Are hops overused?
Whoa, perhaps this is an incendiary question. Why, then, am I posing it? Well, I am doing so indirectly, as it was posed to me by our friend, the famous oenophile, Nic Haegeli. Nic knows what he is talking about, for sure. Nic also enjoys challenging the practices of modern wine makers and brewers. He is an old world wine man through and through. So what drove him to push my hop shrouded button? He slyly prodded me under the guise of the new world use (or over use) of oak in wine making.
Many new world wines can be generalized as overly fruity, overly oaky bold wines appealing to a broad class of bold palates. One could even go so far as to label these wines one dimensional and unrefined. The same might be said about countless IPA’s on the market today.
I am an advocate of American brewing, although I have a deep appreciation for traditional brewing from Belgium, Germany and Britain. When forced to declare where the best beer in the world is made I am inclined to say, America. I am well aware that much of American brewing is the bastardization of original styles from other places in the world, but I see both the emulation and the re-invention of these styles leading to some amazing results. We replicate quite well and our creativity is unending. America is very much new world brewing.
One thing that is all over shelves and menus across our great nation is IPA. IPA is perhaps the go-to style (pale can get some credit here too) for most brewing ventures in the US and there is no shortage of hop freaks to support it. So, all these IPAs have to be different, right?
They are indeed. The glory of hops is that there are so many of them, all with wonderful flavors to contribute to beer. There are good IPAs and bland IPAs. There are piney hops and citrusy hops, resiny hops and delicate hops. I could go on, because I love hops.
What about the prevalence of hops though? I suppose I can concede that there exists many a one-sided beer. I do hear the term ‘balance’ about as much as anything else when it comes to talking about beer. I see that this term is loosely applied in many instances. I’ll also concede that there is many an IPA that is not ‘balanced’.
So are hops overused?
In my opinion – no! Hops are what I like and what many others like. They are used to create numerous iterations of a fantastic style of beer. Hoppy beers are everywhere and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Especially now as we approach harvest ale season. Stealing from a previous post… There is little better than beer that is derived from the fresh harvest of the necessary ingredients. The most prominent of these ingredients is hops and usually that is the driving flavor of a harvest ale. Many breweries take this opportunity to make a ‘wet hop’ IPA, where the newly harvested hops are added in immediately with no drying in between. Being one who remains obsessed with the delicious flavor of hops, I find harvest time quickly becoming my favorite beer season. I find IPAs to be more of a summer style than a winter style, but harvest ales are generally coming out as IPAs with a heartier malt balance and many pour a more rich amber than their lighter IPA counterparts.
Bring on the hops! New world brewing is awesome!
3 thoughts on “Are hops overused?”
Tim – I agree with you on Harvest Ales… some of my favs of the season too. On the larger question, I think people are getting tired of hops sneaking into every variety (i.e. BPA), but I guess it’ll continue to happen as long as people buy it. I really enjoyed Sam Adams’ recent Latitude 48 12 pack as it gave me a chance to taste/compare a number of different hop varieties. The single hop options are cool way to figure out what you like. Thanks asking the question.
I think you both make good points. I think there is a place for hops, and a great place for fresh hop ales, but over hopping different styles doesn’t create a new style, but rather creates unbalanced versions of those styles. There are notable exceptions, but in general, keep the extreme hops to the proper styles, and allow beer to be subtle.
There is something I think that has become over the top, and that’s imperial everything. It’s really hard to find a beer that’s less than 5% abv, that you can sit and enjoy a few of over the course of an afternoon, and not have wobbly legs. I’d really like to see that trend take off.
Tim – We’ve had this conversation before, so you know where I stand. There are brewers who act like kids in a schoolyard contest; “Betcha I can add more hops than you can!” Nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re not the only active brewers around.
What’s important is choice. Pushing the envelope may go to extremes, but it’s a darn sight better than not pushing it at all.
Years ago, Michael Jackson (the Boswell of Beer, not the gloved one) wrote, “Most working brewers love hops, and would use at least twice as many of the flowers in each batch if the market researchers were not afraid of frightening the consumer.
Fortunately, the market researchers and bean counters haven’t taken over the craft brew movement. Celebrate the innovators, try new beers, drink those tyou like, and be glad there are differences to debate.