I have been taunting my hoppy colleague, Tim for quite some time about the ‘overuse’ of hops (particularly in American brews). Playing devil’s advocate, I’ve compared their use with the excessive use of oak in the wine world. My suggestion wasn’t merely a simple taunt. I was (and remain) curious over the role of hops in brew, particularly in American ones and how they compare with the use of oak in wine. Some may find it silly to compare the two, but I really don’t think so.
Now just a little about myself for you brew folks…
I’m a wine guy, to be more specific I’m an Old World wine guy. It’s really quite simple…most wines from the ‘Old World,’ in addition to embracing tradition, have balance. Yes I admire tradition, but I care more about balance because when I drink a glass of wine, I do so with food and balance is important. In my book, wine is more than a simple beverage, it is an essential part of any meal and is an equal to any dish that finds itself on the dining table. I find wines from most of the New World (i.e. outside of Europe) to be unbalanced possessing excessive amounts of alcohol, fruit, residual sugar, and/or oakiness. This is a generalization of course. I do realize that many a producer in the Old World can make wines this way, and many a producer in the New World do not (for those interested check out South Africa).
But I also have a great interest in brew.
Don’t peg me as a pretentious wine nerd. I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to alcoholic beverages (although I do have reservations) and have a great passion for brew. As for my tastes, I’m a fan of the Belgian tradition. I always have been and always will be. I enjoy many brews in the German and British tradition (although I find brews from Scotland to be closer to Belgians because of their use of malt). I happen to think that Belgians are as close as you can get to wine in the brew world. Besides they are creative and traditional, can pair well with many a dish (besides mussels and fries) and are driven by malt. I don’t really go after sweet brews, but I do enjoy a brew that has some malt. Unconsciously, it may be the malt freak in me that hates hops, but I don’t hate hops.
Now back on topic…
Tim recently written a blog about hops. It’s clear from the article that he loves them and finds them to be the driving force in a brew’s aroma. I’d have to argue with him on this point, but are hops to beer what oak is to wine? This really is the question that I’m curious about. My answer is a simple-no!
Hops are more important to brew than oak is to wine. Why? Not all wine spends time in oak. I’ve tasted many good or great wines that spent no time whatsoever in oak. I don’t know of any brewer that doesn’t add some hops to his/her magic potion of wort.
There are a number of variables that make up the aroma of both wine and brew. They include, but are not limited to water, grains & their preparation (i.e Rauchbiers), malt, grapes, human tradition, traditional brewing styles, etc… I’ll even add terroir for you oenophiles reading this. My point is that hops are not the only contributing factor to a brew’s aroma, but most consumers (at least stateside) are obsessed with them. In wine, many consumers love the aromas that a new oak barrel-aging contributes to a wine complimented by intense fruitiness. Both hops and oak are big contributors to the flavor (and body) of brew and wine, respectively, but they are not the end all be all nor should they be.
My question was also rooted in my distaste of both the overuse of hops and oak in brew and wine. I’ve come to realize that for both wine and brew, taste is subjective. If you like hops then go ahead and drink some IPA or Harvest ale. If you like oak then drink a wine that has seen some intense barrel aging. Don’t let me stop you, not that I would anyways!