Craft beer is too hoppy. Discuss.

tank7“Craft beer is too hoppy. Discuss.” I tweeted that the other day in response to this Slate article. It sparked a good conversation on the twittuh and it seemed worth continuing here.

While I like hops, there are a ton of hoppy and overly hopped beers in the market today as well as high-alcohol beers. But that’s okay. It’s probably a phase akin to liking high-alcohol, fruity wines dripping with 200% new oak. They’re obvious and almost everybody gloms on to them at some point, usually the beginning, of their enjoyment of wine.

But there will likely be a backlash against big beers. As opposed to wine, where wineries can be locked into one style thanks in large part to location and grapes planted, breweries can pursue various styles at once, meaning the backlash could come to fruition quicker than wine. In part, that’s what pils and session beers are all about, which are lower in alcohol and refreshing. I had the Tank 7 Farmhouse ale the other evening, which, at 38 IBUs, was not too hoppy (though 8% alc is getting up there but the beer has good balance).

What’s your take on hops–the secret to good beer or too much of a good thing?

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26 Responses to “Craft beer is too hoppy. Discuss.”

  1. This has been coming for a while. While I do love huge hop bombs, there’s a reason there’s such a burgeoning movement in the industry towards session beers.

  2. This is an interesting debate/conversation. I understand the oak/hops comparison, but I, interestingly enough, stay well clear of over-oaked wines, while I love hoppy beers, particularly IPAs.

    I’m not so sure that people only like hoppy beers at the beginning of their beer journey, though. I have been drinking craft beers for years now, and hoppy is my preference. And I don’t think (as the Slate article suggests) that hoppy beers are ruining craft beer. A spin down the list at any good bar or the aisle of a decent beer/liquor store displays tons of other options without overt hoppiness: wheat beers, porters, stouts, etc. Doesn’t appear to me that IPAs and other hoppy beers are in danger of taking over the market entirely.

    In the end, beer is becoming more similar to wines in a good way: more and more options every day fitting each person’s individual taste. My mom can keep drinking her oaky CA chardonnays, while I sip on a crisp Chablis…my best friend can have a wheat beer while I down a hop monster something for everyone, and that’s great.

  3. San Diego is probably the hoppiest place on earth for craft beer. We have an entire city full of giant IPAs that other cities would call double IPAs. There has been two shifts lately to speak of, one towards big stouts and one towards session-able IPAs. I don’t see the session IPAs helping people that don’t dig big hop flavors much as the breweries that are making them here are still keeping the big hop flavor.

    If the craft beer industry wants to invite more “newbies” into their arms I think they should focus on making a good brown ale. Traditionally flavorful but not overly hoppy. Helm’s and AleSmith have really good browns.

    I think the stouts in our city are tremendously great but don’t see them as bait to get someone off Coor’s products.

    There are a few breweries here that have good lighter beers – Mission Brewery has a good Blonde. Ballast Point is the leader with Longfin Lager, Pale Ale and Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager). Lighting has a great Elemental Pilsner. Helm’s Brewing has Captain Pale Ale.

    I guess my point is that people like what they like and what they like changes in beer just as fast as it can be brewed. I do not feel craft beer is too hoppy in general, I feel people need to be educated about craft beer so they can purchase beers they enjoy. A double IPA from the east coast is far more malt forward and easier drinking than a San Diego IPA for example. Also, as I’m sure you know, even inside the IPA moniker there are 20 levels of hoppiness. As a hop head myself I say the hops are fine, it’s the people that need the help.

  4. Hops make beer interesting. I am becoming a fan of IPAs, in great part because of their hoppiness. In fact, the “normal” pale ales seem mild by comparison. Having said that all that, I do believe that hops in a carefully crafted brew make for an interesting and refreshing drink. (BTW, are you aware that Hops are in the same plant family as cannabis…???)

  5. Good discussion. I agree that the diversity of craft beer is part of its appeal: different strokes for different folks. But I also like different styles at different times of year (e.g. heavier, hoppier beers in winter). It’s a really exciting development and, as I wrote a few months ago, I think its a real rival to wine’s popularity. (Which is fine!)

  6. Brian – yes, San Diego is well-known thanks to Stone among others. But one of the exciting things about beer in America today is that it’s production is not inextricably linked with one place and great beers are being made from Maine to San Diego. By contrast, since 90% of American wine made in California, some of the enthusiasm about wine being made in other states is local pride and getting to know more about how wine is made.

  7. Absolutely, one of the best parts of the craft beer movement is the fact great beer can be made anywhere, you are not limited to where grapes grow well. It also gives the craft brewer more freedom to make locally wanted products instead of having to tone down their flavors to sell to the masses.

  8. While no longer owned by Fritz Maytag, current trends only make me appreciate even more what he accomplished with Anchor Brewing. Anchor is the pioneer of craft brewing exactly because instead of chasing fads, they focused on producing precise, balanced and delicious ales and lagers. All of their beers pay homage to the history of their respective styles while using the best ingredients and methods. Fritz remains the owner of York Creek Vineyards, which I’ve always wondered if his classic, balanced style of beermaking is influenced by his wine enthusiasm, or vice versa.

  9. I spoke with an employee of Three Floyds Brewery and asked him, “what is the most difficult style of beer to brew?” His response surprised me. “Pilsners,” he said. This is surprising as, anyone who has tried a large number of beers from Three Floyds will attest, Three Floyds makes very hoppy beer. He said that pilsners are so clean in style that there is nothing to mask imperfections. This made me think that, perhaps, people include a great deal of hops because it is easier to make a good IPA than a good pilsner. The use of hops in great quanitites allows improving-but-not-quite-great brewers to cover their mistakes with brighter flavors. Maybe the creation of a great, clean pilsner is something that takes a lifetime of practice to create?

  10. It is amazing to me that people like over hopped beers. Shows that most of these people have no taste. Kind of like stupid hot food. It just doesn’t work. Great food and drink are about balance. Looking forward to the day when these people grow up and their palate matures. I hope it is soon. Europe has already brewed every beer we ever need to drink.

  11. I was enjoying the comments and well natured discussion, but as regularly happens on the internet, someone had to come along and start calling people names. Thanks for that, Gary.

  12. Sorry to wreck your “Kumbaya” moment. And even though I didn’t call anyone a name I can see how people might feel insulted by my comment. Not my intention. The fact that no one speaks out against these beers is the reason we have beers like “Hopstupid”. And overly oaked, 16.5% wine is the same. People seem all too happy to jump on the bandwagon, learning very little and questioning absolutely nothing. Restaurants and retailers quickly opened the flood gates when they saw the money.

  13. Hops are great, and malty beer is boring in my opinion. There are a few dozen types of hops, each with its own distinct flavor profile. I do think some beers get lost in the bitter hoppiness, while others shine through with a good balance of citrus, flowery perfume, and bitter notes. Gary York thinks Hopstoopid sucks, but I think it’s a great beer; same goes for the dry-hopped “Hazed and Infused”; but Stone IPA is the ruler of all IPA, in my book at least.

    Gary should stick to old bland beers like Birra Moretti.

  14. I’m in full agreement with Gary. These over the top beers are so reminiscent of California wine over the last twenty years: an industry of mid-level maturity trying to one up each other with a bigger-is-better philosophy. As buyers and consumers palates mature and broaden, we’re seeing the inevitable result: the backlash to California wine in the market. Unfortunately, the California (and in particular Napa) reaction to it of endless blameshifting, delusion and tantrum throwing has not been promising. It remains to be seen how the craft beer industry will adapt to the inevitable market shift that occurs as their consumers tire of over-the-top styles and move towards more traditional and balanced beer making. Better, I hope.

    A prominent sommelier in New York has a wonderful saying about Napa Valley wine: “Having a wine list full of Napa Valley Cult Cabernet is like having a closet full of leisure suits.”

  15. i’ll try to take this in a different direction. as a resident of oregon, i feel safe to tout my hop credentials, considering that 90%+ of american hops come from oregon & washington. i think the next step is not ‘less’ hops, but beers brewed from single hop varieties, and possibly even single hop yards. the difference between, say, cascade and amarillo hops is huge. rogue brewery has their own hopyard, and are making ‘estate’ beers. while i understand the comparison between big hopped beers and big oaky wines, i think it is an oversimplification. i think the evolution of beers has a long way to go, and will diverge from wine in many ways

  16. It’s true that hops are not exactly equivalent to oak; delicious wines are made with no new oak, while every beer has some hops. The analogy I would draw is to drums. Drums, when in balance, propel the song forward without obscuring the melody.

    Excessive dry hopping is like turning the drums up to 11. There’s no way to taste anything else in the beer. I admit to being puzzled at the high hop content of many beers local to me in Northern California. I enjoy the first few sips, but it’s hard to finish a glass. Any beer that actually mentions “hops” as part of the name? Forget about it.

    It’s not the bitterness per se (I drink black tea, well, black) but the complete lack of balance with the sweetness of the malt and the tang of the carbonation. It doesn’t help that the hops are often added to fairly high alcohol beers, so the viscosity is exaggerated as well.

  17. Good to see Boulevard Brewery get some Dr. Vino love. Their Saison-Brett just rolled out today, and the rush we’ve seen in-store certainly proves once again that interesting Craft Beers are huge. Tank 7 is one of our bestselling beers (Boulevard is in my hometown).

    I do think there are some questions within the beer trade about overhopping. I wouldn’t call it a backlash – Bell’s Hopslam generates more excitement than any other beer in this market, but I do think more effort is being put towards complexity and less towards extremity.

  18. I don’t like really super hoppy beers. I don’t prefer to eat weed straight off the plant, therefore I don’t want to drink beer that’s full of hops. I enjoy subtleties in these endeavors. It’s pretty simple really.

  19. I think it is a mark of inexperience to make a beer or ale out of balance with itself.

    Even if you are one who just LOVES hops there is a point where it is too much. Too much hop flavor can also hide aromas and flavors that can be off.

  20. I will drink a Moretti. But usually I am drinking Eggenberg Hopfenkonig, Saison Dupont and now that summer is here Gaffel Kolsch. Maybe these beers aren’t cool enough for all the “craft” beer people. But that is just fine with me.

  21. “Shows that most of these people have no taste”? Gee, how could anybody find that insulting, Gary? Good to see that you’re being your usual charming self. All is right with the world.

  22. i usually only drink rare European beers that you people have probably never heard of. sorry if that isn’t “cool” enough for you

  23. These beers are not rare and shouldn’t be hard to find. Anyone that has a good beer program should be able to get them, they are almost always in stock for me. Unlike many of the “craft beers”. If you don’t know them, you should. They are really good beers and the beer world would be better off for drinking brews like these. If you can’t find them contact me and I will send you a couple.

  24. You know, I guess I can respect your decision to drink only unpronouncable European beers. But I really only drink beers made in my state, and mostly beers made in my city. In my opinion, the beer world would be better off drinking brews like that. Without a doubt, that is one of the reasons the beer culture in Portland is so strong. That and our delicious local hops
    Maybe if the beer connoisuers and restaurant owners in your town were more supportive of their local breweries, those breweries would have the resources to produce better products, and you wouldn’t have such a low opinion of “craft beers”.

  25. This is a topic that I’ve been debating with my friends and we’ve come to conclusions similar to those of a lot of you fine folks. Hoppy beer is fine. If you want to drink it then please go ahead. In fact, if you drop a frosty IPA in front of me I will drink it. But what we’ve (my friends and I in particular since I can’t speak for anyone else) experienced is an influx of hoppy beers in the craft beer market because people have equivocated the meanings of “craft” and “hoppy.”

    It seems that people judge you as a beer newbie because you don’t like hoppy beer. You tell someone that you don’t appreciate the bitterness and they assume that you’ve been drinking Coors Lite out of a sippy cup all of your life.

    That’s a bit unfair really. Bitterness, is one of a multitude of flavors that one should be able to find in a balanced beer. When you turn the bitterness up too high, you mask what’s underneath (possibly on purpose). In reality, bitterness is a flavor that humans evolved the ability to perceive in order to warn ourselves about toxicity, so it makes sense that certain people wouldn’t like it.

    At the end of the day, if you like hops, awesome. If you don’t like hops, awesome. I just think that it’s important that we start to shift focus to other flavors in beer.

  26. Most of you seem to be speaking about hops in terms of bitterness. What about the flavor and aroma that hops impart to a beer? I have tasted many “west coast” IPAs that have very little bitterness, but hit you in the face with fantastic flavor and aroma. The complexity that you can achieve in these two areas is the direction that I believe brewing hoppy beers is going and it is a good direction. As more and more new hop varieties hit the market, the possibilities in new, different and exciting flavors will endless. Hop heads will never get bored.


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