A case for less Hops and More! nuance
By Jim Showers
As the story goes, when they needed to get beer from England to India, the only way to keep it from spoiling was to add extra hops, and thus the IPA or India Pale Ale
was born. Whether or not that’s true or just a convenient story, I will let you research and decide for yourself, but what I’ve found from my beer history is that the flavor and aroma of hops
are better than the flavor and aroma of skunked beer.
In the last five years, there has been an explosion of IPAs. Go into any brewpub, and you will typically find 2-4 available, with flavors ranging from earthy to floral and citrus. Now super hoppy porters and stouts have come into fashion. Given the IPA’s current popularity, it is easy to see why a new homebrewer would take on the task of complex hopping to recreate a favorite IPA regardless of how hoppy it is. However, I contend that the overuse of the hop is impeding the quality of brewing today. I implore all homebrewers to “stop with all the hops already!”
Explore the world beyond IPA!
There is a world of flavors and styles that can be mind-blowing that the home brewer needs to explore on their way to the heavy-handed hopped. Before relying on a single note that can overpower so many other nuances, you should perfect the balance of the other three ingredients: water
, and yeast
. I have a hard enough time recognizing the flavor differences between lager yeast and ale yeast Fermenting from a Pilsen LME
. If I were to add a 15+IBU, it would be game over. Furthermore, a great deal of our ability to taste comes from our sense of smell. If all you can smell is what you dry-hopped with, how could you detect the esters of bananas in a Hefeweizen
I am not saying IPAs aren’t delicious and refreshing, but you must admit the lack of subtlety. Prove yourself with a clean crips Kolsch
before being seduced into the earthy mistress of Zeus. Challenge yourself to the duplication of water hardness and perfect a Marzen
before hiding behind your hops. Dedicate to the patience of an Imperial Stout
instead of the sensation of a Session IPA
My belief is when you give yourself a chance to taste all that can go wrong with your homebrew, you will become more attentive to the small things. How clean
is your boiler? Did your sanitizer
have enough time to get the job done? Do you need a higher ppm of yeast before pitching? Are you getting your keg’s beer line clean enough? After all, the path to better brewing is through noting the difference in all the details. So, while extra hops can save beer traveling around the Horn of Africa, they can also mask the mistakes you’re making and prevent you from attaining pure brewing joy.
Everyone, especially the new homebrewer, needs to explore the entire world of flavors that exist in the world. When your goal is to bring out the subtlety of all your ingredients, you can better assess the brewer’s ability.
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