Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #8- Super hoppy beers

Lets all be bitter with superhopped beers

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Along with malt, yeast and water, hops are an essential ingredient in all beers. When added to fermenting wort, they suppress the growth of microorganisms that would compete with the yeast. Of course they also contribute much to a beer’s flavor and aroma, their bitterness counterbalancing the sweetness of the malt.

It’s the “hoppier” beers that have really taken off in the American craft beer scene. Breweries across the nation have built loyal clientele on the strength of floral, pleasantly bitter pale ales and IPAs, which are substantially more acerbic than, say, brown ales and most lagers.

Just for the record, bitter in this sense is a good thing. It’s not like taking a spoonful of castor oil. Think of it as a fresh, almost citrus sensation that may take some getting used to but figures prominently in the flavor profiles of most good beers.

Put it this way, if it’s not there, you’ll miss it.

For dedicated hopheads, however, that’s still not enough. A large proportion of beer people (sometimes even us) love having their tonsils blasted out the backs of their heads with vine-grown bitterness, and breweries are responding accordingly. Each of the following beers kick you in the throat with more bitterness than a Dubai port manager.

With all beers, the challenge is to maintain a balance of flavor. When you’re blending five different hops and dry-hopping the beer, that challenge becomes pretty daunting. The River Horse Brewing Company’s Hop Hazard, however, retains its balance while still maintaining all the bitterness of a grounded teenager.

The beer pours amber, several shades lighter than copper, without a lot of foam. It has that fresh-meadow smell, but there’s still some malt in the aroma.

The first thing you taste is the malt, but as the beer washes over the back of your tongue the hops are unmistakable; a pleasant, not astringent, bitterness several magnitudes greater than the average IPA. When done right, the bitter flavors should invite the drinker to take another sip. Judging by the empty six-packs lying around Mark’s computer, Hop Hazard gets it correct.

A big beer in alcohol content as well as hops, Victory Hop Wallop is a darling of the craft beer community. It’s brewed by the consistently excellent Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and it’s bitter like Pete Best at a Beatles convention.

For an IPA, Hop Wallop is a very pretty beer. It’s much lighter-colored than expected, more like a golden lager, with an appealing snow-white head. The aroma and flavor, however, are all hops, and yeah, the name is right on. It’s certainly balanced away from malt, but that just makes Hop Wallop a hophead’s ambrosia.

The Dogfish Head brewery of New Hampshire has always made maverick beers, and 90 Minute IPA is no exception. Weighing in at 9% alcohol by volume, it’s as potent as a doppelbock, and it needs that strength to carry the extreme hoppiness imparted by boiling the flowers in the brew kettle for a full 90 minutes.

Technically, 90 Minute is a Double IPA, and the greater malt presence necessary to generate that kind of strength makes this beer surprisingly balanced. Still, the label says it all. You’re getting a hop explosion in this beer that’s bitterer than a Freetime reader coming across yet another crummy metaphor.

Dogfish Head also makes a 75- and 60- minute IPA which tones down on the hop-heaviness. All three of these are fantastic beers in their own right.

In Other Beers:

Tax day is one of the better occasions on which to drink a bunch of beer. Happily, Monty’s Krown in Rochester will be hosting the Victory Beer Festival on April 15th. A representative from the Victory Brewing Company will host a tasting of their excellent range of beers, hopefully including the aforementioned Hop Wallop, as well as some that are only available at their brewery.

The Rohrbach Brewing Company will be hosting a beer and food pairing featuring the beers of Germany on April 18th at their Buffalo Road restaurant. Expect Rohrbach lagers, as well as a range of authentic German beers. Call the brewery for reservations.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

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