Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Great Hop Divide Part 1: Reinheitsgebot

There's a division in opinion regarding hops.

Well, not hops themselves, perhaps; a blanket statement of "I don't like hops" would be a rather unreasonable dismissal of one whole quarter of the holy beer quartet - water, barley, yeast and hops. It'd be sort of like dismissing the bacon in a BLAT (I'm adding avocado to my metaphorical sandwich for the sake of, in addition to being delicious, keeping the number of the ingredients the same; besides, all of the aforementioned ingredients are of bacon-level importance, really).

Pulling out any of those three key ingredients and you have something that is decidedly not beer.

In fact, for a certain period in certain country there was something called the Reinheisgebot.

Here's a country hint, if you couldn't tell from the number of syllables: they have a running theme throughout history of being pissed off and demanding.  Picture from german-flag.org
The Reinheisgebot (literally, purity law) was an on again-off again law in history that, in addition to price regulation, prohibited the use of ingredients other than those previously mentioned. At its origin, in the early 16th century, the laws actually didn't yet mention yeast, as their role in glorious, glorious inebriation wasn't yet known, and wouldn't be until the 1800's.

Presumably they thought all the buzz came from some as-of-yet-undiscovered property of water. From BuzzFeed 

Each ingredient had a separate and implicit purpose. Hops were for flavoring, certainly, but more meant as a reliable means to preserve the beer for shipping. The further the beer needed to travel the more hops the brew featured-- fast forward a few centuries and this is actually the origin of the IPA - India Pale Ale - style; the extra hops made it so transport to India was possible (but we'll cover that some other time).

The Reinheisgebot was a point of great pride for the German people, who maintain a confidence that rivals France with Wine and the US with toddler pageants.The law was eventually dissolved by the EU as a means to pry open Germany for trade with the rest of Europe and the world, but many German brewers still proudly adhere to the no-frills ways of old (though new amendments allow for the use of a few other basic additions, such as cane sugar and of course, yeast), making it the oldest food regulation in existence [1]. Meanwhile, other breweries abroad, such as Anheuser Busch claim to stick to Reinheisgebot, if only for marketing purposes.

Impressive that they can manage to make four simple ingredients taste like piss. 
So, what was this long winded aside all about? Well, it was mostly a quick investigation of a very important note in the history of beer, but it was also a lengthy set up to an interesting discrepancy among beer drinkers - the intense dislike of  hops. Which, as all of the above should suggest, really, just does not compute. The likely translation is the dislike of an abundance of hops, in such varieties of beer as IPAs and Pale Ales. For many of the less "advanced" beer drinkers (and I don't mean that derisively- these varieties are almost certainly an acquired taste), these are universally detestable and are about as pleasant as chugging from an exhaust pipe. For these good people, there are no subtleties, no differences in flavor. There is only the bitter, bitter embrace of the over-hopped elixir, and they want nothing to do with it.

But even among the fans there's a divide, or at least a caveat. While a few fans will universally enjoy an IPA, those subtle differences tend to determine whether or not an individual will like a certain hopped beer. Personally, there's a 50/50 shot of me either loving or detesting a "hoppy" beer.

So, where does this come from? What's the difference among these hoppy beers? Why are some loved and others reviled. Let's find out in Part 2.

Stay thirsty, beer bros.

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