“Come in and have a seat. America, we’re here today to tell you that you have a problem. You’re addicted to hops and we want to help you get better.”
At least that’s the charge over at Slate.
From a consumer’s standpoint, though, beers overloaded with hops are a pointless gimmick. That’s because we can’t even taste hops’ nuances above a certain point. Hoppiness is measured in IBUs (International Bitterness Units), which indicate the concentration of isomerized alpha acid—the compound that makes hops taste bitter. Most beer judges agree that even with an experienced palate, most human beings can’t detect any differences above 60 IBUs.
I think they’re right. On the one hand, you’ve got “extreme” hoppy beers with names like Hop Stoopid, Hopslam, Hopsecutioner, and Hop Your Damn Head Off (ok we made that last one up). But that’s ok; with styles like west coast IPAs, imperial IPAs, double and triple IPAs you know what you’re getting into. You’re unquestionably in for an intensely hoppy affair. Even some milder styles call for some hop additions for balance or a more full flavor, despite staying fairly low in IBU.
But the problem I see is two-fold. For one thing ,extreme hoppy beers (and hoppy beers in general) seem to dominate the “best of” lists of many-a-beer-geek like myself. This has the unintended consequence of turning would-be beer lovers into thinking that maybe they just don’t “get it” and makes lists of “great beer” potential minefields for the uninitiated. Second, there’s a problem with over-hopping styles that just don’t call for it in American craft/home brewing. I can’t tell you how many over-hopped pales and ambers I’ve had in the last few years, but it’s a lot. The result can be delicious in my opinion (as with my in-state favorite Yellowhammer Tobacco Road imperial amber) but it can also confuse and disappoint the hell out of someone that just wanted a malty session beer.
One of the things I love most about beer is the variety. A beer doesn’t have to be anything other than clean and refreshing to be wonderful, and indeed some of my favorite beers have no hop additions at all. I encourage everyone to branch out a bit with your own palettes and to help slow the trendy obsession with hops that has been building for so many years. There’s more to life than that juicy citrus explosion.