There Is More to Beer Than Hops

Don’t get me wrong—I love hoppy beers. In fact, most of the beers I’ve really fallen in love with over the past few years have been IPAs or DIPAs. But I find myself feeling increasingly frustrated by the fact that 90% of the beers on tap at 90% of the bars and breweries I visit are in the pale ale family.

Full disclosure: while I very much enjoy a good IPA (I’m drinking one right now), it is by no means my favorite style of beer—I’m a Belgian strong pale ale man all the way. But even if you’re a die-hard hop head, do you really need 8 different beers with essentially the same flavor profile to choose from at your local watering hole? (Answer: You don't.)

The problem with the American beer scene’s hop obsession isn’t just that it limits exposure to different styles of beer; for a lot of upstart breweries, it’s also led to a rejection of one of the most important qualities of any great brew: balance. So many breweries have become engaged in this weird IBU pissing contest, hopping the shit out of their beers to the point where hop bitterness is literally all you can taste. Some breweries have even bragged about brewing 1,000-2,000 IBU beers, despite the fact that we probably can’t even taste bitterness beyond a threshold of about 150 IBU. This is, needless to say, really fucking stupid.

Heady Topper, on the other hand, is a world-class DIPA, not because it has a billion IBUs, but because it achieves its intense hoppiness without sacrificing the other flavors that make a beer a beer, a testament to the fact that The Alchemist’s brewers actually know how to craft a well-balanced IPA instead of just hopping a beer to within an inch of its life and hoping for the best.

I recognize that this is ultimately about demand: beer culture is huge, beer geeks love hops, and producers are just giving the people what they want. But that’s true of any fad, and all fads fade out eventually. Here's hoping this one fades out soon.