Hops Wars

I like hops as much as the next beer drinker. In fact, the hoppy India Pale Ale style is still a favorite. In the last few years, however, microbrewers seem to be taking this to an extreme (as, come to think of it, seems to happen in every market at one time or another: bigger, faster, tastier). In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re in the midst of a “hops war.” (“Remember the Great Hops War of the 2000s, son. It was a terrible time…”)

Every microbrewer seems to have some sort of excessively hopped beer. Just consider the names of some beers I’ve tried recently (and these are just the ones with the word “hop” in their name!):

  • Hops Explosion Pale Ale
  • Hoptical Illusion
  • Hoptimus Prime Double IPA
  • Hops Wallop Ale
  • Hop Stoopid Ale

Without doing a great deal of research, I would guess that this trend started with Dogfish Head with its 120-Minute, 90-Minute and 60-Minute IPAs. (Dogfish Head has done an exceptional job of promoting itself, including a New Yorker article, and is known for “extreme beers,” although I don’t agree that all of their products should be called “beer.”) The minutes refer to the amount of time that the wort is boiled. Since they add hops continually through this process, the more time, the more bitterness.

My verdict: the 60-Minute is pretty good, the 90-Minute is definitely at the upper end of tolerance, and the 120-Minute is undrinkable. 

The taste of beer is really about two things (in my uneducated opinion): the type(s) of malt and hops used, and the balance between these ingredients. (A third variable is the type of yeast and fermenting process.) There’s a tremendous variation available within these parameters, but the key is still balance: tip the scales too far one way or the other and you get bland crap (think any major brewer) or overly bitter crap. It seems that in an attempt to gain attention and market share in a very competitive (and difficult to succeed in) business, brewers are appealing to that natural male machismo: “C’mon. If you’re a man, you can handle the bitterness. Suck it up!”

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