Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 11, 2010

Beer Diary:

Just Another Freakin’ Hopservation

No rant this time, just some thoughts on the nature of the word “extreme” and what it has to do with hops.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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So I’ve noticed a lot lately when some people think a beer is too hoppy—especially when said people don’t particularly like hoppy beers—they tend to refer to these beers as “extreme.” Such as, “that pale ale is too extreme for me.” Stan Hieronymus once put forth the question “what does the term ‘extreme beer’ tell you about what’s in your glass?” and, if you sift through the multitude of responses, you’ll notice that the majority of commenters who think of the term “extreme” pejoratively equated it to overhopped brews.

I already wrote why I think the word “extreme” is a pretty useless term, but I can certainly see where folks are coming from, since it does sometimes seem as though craft brewers—American or otherwise—seem to be stuck in double-IPA mode when it comes “innovation.” It might seem that way sometimes, but I don’t think that’s even remotely true. I think craft brewers, after exploring the hit-you-over-the-head novelties like mega-hopped brews, barrel aging, and bizarro concoctions like pizza beer, right now are looking more inward and pushing definitions of different styles, not beer itself.

Craft brewers right now are looking more inward and pushing definitions of different styles, not beer itself.
For instance, the black IPA. Yeah, they’re aggressively hopped like traditional American IPAs, but they come with a grainy, roasty backbone that—when brewed with the right hops—creates a whole new dimension to the style. Stone Brewing Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale might be the most famous, but I just had a black IPA called India Ink from Hinterland Brewing that had more in common with a chocolate stout than an IPA.

And take Ale Asylum Bedlam (in fact, take a six pack, if you can). Using the new Citra hop blended with spicy Belgian yeast, Dean Coffey and crew came up with a new twist on both the IPA and the Belgian strong golden ale, and, not to mention, created an incredibly tasty beer in the process.

But it doesn’t all have to do with hops. When I was out in Portland a few weeks ago for the Oregon Brewers Festival, I stopped in a hot new brew pub out there called Hopworks Urban Brewery. This being the Pacific Northwest—and the place having the word “hops” in its fucking name—needless to say this brewery is known for its plethora of big IPAs. But I opted to try their Velvet Underground, a dark saison, that was stunningly good … and not bitter in the least.

Hopworks Urban Brewery has a beer called Velvet Underground, a dark saison, that is stunningly good … and not bitter in the least.
Still, the deprecatory link between the word “extreme” and hops still exists. New Glarus, known to push the envelope themselves a time or two (just not with hops), even go so far as to take an indirect shot at big-hopped brews in their marketing material for Moon Man, their recently debuted pale ale. To wit:
“Moon Man is a seriously cool cat. Always comfortable in his own skin, he never tries too hard. … Bold and engaging without pretense, because in Wisconsin you do not have to be extreme to be real.”
I know, it’s just marketing material, and nothing overtly harsh, but the “tries too hard” is a subtle dig at big IPAs, with that referral to “extreme” thrown in at the end. I found this immensely ironic when I first read it, because the most “extreme” beer I had all of last year—and I use the term more like most difficult to approach or categorize—was New Glarus’ own Old English Porter. Just goes to show that “extreme” is in the taste buds of the beer holder …

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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