You might ask: how much more hops can be added to beer before it tastes like sucking on a hop cone out in field of vines? Southern California has a cornucopia of hop-filled choices. We now get Dogfish Head’s 60, 90 & 120 Minute IPAs. Sierra Nevada has a new IPA in their rotation named after the machine that loads new Citra hops into the kettle. Blind Pig and its brasher sibling Pliny the Elder can be found on tap and in bottles. Alpine Brewing was represented at the 1st Anniversary of Blue Palms Brewhouse with, not only Pure Hoppiness, but Exponential Hoppiness as well. All created to scratch that hop itch.
Thankfully, a new trend seems to be emerging that may broaden the use of the omnipresent humulus lupulus. But first, a short primer on the bittering agent and preservative that, can be argued, is overused in today’s world of Double and Imperial IPAs.
In the 13th Century before the German Reinheitsgebot, beer was not brewed to last for long journeys or long periods of time. Various spices, such as rosemary or bog myrtle were added to the beer to increase shelf life but if beer was to survive as a drink of the people, it would have to travel with them. Hops, despite the backing of brewers, had to overcome the entrenched businessmen of the thriving gruit trade (which was the Anheuser-Busch of the day). It eventually did and quickly spread. From Hallertau in Germany to East Kent in England the vine traveled the European beer byways. Then the crowning hop achievement, adding extra hops to the famous British Pale Ale so it would survive the boat trip to India. This new recipe for IPA was a resounding triumph.
So where are today’s brewers taking the hop? The Bruery in Placentia and Angel City in Torrance are going down one path with hoppy Belgian beers. Angel City has a new Belgian IPA and, according to their website, it is an aggressively hopped ale made with Belgian yeast, malt and candy sugar. The Bruery recently introduced Humulus Lager, part of the Humulus branch of their Belgian tree that includes Bruin, Gold and Blonde. I sipped this new lager offering in their tasting room on their Stimulus Sunday. It is a bold experiment but the lager gets subsumed by the hops. If I was blindfolded, I would never have guessed it was a lager. The other Humulus beers have a Belgian essence that stands up to the power of the hop, making a complex hybrid of a beer style that I really enjoy.
Another route for hops is coming from the Belgian brewer Mikkeller. They have a full line of single hop beers. You can choose from Simcoe, Warrior, Nugget or Nelson Sauvin. Just to give an idea of what they mean by “single hop”. Here is the list of ingredients: water, malts (Pilsner, cara-crystal and Munich), hops (Nelson Sauvin) and yeast. That’s it. I have had the Warrior and Nelson Sauvin. Both are more delicate than normal IPAs with interesting flavors. Sampling this particular horizontal flight of IPAs is a great way to learn the different hop tastes and aromas. And the next time you try a hop bomb, you may be able to pick out the different hops that were used in brewing it. I have had the Warrior and Nelson Sauvin. Both are more delicate than normal IPAs with interesting flavors. (You can find these beauties at Vendome Liquor in Toluca Lake.) Belgium also gives us Urthel’s floral but powerful Hop-It! A citrusy, earthy beer that shows another direction for IPAs to travel.
Stone Brewing is also playing with the successful IPA formula as well. Their 11th Anniversary beer has been brought back to life as Sublimely Self-Righteous, a Black Double IPA. They have used more roasted malts to make an IPA that doesn’t look like an IPA but is as bold and, yes, “arrogant” as the rest of the Stone line-up.
Compare and contrast Stone’s new 13th Anniversary Ale with the Sublimely Self-Righteous. I was surprised that the dark malty flavors and big hop taste could go together so well.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.