Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Hop Divide Part 2: Hop & Contrast

The masses are divided. And by masses I mean the, like, twenty people I talked to. And by divided I mean that, by and large, people aren't in love with IPAs. Yanked from a off-handed poll on my Facebook:

Andrew, succinctly and with vehemence, claims they "taste like soapy dishwater." Fair enough.

Jessie has a hard time placing just what it is that doesn't work for her, claiming that "[IPAs] don't have a taste I have ever tasted elsewhere...but I guess it's the opposite of what sugar tastes like." Kurt, meanwhile, has a problem with the "brute force" nature of the brew, and he prefers "a balanced beer that has more subtle flavorings."

The aversion isn't universal, however. An impressively vocal few not only like variety, but can also tell the difference between a given selection. That is to say, not all IPAs taste alike.

As a self-proclaimed beer lover and pseudo aficionado (and, dammit, I run this blog so I assume you care what I think to some minuscule degree), I'm going to have to side with those of the pro-IPA persuasion. That shouldn't suggest that I claim them to be my favorite breed by any stretch, but to lump them all together into one class of beer (which, I grant you, the industry by and large does) and then adorn it with a big crimson A is sort of unfair to some of the wonderful things going on in some of the IPAs out there.

But then again some of them do totally taste like ass. Speaking of which...

Sublimely Self Righteous Ale
Stone Bewing Co., Escondido CA
1 Pt. 6 Fluid Oz. Bottle, 8.7% Alcohol per Volume

As discussed in Part 1 of this ordeal, hops are a common and necessary factor of every beer. However, "hops" aren't a type of universal plant that a brewmeister merely shoves into every beer in existence and calls it a day. There are dozens of types of hops, each with their own subtle flavor profiles and intentions. They also have cool names like Apollo and Super Galena, which is pretty important.

Ben Likes Beer: Wiki-ing shit since 2011 so you don't have to. Source: Wikipedia 

What IPAs do have in common is their use of bittering hops which, as you can probably deduce, are added to beers to create a bitter taste. "Why would you WANT a beer to be bitter?!," I hear some of you hypothetically cry to move this article along (thanks for that, by the way). Well, when combined with some other types of hops, the effect is quite nice. Still, some IPAs don't do that. Some beers are, well, arrogant. 

Like Arrogant Bastard's Supremely Self Righteous Ale. The entire brewery is known for boastful  ("substantial mettle," they call it) use of hops, and with this malevolent concoction they certainly outdo themselves - and there's a lengthy diatribe on the bottle to prove that they know it; they're "not inclined toward senseless braggadocio" (try looking that up when you're drunk on their douchey beer).

Handle with caution. Or not at all. From stonebrew.com

The brew makes use of two hops whose main purposes appear to be distinctly for the bittering of a beer - Chinnok and Simocoe, and as such the beer is exceptionally brutal, unfriendly, and sort of tastes like it hates you. The beer is far too aggressive for me - it's not necessarily a celebration of hops, but rather a mean-spirited taunt. I am sure that certain beer fans adore this particular beer, and I am willing to admit that perhaps my pallet is not quite ready for it (a critique I accept graciously), but I rather despise the clumsy brutality of this particular beer.

On the other hand...

Widmer Brothers Nelson Imperial IPA
Widmer Brothers Brewing, Portland, Oregon
1 Pt. 6 Fluid Oz. Bottle, 8.6% Alcohol per Volume

First and foremost, a mini lesson: be wary of the label "Imperial." This innocuously regal term, when used in a beer title,  actually translates to "I WILL put you on your ass," as will this one if you enjoy too quickly. This IPA is, in contrast, quite delicious. Golden, sweet, and discrete about how formidable it is, I enjoyed this beer from start to finish. There's bitterness  yes, but it twists around a lemony crispness and a hint of floral.

The friendlier, good-natured IPA From madeinoregon.com

So what makes it so different from the aforementioned hop demon? The hops it utilizes - Nelson Sauvin (named after the wine grape and meant to mimic its fruitiness), Cascade and Willamette are all bittering hops, but have a secondary  purpose - floral and citrus notes - that Righteous hops lacked. The result is a lovely melding of flavors that doesn't smash your taste buds in with a crowbar.

The crux of it, then, is that while some people aren't going to like IPAs no matter which you place in front of them (which is going to be the result of an aversion to BITTERING hops, not hops in general), the varieties of hops that go into each determine whether you're going to have a pleasant beer with some sophisticated tastes blending, or if you're going to be bludgeoned upside the head.

Happy beering, friends.