July 14, 2004
Anyone who even remotely knows me understands I’m all for a good argument, especially one I instigate and ultimately win. The best are ones where the other party stutters, stammers, and turn beet red in the face. There are no people I love to wind up in the aforementioned manner more than wine snobs.
Go into a wine shop and ask them if they carry beer. Not one of the cooler wine shops that are starting to carry high end brews these days. I am talking about those snotty, snobby dives with the New Age music and the ultra dim lights. I guarantee every patron and employee in the place will look at you like you are the guy that invented wine in boxes and direct you to the gas station or Circle-K on the corner.
After thanking the uptight parties for their directions to Yellow Fizz City, you can tell them on your way out the door “I’m almost bought a bottle of wine but I know my palate is way to complex for anything so primitive”. Wait a second or two and they will without a doubt turn down the John Tesh on the stereo ask you what the hell are you talking about. They won’t let you out the door without explaining your slam on their precious grape nectar.
The explanation is simple. Wine is made from 3 ingredients: fruit, water and yeast. Most beers have 4 ingredients: grain, water, yeast and the ultimate flavor wildcard: hops. Not only do the plethora of different kinds of hops add a host of varying flavors to beers, but they also change the overall flavor profile once added.
When hops are added in the beginning of the brewing process they are called ‘bittering hops’. This is because if you add the hops early they become more pronounced on the palate and less in the aroma. If the hops are added to the end of the boil they are called ‘finishing hops’ and lend their aroma to the beer but do little for the palate. The third stage of hopping is called ‘dry hopping’. No, that wasn’t a typo; I am not talking about what you did during high school in the backseat of your Dad’s Buick. I am talking about adding hops after the boiling process is over usually before or during the fermentation. This gives hop bombs a huge hop aroma but these three techniques are not the only way people are hopping their beers these days.
Dogfish Head add hops continually in their 60 Minute IPA. This is also done with their 90 minute and 120 minute IPA’s hence the names. This treatment of the beer gives Dogfish Head’s brews a perfect balance of hop flavor and hop aroma. Alas this is only one dimension of this bitter weed.
To totally understand this bizarre member of the hemp family that at one time was just as illegal as it’s distant cousin Cannabis sativa, we need to go back to its beginnings and find out how a cousin of the chronic ended up in our favorite beers.
Hops have been used as a sedative all the way back to the 4th century. Hop teas were well known for their soothing effects. The history of hops being used in beer is a little unclear but they were popular in Europe in the 1300’s and made their way to England in the mid 1400’s to the early 1500’s. Before hops, every spice you can think of was used for flavoring beer including tree bark. Call me wrong but you have to be pretty strung out for a buzz to ferment tree bark.
One of the most popular of these hop-less beers and one of the few to survive to modern times is a Gruit Beer. In my Valentines Day column I sampled Jopen Adriaan, a Gruit beer made with a medieval herbal combination of primarily three herbs: sweet gale, yarrow and rosemary. Though I thoroughly enjoyed it I am so happy the restrictions were lifted and hops became a commercially acceptable and legal additive. Their inclusion gave birth to one of my favorite styles of beer: India Pale Ales.
In England, at least from what I have read, hops were first used as a preservative and banned otherwise for its side-effects. Before the use of hops the only way to preserve beer was to crank up the alcohol level. To do this more malt must be added to a beer making it very expensive for the brewer to produce.
Hops were abundant for the British, growing almost anywhere and in excess of a foot per vine a day. Economics forced the ban on the unclean weed to be dropped even though hopped beers were unjustly blamed for almost every type of civil disobedience including riots.
These inexpensive preservatives allowed the English brewers to drop the alcohol level of their beers thus using less of their expensive malt producing cheaper low alcohol slightly hoppy pale ales. The fortunate byproduct of this preserving ingredient was flavor.
When the trade routes were established to India the English ales did not travel well on the long, hot voyage. There were two options to help the beer make the long trip: raise the alcohol or add more hops. Anyone with half a mind knows that there was no need for an 11% ABV beer on a clipper ship full of tired, pissed off sailors. Thus the invention of the India Pale Ale came to fruition. These beers got a little bump in alcohol but are modest in ABV%, clocking in somewhere between 5 and 7 percent. Whereas additional alcohol was minimum, the bump in hops was huge. Their addition gave these beers beautiful floral, citrus and earthy tones. But of course someone had to bump up the ABV% and the hops at the same time. We know the world of beer if can be done it will be done.
This brings us to the Granddaddy of hoppy beers. Somewhere in time someone said, “What would happen if we added more hops and cranked up the ABV%?” I don’t know who the first person was to utter this question but they deserve a statue in my opinion. That question gave us the birth of the Imperial India Pale Ale. These hop bombs are packed with hops and have enough alcohol to make you break a sweat on a winter day. We all know that alcohol in beer is measured by ABV%, how can we tell how hoppy beers are? The way to measure hops in beers is in International Bittering Units or IBUs.
The formula for measuring IBU’s is pretty complex so there is no need to delve into it. What I can do is give you benchmarks to compare various beers against each other. An English Pale Ale has 20-40 IBU’s whereas an IPA has 40-60+ IBU’s. When we get into the realm of beers like Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA the IBU’s are in the 90s and tipping the scales is Stone’s Ruination IPA at 100+. That’s not a hop bomb, that’s a MOAB.
Yellow fizzy swill most likely has somewhere around 10 IBU’s. Don’t even try to identify the hops in a fizzy yellow beer. It is hard enough sometimes identifying the hops in a good beer.
Identifying hops is not an easy task. As I said, depending on where the hops are entered in the boil there are different characteristics they will give to a beer. This is complicated by the fact that most brewers use multiple hop types in most recipes. Still there are a lot of beers on the market brewed with one type of hop or have a very strong hop profile. I would say the easiest hop to identify and one of my favorite finishing hops are Cascades.
One beer that is overflowing with Cascade hops is Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. When the aroma hits you it does so with the smell of citrus and pine. That is the aroma of Cascade hops calling you. Anchor Liberty Ale is yet another Cascade hopped beer that will help you recognize this hop.
Cascade hops are frequently confused with Amarillo hops. Amarillo’s are also very citrus in aroma but the pine is not as pronounced as the Cascades. I personally think they have more of a grapefruit aroma.
Some brewers will use Cascade or Amarillo hops in concert with Saaz hops. Saaz have a flowery aroma that compliment Cascade and Amarillo hops perfectly but there are beers out there with just Saaz. Pick up a Pilsner Uquell; the Saaz hops are ever present.
If you want a real easy way to identify a hop strain there are bunch of Fuggle-only beers on the market. Fuggle hops are a classic English style hop that are spicy and floral and ever present in The Shipyard Fuggles IPA or Freeminer Deepshaft Stout. Both of these beers are made only with Fuggles hops. I know right now you are saying to yourself… did he mention Stout I thought we were talking about IPAs? No, we are talking about hops. Stouts are one of the heaviest hoped styles on the market.
A dry stout like Guinness will come in around 30-50 IBUs where as a Foreign Stout like Lion Stout can tip the scales between 35 -70 IBUs. There are a ton of hoppy Ales, Pilsners and Stouts on the market and my suggestion is of course to try them all. If you have a dislike for hoppy beers start off with the lightly hopped beers like an English Pale Ale. I guarantee you will be drinking IPA’s and Double IPA’s shortly afterwards.
For this week’s picks I’m going to stick to some tasty ales. With the dog days of summer upon us I seem to be drinking these more and more. The one thing I won’t be drinking is wine. My four dimensional palette will not tolerate a three dimensional beverage. Enjoy this week’s four hoppy picks.
Victory Hopdevil IPA
This beer has a great reddish orange color with a frothy white head. The aroma is just as you would expect from an IPA with huge citrus grapefruit tones and a hint of malt and herbal flowery tones. The mouthful is medium and sparkling with a strong malty finish that is backed up with an earthy hoppy taste. The beer forces you to take another sip to once again to ride this roller coaster of tastes as the malt and hops wash over your tongue.
Menacingly delicious, this American-hopped India Pale Ale offers an aromatic punch and then follows through with a lasting, full-bodied finish. Malts: Imported, German 2 row Hops: American whole flowers Alcohol by volume: 6.7%
Weyerbacher Hops Infusion
This is an incredibly hoppy beer. Not the hoppiest I have had to date but it holds it’s own as a distinct member of the grossly over-hopped club. It has all of the standard characteristics of an IPA with a murky deep golden color and an average sized white head. The aroma is of hops of course and the most prevalent are the fruitier and flowery variety. There is a very flowery nose to this beer. The mouth feel is very full and bittersweet, coming from the more flowery hops. There is almost no malt presence to this beer. This finish is great with a lingering hoppy aftertaste. This beer is getting high marks for not only the great taste but also the drink-ability and price point. You could quite honestly drink this beer all day long on a hot summer day with out getting sick of it. What a great session beer.
Thermonuclear libation! If you’re a “hophead” you’ll really enjoy this flavor-bomb of a beer from the brewers at Weyerbacher. First brewed in 1998 and served only at the Weyerbacher Brew Pub (now closed) proving grounds, Hops Infusion was a huge hit with the resident hopheads. So in the summer of 1999 we decided to release it in bottled form, and the response was, well, explosive! Hops Infusion exhibits fine malt characteristics- this beer has undeniable character and body. Glowing a deep amber color, Hops Infusion is brewed with seven types of hops. The result is unmistakable– hop-heavenly flavor with, spicy, sharp citrus notes. Target, Magnum, Cascade, Liberty, Willamette, Fuggles and E. Kent Goldings give this beer the complexity that’s so interesting. Many hoppy beers are focused on a single variety of hops. Our brewers intention on Hops Infusion was to create a complexity of hops flavor and aroma’s, not found in any other beer.
Three Floyd’s Alpha King Pale Ale
Even though this is not Three Floyd’s hoppiest offering this beer does have enough hops to satisfy any hophead. This is a great American Pale Ale. The beer has a deep orange color with a generous head. The aroma is all about hops – it is citrusy, floral, and has a hint of pine earthiness. The flavor is perfectly balanced with a little more malt than the aroma leads to expect. The finish is dry and hoppy with a touch of malt.
Style: American Pale Ale Color: Deep Orange Flavor: Robust malt flavor, with a medium body balanced by a strong hopping, leading to a quick, dry finish. Aroma: Dry-Hopped, this ale boasts a bold, citrus hop aroma mixed with fruit overtones from the mixture of 10 malts and two yeast variables. Three Floyd’s Brewing was founded by Nick Floyd to satisfy his thirst for big, hoppy, honest beers. Going beyond standard formulas, he has redefined what constitutes quality ale in the Midwest.
My number one hoppy pick is:
Stone Ruination IPA
I love this beer and do not think it is as “over the top” as I have read elsewhere. That being said this beer is the MOAB of hoppy offering’s on the market. Once again Stone Brewing delivers us a perfectly made product. Color is perfect for the style and the aroma is sweet with a huge hop profile. I am not scared as suggested by the verbiage on the bottle but you may want to sit in a comfortable chair drinking it. Ruination is about 7.7% ABV. Good hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.
“Stone Brewing, experts in pushing the limits of the IPA style, brews up another winner.” And a winner it is. Patterned after the famous Stone Anniversary IPAs, this new brew is born. Weighing in at massive 100+ IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and 7.7% alc/vol, this baby is a screamer! And the name? Stone Ruination IPA. So named, the bottle’s label states, “because of the immediate ruinous effect on your palate.” Stone Ruination IPA is the first new year-round release from Stone Brewing since the introduction of the infamous Arrogant Bastard Ale more than four and a half years ago. “It is a really big deal for us to decide to release Stone Ruination IPA on a year-round basis,” said Stone CEO Greg Koch. Stone Ruination IPA will be the fifth beer that the brewery will make available all the time, adding to their current line up of Stone Pale Ale, Stone Smoked Porter, Stone IPA and Arrogant Bastard Ale. Not surprisingly, those who seek, crave and rejoice in beers with big, bold bitter character will find true nirvana in Stone Ruination IPA. However, Stone CEO Greg Koch comments “I have found it quite interesting that people who previously felt that bitterness in beer was unappealing have discovered joy in the startlingly bracing and uniquely refreshing bitter character of Stone Anniversary IPAs.” Still, Stone wouldn’t go so far as to recommend Stone Ruination IPA to someone who prefers drinks that taste like LifeSavers candies. “This beer is, after all, a celebration of hoppiness,” reports Koch, which may explain the phrase on the front of the Ruination IPA’s label that reads “A Liquid Poem to the Glory of the Hop.”