Hops (The Wicked Weed)

Gage Siegel, June 24, 2014

No not that kind, keep it to yourselves Colorado and Washington. Hops were described when first discovered as the wicked weed or as a wolf among weeds (oh that’s where those beer names come from -- I’m looking at you Wicked Weed Brewing and Golden Road).

But for any beer snob worth their salt this isn’t a surprise, I’m sure they could tell you all about their favorite hops (I’ll bet yours is Citra, or Galaxy). Hop heads comprise most of the people who partake in craft beer and most brewers would consider themselves hop heads too. That’s great, for all of us who like hoppy beer.

It’s great until you consider that the primary characteristic of this growing hop head culture is bitter beer, and bitter doesn’t work for everyone. There was a time, when the style originated, where the beer would be malt forward with a big hop presence, we’ve now shifted to hop forward ales with tiny baby malt backbones to quench the thirst for ibu’s.

And we might be reaching the point of saturation, according to some. Well actually, they’ve got a point. Think about it this way, every brewery makes an IPA at this point so how does one distinguish theirs from any other IPA?

There’s two routes and one of them is fairly new and growing. That is the option to use new and experimental hops. That can be really exciting because these new hops are creating incredible, diverse flavors in beer (think Nelson Sauvin to start, and equinox, el dorado and azacca, which bring tastes described anywhere from peach to pineapple).

While some brewers are opting for this path now, we’re left with most other brewers trying to pack as much hops into their beers as humanly possible, and then jamming some more in just for good measure, and once you thought you had enough they triple dry-hopped it and used a hop back to serve it. Had enough hops yet?

This might sound like a joke, but I’ve visited two different breweries whose regular IPA offerings (the flagships they brew year round) had IBU readings of 120 or higher. Just to clarify, 100 IBU is the threshold for bitterness. So once a beer crests 100 your tounge can’t quite comprehend exactly what’s going on. Certainly with enough conditioning you can work to comprehend these more complex flavors, but to try and pack all of that into a regular IPA seems a little hefty.

And just for those of you keeping score at home the Beer Judge Cerification Program (BJCP) lists the IPA style to have an average IBU reading of 40-60. Sure we can stretch the limits and innovate, but over 100 in a regular IPA is just a bit silly. Let’s leave that to the realm of double IPAs (or imperial IPAs, whatever floats your boat).

But wait, we’ve got brewers making triple IPAs these days! It’s not even a recognized style at this point because these beers are almost hard to call IPAs at all and end up more like hoppy strong ales or barleywines. When the beer tops 10% abv it’s tricky to mask the alcohol flavor, and IPAs aren’t supposed to taste boozy.

To make a long story short, the American hop obsession is a two-sided coin. The new hop varietals that brewers are able to experiment with are exciting because we get new and interesting flavors in our beer. However, we can’t get so caught up in who can make the biggest hoppiest IPA in the world, because I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough Dogfish Head 120 Minute to last me a lifetime.

We must all remember that beer, like all things, requires balance.

If you’re looking for some dangerously hoppy, boozy, monsters of beer check these beers out:

Moylans Hop Craic XXXXIPA (10.4%, 2.47 BAR), Novato, CA. It’s called hop crack, take that in for a second.

Ironfire Judge, Jury and Executioner (12%), Temecula, CA. Drink too much of this and you may not even see the jury.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute (~18%, 9.87 BAR), Milton, DE. They don’t even put the ABV on the label because it’s been known to vary from 18 to 24 percent, oh and it’s continually hopped for two hours. 

Founders Devil Dancer (12%, 4.19 BAR) -- Grand Rapids, MI. Don’t let your pious friends hear about this one, as if missing the mass they invited you to wasn’t enough.

Gage is desperately trying not to be a beer snob while also making all those untappd badges count for something.