Friday, October 29, 2010

Humourless Lupulin Loonies

Sometimes, when working at the tasting room, I give tours of the Starr Hill brewery. I try not to waffle on endlessly about the arcane minutiae of brewing, but rather focus on the general process and hope not to lose my audience with trivialities. One thing that I have started to do recently is to go into more detail about the different hop varieties that are used in the brewing world.

This added spiel in my tour came about because I have a bad habit for earwigging (do Americans use that phrase? I honestly don't know, but just in case, it means to listen to other people's conversations). I was sat in Devils Backbone drinking some of the Trukker Ur-Pils and generally chilling out, when I overheard someone claim that "I only like hoppy beers" and then grumble his way through a pint of the pils. His mutterings were mainly related to the perceived lack of hops in said beer and how he wanted an American IPA to get some hops. I have heard similar comments from people drinking an English IPA and restrained myself from smacking them upside the head.

I hate to say it, though say it I shall, I find this kind of attitude remarkably common among the Zythogelicals of this world, and usually what they really mean is "I like my beer to taste of grapefruit". If you follow my Twitter feed, you most likely saw my trick question that I posted, regarding which is more bitter? Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Pilsner Urquell? Given that you are an intelligent and learned reader, you know that the answer is of course,......Pilsner Urquell, beating SNPA by 40 IBUs to 37.

It seems elementary to say it, but different hops produce different aromas and flavours. The lemony, floral grassiness tinged with spiciness that Saaz is known for is no less "hoppy" that the pine resin, grapefruit things going on in Cascade. The same is true of Fuggles and East Kent Goldings and their earthy flavours. It stands to reason that 40IBU of Saaz is different from 40IBU of Cascade or 40IBU of Fuggles, but in terms of bitterness, the beers in question are as bitter as each other, so to say one is not "hoppy" enough is just plain daft in my book.

Perhaps, and I admit this may be cynical, but discussions with various brewery related people and bar staff confirm my thinking, many self confessed "hopheads" are in fact devotees of a single family of hops and as such fail to appreciate the delights of other hop varieties. I can't imagine wanting to limit my beer drinking experience to simply those beers that conform to my concept of "hoppiness". To be honest overloading stouts, porters and weizens with Cascade and co leads to some practically undrinkable beers, but I guess you could just claim it as an innovation and create a new style.


  1. That is a little irritating yes.

    I don't think Earwigging is used in the US anyway as earwigs are not a bug that most Americans are familiar with, even though they have them. At least no one I know (wife included) had heard of them or seen them till they got to Ireland.

    Ask Mrs VelkyAl as maybe its different in the southern states than the mid west.

  2. I've noticed the same thing myself. Drinkers who think that grapefruit = hop flavour. It made me smile when some reviewers said Pretty Things 1832 XXXX had no hop flavour. It's jam-pack full of hops. Goldings. Which, as they don't taste like grapefruit, don't seem to count as hops in the minds of some.

  3. I've even been told that it's not possible to make a really hoppy beer with European hops. Mental.

  4. I've never thought about this before, but you're probably right. The last beer I made used Fuggles and Cascade as the late additions and my opinion on tasting it was "needs more hops". On what you've said, it probably doesn't need more hops - I just don't identify the fuggles in the same way as the cascade (or Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Amarillo etc).

    I wonder if it's a question of amounts though - might try the same beer again but add lots more of the fuggles and see what that does to my perception of it...

  5. Note also that the SNPA has PLENTY of the hop additions added in the late stages of brewing (and as dry hop additions) this leaves the beer with more hop flavor, regardless of the variety used (or of the IBUs present).

    Oh, and we certainly have plenty of earwigs here in Michigan, though the colloquialism is not common to this area.


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