A Fork In The (Beer) Road – The Hoppy IPA

HopsI remember the night well.  I had been down this particular road before, here in one of my favorite local restaurants.  The food is great, the atmosphere relaxing, but the beer – the thought always was “well, there is Newcastle in a bottle”.  Sure, there’s that IPA on tap, and it’s from a brewery in Baltimore.  I enjoy supporting regional breweries whenever possible, right?  But I had ordered it once before, and couldn’t quite get past the flavor.  I wasn’t ready then, not quite ready for the full on release of hops that I all too quickly dismissed and over simplified as “bitter”.  That particular evening though, I just couldn’t go back to any old standby.

So while enjoying what was most likely a usual favorite dinner off of the menu, I took the chance on something different and ordered Heavy Seas’ Loose Cannon again.  Maybe that night, I was simply “ready”, because something had certainly changed.  Before, the beer was so different from what I typically enjoyed before – so foreign, too bitter, at least I thought.  True, hops are the little plant with the big job of balancing out the sweetness in the malted barley beverage that is to become beer.  Just as a lot of folks who taste a highly hopped up beer for the first time, I had tried the Loose Cannon before and had only gotten the bitterness.  That night, I “got” something different.  Hops offer not only bitterness, but different flavors to the beer.  I could feel out the citrusy and pine like flavors which the hops imparted to the beer, and was enjoying doing so.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  According to the brewery, the beer has a ton of hops added to the boil, then is basically filtered by using additional hops, and has even more added at the end of the brewing process.  It has a big hop flavor to it.  But as my taste buds started to wrap themselves around the flavor possibilities of a beer like this, my own personal beer road was taking a distinctive and wildly new turn.  I was enjoying a well hopped up American IPA which months before I could not have imagined caring for one bit.  And although I feel there is definite room for both hopped up and maltier beer in one’s glass, I assure you I have not looked back.

This got me thinking about different kinds of “forks” in one’s own beer road.  I write often in this blog about the beer curious – those folks who are just getting into craft beer for the first time.  A well hopped beer such as the Loose Cannon isn’t the first stop for most of the beer curious, with the definitely present bitterness which at first sip is often the only flavor one can make out, as I once did.  I would recommend to those people though – keep trying them.  This summer has been my own personal Summer of the IPA, and I’ve tasted more than I probably care to actually count.  Quickly, you realize a number of things those self described Hop Heads have going for them.  One is sheer availability.  There are a TON of IPAs out there.  Stores can sometimes seem as if they dedicate whole aisles to the style.  Another might be a little surprising to the IPA-uninitiated.  While there are many out there available, once you acclimate yourself to what at first may be the bracing bitterness and begin to taste the flavors inherent in hops, you realize each and every IPA can have a slightly different flavor profile.  After tasting several, I began to figure out which flavors I cared for the most – more of a headstrong citrusy flavor – as well as a decent balancing malt backbone.  Others feature spicy or grassy flavors.  Some are said to have even tropical fruit flavors, and commonly, a pine like taste is used to describe them.  The differences in flavor seem endless; some with a bit more this, others with a bit more that.

To the beer curious, all I would recommend is to remember to keep tasting, and to keep the option open of a hoppier beer.  An acquired taste?  For many, at least at first, that is a given.  Few pick up something along the lines of a Green Flash West Coast IPA and “get it” from the get go.  An IPA such as that can sometimes be described as having a “coarse” hop taste, and can leave your palate nearly unable to taste much else, at least anytime soon.  But many feature a variety of flavors that can open up a new world of flavors in beer.  A recent discussion thread on beeradvocate.com about the best IPAs out there ran for pages, and what was so interesting was the countless beer and brewery names as everyone seemed to have different a different favorite.  This is a good thing.  Those Hop Heads know.  They aren’t (necessarily) all that crazy after all, it turns out.  They only act like it when they find another IPA to try.  Hopefully, after this particular turn in my own beer road, I’m well on my way to joining them.

So what’s been on my summer reading….um, tasting list?  Here are some of my personal favorites so far:  Great Divide Titan IPA, Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner, Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, Firestone Walker’s Union Jack, Stone Brewing’s IPA, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Bear Republic’s Racer 5.  Soon, I hope to start including quick snapshots of each of these, and more, on the blog.

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~ by thebeerroad on August 4, 2010.

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