January 13, 2015

We can be a sanctimonious, judgmental bunch of jerks. There I said it.

Get 3 or more craft beer nuts together and the echo chamber effect looms large. There is little diversity of opinion and our collective indignation for brewers who fall short of our impeccable standards only serves to further isolate our beer loving clique from any newcomers But every once in a while an article like this lures us from deep inside our hop cone shaped lair to gain some fresh perspective.

Whew. It's dark in there. Eyes adjusting…. OKAY.

Let’s first, congratulate this article for its zombie-like resistance to death. Originally published 2 years ago; social media sprung it from its grave, hungry for another round of hophead-brains. I mention this not to undermine its relevance but to highlight that this anti-hop sentiment is not new, but is a growing (or at least, still valid) problem.

Adrienne So, stops well short of contending that IPA's are bad. She's actually a bit obsessed with them; citing her hop-centricity as a fault.

Really, my only complaint is the misleading headline Slate used to exhume this article: "Hoppy Beer is Awful and Craft Brewers Should Stop Making It". Really? I suspect recent success of articles with that sentiment gave Slate the idea to reach into their vault and cloak this moderate message in more risqué garb. The author, Adrienne So, stops well short of contending that IPA's are bad. She's actually a bit obsessed with them; citing her hop-centricity as a fault. This is completely obscured by the erroneous, link bait-ey headline.

So raises many issues, but the overarching idea -- the one which still gives this article traction -- is the notion that the very hops driving craft beer growth may undermine its attractiveness. She observes that the most ardent faction of craft consumers seem to favor hops above all else. Products sporting this hop-forward profile dominate the market and So is concerned these beers, which have become synonymous with craft, are not approachable to newcomers. Instead, they appeal to the hop-stremist fringe; thus alienating the hop-moderates and hop-less.

I generally agree. We need to stop with the, "Hoppier is always better" dogma. As a recovering hophead, I fully understand the problem. Once you zero in on the flavors and aromas you enjoy most, you crave more of those. You want the brewer to wring every last drop of aromatic oil from that hop cone - balance be dammed! While that doesn't always mean more bitterness, some would say there is a physiological aspect to craving more of that too. The law of diminishing returns is at play here. As with spicy foods, we know consuming more bitter items alters our tolerance. Those who regularly consume bitter items experience them as less bitter than people who generally avoid bitter. Folks, this is a self-perpetuating problem!

Yes, hops are alluring: the sultry Siren's Song that has attracted drinkers far and wide to craft beer's rocky shoals. But perhaps it will also be her undoing. It was the perfumey aromatics: orange zest, mango, grapefruit, that first caught my attention. This was in stark contrast to any beer flavor and aroma I'd experienced before. However, I suspect this pithy bite has drawn in just as many as it has driven away. But let us be clear -- it is ultimately the drinkers and not the brewers who draw the ire of most anti-craft beer sentiment. We must heed So's warning and curb our enthusiasm.

As beer nerds, we must be more sympathetic. We must broaden other drinkers view of craft beer by ridding the world of the notion hoppy beers are the pinnacle, the one true path to craft beerdom. Hops represent one of the most well-traveled roads, but the real beauty of craft is variety. There is something for just about everyone and as beer nerds, we are best equipped to offer guidance.

In closing, I offer the wise words of my wife: "Not everyone wants beer guidance. Not everyone likes to talk about beer as much as you. Sometimes they just want to drink their Bud Light in peace."

Filed under: [Beer]

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