Screwed Up Beer Week (vol 10) - Hop-Heads, and Other Things Wrong with the World
Written By: Kevin Patterson on 03/13/2014
Ok, a "hop-head" walks into a bar. "Hey, what's the best seasonal beers you have right now?" he asks while wiping the drool from his chin.
As I start to churn over what's available for the upcoming spring season, my mind goes to the traditional malty-rich Dopplebock, to the floral and fruity Belgian Golden Ale, and to the holiday driven Irish Dry Stout and Irish Red Ale. So as my short and sweet explanation of what brewery X, Y and Z has offered up, his disappointment grows.
For those who aren't well versed in the beer lingo, "hop-heads" are self-proclaimed lovers of the most hopped up, teeth-churning, tongue-sweating and bracingly-bitter beers on the market; and boy are they sure proud of themselves. And though the vast majority of beers out there aren't the super juiced up hop-types, the fans of excessive hops are a highly vocal and excitable group.
So as my little hop-head nearly begins to wet himself, he asks, "What's the newest, biggest, most bad-ass IPA that just came in stock, (or, anything in the back)?"
A-ha! Now with that clarification on the table, I begin to run the gamut of India Pale Ale, "Stone Rui... "But that's available all the time," he interrupts. "Ok then, "Bell's Hops... "Yea I've had that, besides, its already gone bad- its two months old, ya know?," he continues. "Well Founders All Da... "That's a summer beer" But then I offer up Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA and he perks right up!
After the hop-head makes his purchase and goes on with his day, I ponder both his insistence and curiosity as I eventually come to grips with the fact that the American IPA has either a 356-day season or the style has no season at all. Though this was but one lone encounter with a fan of IPA, it's a very familiar one. It turns out that the hop-heads keep the taste for hops fueled all season long with their insatiable appetite for lupulin!
And trust me, I'm as tickled as anyone that a style from America finally has an identity, a taste, a uniqueness that we can call our own. No longer relying on the British to tell us how "proper" beer should taste; or how the Germans brew superior beers because of their Reinheitsgebot; or relegated to generic light lager- America now has an indigenous flavor. It's a dry, yeast-neutral flavor, not tied to regional water or malt balance. It's fueled by the Pacific Northwest hops with all their citrusy, floral, tropical, herbaceous, piney and bittering resinous glor! And even though the clearly out-of-balanced beer draws the ire of beer purists from around the world, hop-heads simply don't care.
And even as America's most classy microbrewers attempt to bring some semblance of reasoning to the beer aisle by making a traditional Irish Stout for St. Patrick's Day, or a hearty Dopplebock for Lent, or floral Belgian ale for Easter- hop-head's have no problem passing them up, finding favor in the folks who are brewing up the hoppy goodness.
And who would those folks be? It turns out that the American microbrewing culture has gone internationally mainstream as a smattering of Scandanavian breweries conjure up American-style IPA, and they're not alone. Neuvo brewers from Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Canada and a whole slew of others are happy to sooth the bitter-tooth of hop-heads if domestic brewers aren't up to the challenge.
And thankfully to the hop-heads, American brewers have accepted and have turned to make multiple beers for each and ever season and many of those seasonal offerings are... you guessed it- an IPA!
But these may not be your average seven-percenter, dry-malt, or hop-dominant versions. Where summer might bring about a "session" IPA that has a lighter and drier body but retaining the fresh hop presence that's expected from fuller strength ones, winter IPA might exhibit greater malt sweetness to balance and excessive alcohol to warm the stomach and the soul. Spring might bring out IPA of greater late-hop floral and grassy character as autumn versions may even be black!
So if you are more of a "malt-mouth" and don't see all the houpla over hops; if you prefer a sweeter ale to a more bitter one, I've got some bad news for you- the hoppy beers aren't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, IPA are reconstituting themselves over and over to keep the piranha kind of frenzy fueled season after season. And if any of that offends you, then I apologize sincerely, for I'm guilty as charged!
Follow the conversation with me on Twitter: @BEERchitect #ScrewedUpBeerWeek to keep things rolling.