Forgive me if you’ve already read the recent article which claims all beers will soon be IPA’s (India Pale Ales). It was humorously intended, but not far from the truth.
There happens to be a world-wide hop shortage and as a result, the price for hops has skyrocketed! And our love (addiction) to the IPA, Double IPA and Triple IPA styles are mostly to blame. Oh, the craft beer market in general has caused a considerable surge in hop usage, but there’s something much more worrisome going on, especially if you happen to be a taste bud.
In the not so distant past, the 3 major mega-brewers of adjunct-laced suds shared just 10 little hop pellets. Brewers in possession of these pellets quickly dunked them, teabag-style into very large vats of a watery “beer”-like substance. The little pellets were then secretly transported via miniature Clydesdale horses to the next brewery (rhymes with Shits) and then on to the next, (rhymes with Killer). This process went on for several years at a time until a cardboard-flavored “Light Lager” and/or wet cardboard-flavored seltzer water was achieved. At this point a call would be made to some nationally known advertising agency and billions of dollars floated magically down into a few waiting hands. Then 3 very wealthy men would chip in $3 apiece for another 10 pellets. The original soggy, used up 10 Little Hop Pellets were shipped off to Mexico to a “brewery” that rhymes with Your-bona.
Well times have changed as it pertains to hop use and it has changed drastically! People nowadays are actually seeking out well-crafted beers with edgy, biting flavors. And the flavors they seek most are bitter hops.
IBU stands for International Bittering Units. The higher the number, the more bitter (the beer). IPAs got their start as a British Mild Ale with an extra dose of hops (a natural beer preservative) so that the beer being transported across miles of ocean to Her Majesty’s troops serving in India would have a flavorful, semi-fresh beer to drink. Typically an IPA would have an IBU rating of around 38-50. Today’s American style IPAs are amped up to over 60 IBU. Now we’re finding Double and Triple IPAs with IBU’s well over 100! They may have names like Tongue Shredder, Pallet Mallet, Bud Burner or Throat Torch. Obviously brewers are intentionally trying to render any other beer, bland by comparison. Conspiracy?
Not to get too scientific here; (my readership may dip into negative numbers if I do) it’s hard, if not impossible to fully appreciate, or even taste a German-style Kölsch after downing your average Double IPA. And if you do, your natural assumption will be, “Kӧlsch style beers have no hoppy taste”. That’s because the very high units of alpha acid resins in extremely hoppy beer can affect all 3 taste bud receptor spectrums of the tongue; the front, sides and back. The back of the tongue is where bitterness is generally detected. This very bitterness detector helped prevent early man from consuming poisonous plants. We’ve now evolved to the point of craving bitter flavors (hoppy beer!) When very high IBUs are reached, the brain sort of organizes the bitterness into perceived tastes ranging from peppery, astringent, spicy, piney, citrus, metallic, and even salty. Once all 3 bud areas are perceiving bitterness, you’ve lessened the chance of tasting more subtle flavors for quite a while.
Not only are the brewers of today using more and more hops, they’re using newer hybrid strains which are way more potent in effective bitterness. The resulting beer will have you puckering with giddy delight; and that is when you’ve reached the point when only hoppy beers will satisfy. You’re Hooked!
Like methadone treatment for a meth head, the only sure way to wean a hop head is to reintroduce them to The 10 Little Hops…or maybe a nice German Kölsch!