Tap This: Love of hops depends on the palate of the individual beer drinker
It is no secret that IPA’s are the most popular beer in the craft beer market, and this has begun bleeding into the macro beer market.
What is hard to believe is not too long ago, a macro brewer was running a campaign around the “terrible” taste of bitter beer that would cause “bitter beer face.” These ads now seem wildly outdated, but it does lead to an interesting question: Can beer be too hoppy?
When the IPA first began to gain popularity, the landscape was vastly different with standard American IPAs leading the way. Stone IPA, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Anchor Liberty Ale were just some of the favorites. The bitterness factor in these beers was present to earlier drinkers, but now, to many IPA lovers, they seem tame.
Next came the double IPA, and this is where the IPA landscape began to drastically change.
Brewers began making beers hoppier and soon seemed to be making what Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver once called “challenge beers,” meaning many breweries seemed to be daring their customers to try their newest hoppy offering almost in a manner that hot sauce aficionados approach all the new “world’s hottest” hot sauces.
This challenge was gladly accepted by many, and some of the hoppiest beers began taking on a life of their own.
Beers such as Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (and Younger), Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, and Stone’s Ruination soon became standard must-have beers for craft beer lovers. These beers along with many of their predecessors pushed things forward to the current state of affairs.
While the biggest debates during this time compared the merits of East Coast and West Coast-styled IPAs, the discussion has now expanded greatly to a variety of categories and styles. This seems to have blurred the line within the category, and many make the argument that a new category should be created, the triple IPA.
Many who examine beer qualities have come to an interesting conclusion: Human taste receptors seemingly cannot tell the difference in International Bittering Units (IBUs), the unit of measurement used for hoppiness, when the level gets above 100. This is interesting when considering that many breweries claim to have beers that have IBUs well into the 1000 IBU category.
The argument put forth toward the adoption of the triple IPA is an interesting one. It centers around the ever-changing craft beer market. When the double IPA category first began, it seemed that there would never be a need for a stronger category because, while it was enjoyed, it was not nearly as popular as it is now and seemed more fringe. However, brewers gravitated towards this style, and consumers came along for the ride.
This pushed the boundaries on an already boundary-pushing style. The issue within the double IPA category is that beers can range from 8% ABV all the way up to and above 18% ABV with a huge range of hopping and IBUs. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation when judging beers against others in a similar category.
Beer judging is not something that the layperson does on a regular basis; we have too much sense for this and would rather just enjoy the beer. Yet, when we enjoy a delicious hop-forward beer back-to-back with another, many of us think the hops should be present and a beer that has a stronger hop-presence is either better or worse than the other, depending on your feeling toward hops.
The question remains though, is it possible to get “too hoppy” with beer?
While open-ended cliff hangers are rarely enjoyed (see season 6 of “The Walking Dead”), there is no right answer to this question. The taste of hops and the enjoyment or lack thereof is solely dependent upon the drinker.
But the market will be dictated by consumers.
Some brewers have attempted to brew high ABV beers or high IBU beers and consumers rejected them; the same will be said as the style changes and develops. The hazy New England style IPA is all the rage now and as consumers flock, brewers react to the demand. As with most markets, this will continue until something else comes along.
The one statement that will remain true is that the IPA is here to stay. The love of hops may vary among drinkers, but it is a strong love. No matter how hoppy you like your beer, there is an IPA out there for you to enjoy, so get hunting and fall in love!
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.