This is a phrase I hear often. And to be honest it drives me crazy. I myself love hoppy beers. I even consider myself a hop-head. But what bugs when people say they don’t like hoppy beers is that I don’t think that’s what they mean at all. Most of the time what they actually mean is they don’t like bitter beers.
Hoppy Beers Don’t Have to be Bitter
There seems to be a pervasive opinion that hoppy equals bitter, which is not really the case. It all comes from the way the hops are used in the beer-making process. Many hoppy beers can be prepared in a way that they impart little to no bitterness.
To Isomerize or Not Isomerize
Without getting too technical, there are oils in the hop flowers which are responsible for the hoppy flavors. At very high temperatures, above 180˚F, these oils break down and impart bitterness. The oils are isomerized, and alpha acid is released into the beer, and that is the main source of the bitterness. Most beers are boiled for 60 minutes and hops are often added during this phase. The earlier the hops are added in the boil, the more they break down, and thus the more bitter the beer becomes. The later they are added, the less they break down, which translates to less bitterness.
Let’s Dry Hop this Bad Boy
But some brewers don’t even add hops during the boil, or they add very little. They add the hops after the boil and often after the beer has been dropped below 180˚F so the oils do not break down at all, and they continue to add more hops during the fermentation process. This is called dry hopping. What happens now is the magical flavor of hops. This is where the floral notes are imparted into the beer. You often hear beer described as “floral,” “citrusy,” “spicy,” “piney,” “lemony,” “grape fruity.” And don’t forget the word “dank,” but let’s save that for another post.
Would You Like Brussels Sprouts in your Beer?
I’m not sure if this is best analogy, but I’m going with it. I don’t like Brussels sprouts. I really can’t stand them. And what I don’t like is their bitterness. But I have had Brussels sprouts that I actually did enjoy. They were braised and caramelized and a bit sweet. What they weren’t was bitter. So like Brussels sprouts, hoppy beers don’t have to be bitter; it’s all in the way they are prepared.
Let’s Be Clear
My hope is for more clarity when it comes to talking about hoppy beers. I wish even bartenders would ask for clarification when someone says they don’t like hoppy beers. It’s a simple question. Do you mean you don’t like bitter beers? Because we have lots of hoppy beers that aren’t bitter.
Let’s Talk about Hazy
Hazy North Eastern IPAs have actually been around for a while, but we are definitely experiencing an explosion of the style right now, at least on the West Coast. And these beers are a perfect example of the low bitterness, super hoppy beers. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that is exactly what these beers are. It’s possible the explosion of this style is in direct response to the idea of people not liking bitter beers, but the message seems to be slow in getting out to the non-beer-enthusiast crowd. Beer enthusiasts are all over these beers. Yes, there are some purists who hate them. “Beer should be clear!” But the overwhelming response is pretty passionate. Hazy beers are everywhere. And since they are everywhere, we should be inviting those people who have always said “I don’t like hoppy beers” to try a hazy. Often times you will find you have converted a non-believer. And what more could you ask than bringing enlightenment to the world.