Got Beer? Too Many Hopping on the Bandwagon

Anyone who’s had more than three craft beers in their entire life has had an IPA. The style has become such a phenomenon that not only does every single brewery have a signature IPA, even the reluctant Boston Beer Company now has at least two variations on their signature IPA, both a session and an imperial version.

I think the attraction to the style began with those seeking the unique hop flavors so lacking in typical American macrobrewed pilsners. From there, it evolved into a strong American variation, then into differing East Coast and West Coast styles, black IPAs, white IPAs, even red and brown IPAs, which is more than stretching the term at this point.

The love affair with hops spawned a whole generation of beers with unique hop fingerprints, where once the most variety you’d find in an IPA was adding something besides Cascade. Now you can have a range from the Ithaca Flower Power to the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon and everything in between.

Right now the most popular IPAs in the nation, Heady Topper, Pliny the Elder, and the Lagunitas Sucks, typically use the same few hop varieties, some of which are hops that have either never had this much attention before, or didn’t exist a decade ago.

Hop growers are trying new variations and breeds all the time to not only keep up with demand, but create something wholly new in the brewing world.

Locally, the current IPA superstar is the Captain’s Daughter by Grey Sail, and not without good reason. But as I watch the forums flood with praise for this brew, I watch other forums fill with the disgruntled murmurs of those who are, understandably, sick of hops.

Blasphemy, you might say. If so, you might be overdramatic, but I forgive you. I do understand the point of view. While I do love a nice strong IPA, or even a gentle, soft session IPA, there are times when you might want a nice kolsh, or a pilsner, maybe a nut brown ale or a good Irish Red. IPAs are seductive because of their extreme nature and because there’s a certain guilty pleasure in drinking a beer that will make a standard liteweight pucker and spit it out from the overabundance of flavor. But if you take the extreme hops out of the equation for a moment, there’s a wealth of other styles to explore. Barrel aging has become insanely popular lately, rye has made its way into many beers recently (though, again, usually IPAs) and there’s no reason to turn away from a good, crisp golden ale. Many of these styles are overlooked. They’re usually considered boring, or just not enough to satisfy the discerning palate.

I respectfully disagree. I think our extreme hop focus is coming to a critical mass. The dry, crisp, floral, fruity, piney, earthy, citrusy little hop flower, while providing an infinite array of flavors based on those combinations, may be reaching a point where we just cry, ‘enough is enough!’

White ales have had their day, as have sours, barrel aged beers and even Belgian ales. I’m eager to see what the next big craze is, since I applaud creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I love IPAs, but as someone who describes hop flavors for a living, it’s getting hard to come up with new adjectives and metaphors. Who knows, maybe someone will make a beer from triticale that will blow us all away and usher in a new craze. So, you mad brewing scientists out there, show me what you can do. The game is on.

One response to “Got Beer? Too Many Hopping on the Bandwagon”

  1. Kyle Andrew says:

    How on earth did you neglect to mention Julius from Tree House?!!!! Currently the top rated IPA in the US.

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