It’s always a big day when Eric Asimov writes a beer article for The New York Times. Being Canadian, a culture with a deep seam of neediness running through it¹, you glow when you feel like you are noticed just as when the beer nerd’s nerdiness gets the MSM treatment. But in today’s article all was not nice – there was a bit of push back from him and the panel against the extreme hoppiness in beer that have marked a certain sector of the nerd herd:
“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?” Phil likened the appeal of these beers to the macho allure of hot sauces, which almost dare enthusiasts to try the hottest ones.
I like the comparison to saltiness and it reminds me of the idea that the search for the strongest beer, an earlier extreme beer obsession, is as dumb as hunting for the strongest Scotch. One thing I noticed was that the beers chosen that I was familiar with were not the most hop-ridden out there by any stretch. Dogfish Head 90 looks up to their 120, I found Simcoe Double IPA balanced (something I could not say for the brewer’s bigger Eleven) and only Un*earthly broke the now standard 10% alcohol limit that now sort of divides extreme between really strong from insanely strong.
Stan notes at his blog that some in craft beer are not so prudent or concerned with beauty when he shares this update from Avery about their 2008 version of New World Porter:
While some observers may posit that the hop shortage is a good thing, forcing brewers to become more efficient and prudent with their use of hops, we at Avery tend to disagree. Hops are the heart and soul of our beers and we refuse to compromise our recipes or our flavors. Even more, as if to scoff in the face of common sense and basic brewery economics, we decided to increase the hops that were added to this years New World Porter. The 2008 batch is truly a black IPA.
Something tells me that this could well just not be a beer for me. After a few of years of these big brews I am starting to think that I have a natural limit of around 8.5 percent beyond which beers start to have a diminishing return unless there is something else to particularly attract my attention. I also have a limit as to hop acid and that is defined by the need not worry about the state of my tooth enamel…unless, say, there are those arugula hops from Ithaca in there. This is no different than my sour beer studies leading to my limit for acidity being far closer to Kriek De Ranke than to Bruocsella 1990.
Is it wrong to say that you can’t go all the way or at least as far as others go? Old farts call this a sign of maturing. The immature call it the sign of an old fart. To my mind, Asimov’s NYT article leaned towards old fart territory without explicitly saying so. The other end of the pendulum’s swing can be found at this busy forum filled with unimpressed lame-‘cusatory BAers. It’s like everyone is unhappy with everyone else and, frankly, Pete Brown is pretty much fed up with the lot of you.
Yet these things only go so far. Can someone else tell us what to think, to taste? There is nothing more odd than sitting over the same bottle with experienced fans and hearing differing comments, different experiences of pleasure. In many ways, beer has an audience of one and that is you. So what have you learned about yourself? Which path would a brewer have you walk but you won’t follow? Is it and overly Burtoned mineralized brew? Too still, too hopped, too smoked or just too much goddamn yeasty floaties? Or is it the milds, lights and other table beers that bore you or, worse, wear you out from trips to the can? Remember this: we each have to make our old way in this wicked world and there is no better example of that than the love of beer. What thing about beer have you learned not to repeat?
¹Think Sally Field saying “They like me! They really like me!!” and add snow.