, the man behind the scenes at Brooklyn Brewery, Iron Chef judge, and all around  Beer Ambassador to the world once compared over-hopping one’s beer to over-salting one’s food.  Foolish comparison, tis true. The smell of that magical blend of Hops wafting from a Stone Ruination is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had as a beer obsessive. It was love at first taste, certainly not a sentiment I’ve ever felt while drinking one of Brookyln Breweries foul excuses for the sacred beverage. But the man has a point.

hopsgraph

Beer is made from Water, Malt, Hops, and Yeast, and sometimes some other stragglers as well. And it’s important to bring everyone to the party. One of the best tools I’ve ever discovered as a brewer was this Gravity/Hops Ratio chart over at Homebrewtalk.com. Brewers know that the more fermentables you put into a beer, the higher your gravity, and the more alpha acids from hops you put into your beer, the higher your IBU’s. Some hops have higher alpha acid contents than others, and the longer you boil them, the more bitterness you extract. Some hops are better suited to this than others; Stone’s Arrogant Bastard wouldn’t be so arrogant without a 90 minute boil of Chinook hops, alpha acid bombs. However, hops also contribute that wonderful hop floral aroma as well.This hop aroma dissipates the longer you boil them, so brewers hop burst, drop massive quantities in at the end of the boil, or dry hop, dropping hops right into the fermenter or even keg. Some are better suited to this than others; beers generously dry hopped in amarillo smell like fresh sunbursts of citrus bubblegum marijuana heaven. This complicates this whole idea of hoppiness. When you say you like hoppy beer, do you mean you like it bitter, floral, or both?

American and English Pale Ales and IPA’s seem to exemplify this confusion. American IPA’s have gone hop mad, some using First Wort Hopping, Hop Bursting, and Dry Hopping to get truly high levels of hop aroma. Traditional English IPA’s are very bitter, with some hop aroma in the finish. The best of both seem to understand that the secret to a great IPA is not hops alone, but hops and malt, working in harmony. Beers that balance their gravity and their bitterness, are drinkable. And I don’t mean drinkable like light, I mean drinkable like I can drink a lot of it.

So the next time you drink your favorite regional brewery’s finest, ask that loving pint where it falls on the following chart. If you’re lucky, your brewery will tell you the Original Gravity in the IBU’s, and you can see how they pull that shit off.

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