We new brewers love hops. Sticky, resiny, pungent, citrus-drenched hops.
Brewers at Dogfish Head have gone so far as to add hops continuously to their series of 60-, 90- and 120-minute IPAs, once with a hilarious arrangement that actually employed a vibrating tabletop football game.
It began as a reaction to the dumbing-down of mainstream beers, whose alpha acid levels are now about level with the human threshold, which is about 6 IBU (International Bittering Units). Like the recently starved, we eat our fill…then keep going. I used to think we’d get over it, but people often have trouble giving up their obsessions. In other words, massively hoppy beers (MHBs) are here to stay.
The lineage for these beers traces back to the pale ale family, deep gold to pale amber beers that originated in England around 1800. Back then, pale ales bound for India were dosed with additional hops as a preservative. Word got back to England and the style became popular there, as well as on our side of the Atlantic.
Resurgent home and craft brewers have latched onto pale ales and India pale ales (IPAs), reinventing them as we Americans tend to do. Balance, once a hallmark of the style, is jauntily tilted to the bitter side. The bad boy pine-and-citrus perfume of the uniquely American Cascade hop suffused the first beers to bear the American pale ale flag. Today, Cascade hops and its relatives are still touchstones for the style.
How Much is Enough?
To brew a beer that is hoppy to its very core requires some strategy. MHBs are bound by the physical limits of solubility of alpha acid (the bitter element in hops) in wort, yet brewers are still seeking ways to create ever-hoppier beer. This article will serve as a bit of a tutorial.
Hops contain three things of interest to brewers: aroma, bitterness and the preservative effects of tannins. As hops are normally added during the boil, there are trade-offs between aroma and bitterness. Alpha acid needs an hour or so of boiling to transform into a bitter, soluble form. But during that time, aromas waft away, so late additions to the kettle are also needed. Additions at 60, 30 and 5 minutes (or some variation on that schedule) are typical. Brewers at Dogfish Head have gone so far as to add hops continuously to their series of 60-, 90- and 120-minute IPAs, first with a hilarious arrangement that actually employed a vibrating tabletop football game (!), which has since been replaced with a more businesslike screw conveyor. Bottom line: adding hops to the boil is a great start, and will be your primary source of bitterness.
Somewhere between aroma and bitterness is something called “flavor,” which is not nearly as simple a term as one might think. Your tongue, of course, is capable of distinguishing tastes such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter, plus a couple of more recently added ones such as fat and umami (glutamate). But this limited capability doesn’t fully describe the sensations we experience. It turns out that aroma receptors in the top of the throat/back of the nose process aromas a little differently than other olfactory signals from the nose, and are involved in detecting familiarity and preference.