Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Session #77- Why the (hop) hype?

sess11Beer Blogging Friday is in session!

Beer bloggers from around the world converge on Justin's Beer Blog for the monthly installment of opinion and rant chat.
'Each month, a different beer blogger hosts The Session, chooses a topic, and creates a round-up that lists all of the participants.'

I've been eyeing The Sessions for a few months now, but have always seemed to have missed the cut off or been mentally delayed on rhetoric. This month's topic:  what makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular- a topic that hits home for me.
'I don't care if a watered-down pilsener is labeled as "triple-hops brewed"; it wouldn't satisfy someone looking for an IPA.'

Nitch is looking for an IPA! And because she lives in France, IPA is impossible to find. Correction, not impossible- just really effing difficult.

To which people always shrug their shoulders, palms to the air, stating, 'but you have Belgium right there!' Oh yes, I know. And Germany, the Pilznering, lager loving maniacs are next door as well. Nitch doesn't fancy lagers- haven't been a fan since I realized that there were other brewing possabilities than what was mandated but the Reinheitsgebot. Call it a Saccharomyces cerevisiae discrimination that turns my nose up when that specific brand of yeast friend is used in anything drinkable. I'm more of a 'from the top down' kinda woman, if ya know what I mean.

[caption id="attachment_1177" align="alignleft" width="320"]Fox Valley Foodie talks about the difference between Ales and (Meh) Lagers. Fox Valley Foodie talks about the difference between Ales and (Meh) Lagers.[/caption]

And what about being snug a bug by Belgium? Well, lets compare it to California and Mexico. San Diego to Tijuana is MUCH closer in drive time (although, maybe not as safe) than Paris to Brussels, but shares the same lack of beer transfer. Oh sure, Mexico gets imports from America, but it sure ain't Stone IPA. Likewise, America gets Corona and not the itty bitty baby craft breweries that are budding in Mexico. The same with France and Belgium- we get Duvel, La Chouffe and Lindeman's Kriek readily at the grocery store (and Corona, mind you) but we don't see the craft beers that have saved the Belgian brew culture from sinking. On that same row, Belgium (and the rest of the world) doesn't see the lovely craft beers that are (all be it a little slowly) flowing about France.

So sure, I can track down some a Mikkeller IPA after a 20 minute tram ride, 10 minute bus ride and a 15 minute walk but then I stare down the barrel of a price tag which makes me consider skipping my rent payment and I long, deeply and whole heartedly for the days of Ninkasi Tricerahop IPA at the corner store.

While reading A Good Beer Blog, I had an 'ah ha' moment as to why my addiction to IPA is currently so strong. Alan passed on some Gen-X nuggets of wisdom he had once received: 'the most attractive girl at the party was the one with the accent.' The hype over the hop, for me, is partialy because the hop tastes like home and at the same time, it is the most exotic. The IPA might have a long history in the UK, with hops being used in beer since the fourteen hundreds, but in today's beer culture- American brewers have the know how on hop brews.

[caption id="attachment_1176" align="alignright" width="445"]Nothing like the blast of fresh infused hops to make the tongue tickle! Nothing like the blast of fresh infused hops to make the tongue tickle![/caption]

Even things like the Duvel Tripel Hop, while having been brewed since 2007 (which implies that they've had time to tweek and perfect their recipe), doesn't ring my bell the way a clean fresh blast of Randall The Enamel Animal injected IPA does. Whoosh! Sip. Wham, Pow, Pop! Phew.

My partner is French- extremely French, with high cheese and bread standards that cause him refuse food rather than touch mediocre grubs, a foodie to the max. Since him and I have been in relations, we've had our eye balls popped out at each other like looney tunes over which is better: wine or beer. We've debated the historical and social values, health detriments and benefits then sat down and agreed to disagree. He was raised French and I'm an Oregonian- in terms of nectar of the gods, we come from two different schools of worship entirely.

After three years of partnership- he is a hop addict and he isn't even aware of it yet. My French man hasn't been to America since his beer epiphany, but he will take a beer like BrewDog's Punk IPA (not a fantastic brew, but hop headed like a mother eff) and giggle like a school girl. His eyes will roll back and I'll watch with jealousy as he deeply inhales the hop resins with his big French nose nuzzled just above the beer bubbles. It's sexual, these little green flowers and no amount of substitution will replace the real thing.

[caption id="attachment_1184" align="aligncenter" width="737"]Collage This is what we get in France[/caption]

"Unlike wine, which tastes like earth, spice, fruit and maybe sunshine, hops taste like a mountain river. You don't get that kind of sense from any other liquid. I can taste the river rocks, smell the mountain air and glacier water. IPAs taste like the other side of nature from wine." -The French Man

So, after we pull our minds out of the hop house and take our hiking boots off, (hop body scrub anyone?) lets take a look at one other thing that makes Nitch not afraid to tattoo her heart with hops: I'm not too cool.

I'll agree that if I was still in a strong beer culture, where IPAs are getting crazy mixed into new 'styles' and every pub, bar and restaurant carried at least one IPA, then sure, I could imagine my palate wanting variety. All good things in moderation.
Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit. -W. Somerset Maugham

CollageI had a fairly strong romance brewing with sours (sour stouts in particular) before starting world travels and continue my face pinching appreciation with Belgian Cantillons when possible (although still not easily accessable or pocket book friendly here either). So sure, I would have my time (and belly) full with options other than IPA if I wasn't in a creative beer desert. There is nothing like a nose full of hops to wake up one's appreciation of beer.

What I keep hearing from bloggers who are waist deep in beer revolution is, "I'm not a hop head" (anymore). You (most of you) know that hops were what helped lure you away from the macro swill that was standard like breast milk. Now you are branching out, which is natural because you've been beaten over the head with hops and are gaining more depth in the tasting field. Call it a hop soul cleansing that has completed it's cycle.

But now, it's as if people who are on the crest of the beer world are too cool to appreciate hops at the fore front of brews because IPAs have been taken over by hipsters. Alors, dégage hipsters (pardon my French). They are hop crazy because it's the cool thing to do, but also because craft beer is hip. I'm not cool, I wear high waisted pants and I like IPAs nearly as much as I love my  Maui Coconut Porter.

The IPA trending craze will hopefully lead new drinkers onto to greener (or maltier) pastures when given time, so let the IPA fever continue and those who develop in beer will do so. Those who don't like IPA rage can move on (to other creative beer styles). But to look down one's nose at the progression of the IPA is to be just like being the cool kids. Soon, hipsters will like what you now like and then you'll have to find something else! Where does it end?

To recap on 'whats the deal with IPA craze' to Nitch:

[caption id="attachment_1182" align="alignleft" width="334"]DSC01530 Am I addicted to hops? I just spent 6€50 on a Punk IPA at the one bar in town that sells the only IPA.[/caption]

1. Distance makes the heart grow fonder- IPA is exotic to me in a way that only an expat can understand. The hop blast delivered by American IPAs is like walking into a bar and getting imitate and prompt service, you simply can't get it in France no matter how much you wave and smile.

2. Hops are their own beast- maybe because they are the closest relative to Mary Jane, endowing them with some kind of unstudied psychedelic powers or maybe because they effect the body in slightly sexual way (some more then others), whatever the case, hops are for sure a distinct character that is complimented by the malt sugar balance and efferveance bubble display of beer. They have the ability to turn life long wine lovers into blossoming beer connoisseurs- they are the shady side of nature.

3. I'm not too cool- . Oh sure, IPAs are popular and it's embarrassing some of the crazy things people do for a stronger dose of the drug (ahem, Randall the enamel animal) but that doesn't mean that one should slink off in serach of next big (but currently under appreciated) thing. If you are too cool to say you love IPAs then maybe you are suffering from the same "harder to reach the sweeter the apple" complex as in Nitch's point #1, and spending more time and money on ever harder to find brews when there are highly quaffable liquids within reach.

Oh okay, so I sound like I would snort crushed hops off a bathroom stall toilet paper holder with a stranger, but try going without it (or the option of it) for a few years and see what happens to your will power.

In any case, that is the IPA craze breakdown in my neck of the world woods, I can't wait to read across some of what other international bloggers are cranking out! Hopefully I'll get signed up for an IPA anonymous group until I'm once again living in a higher per capita of beer culture.

Nitch's Session #77 rant signing off with a little video showing what happens to Nitch when she receives her home brew hop delivery.

Don't judge me.


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