Every story is made better, more intense, more extreme, with an excellent enemy. An enemy to make the reader’s skin crawl, blood sizzle, and mind flip. The villain makes the reader feel something. As salt intensifies the flavor of chocolate, the enemy brings excitement and snap to the storyline. There is no story without a wicked villain.
In the Story of Beer, Hops are the fiery upset of the story line, the sizzle that electrifies the experience. Without hops, beer would be bland, too sweet, and a little icky. Hops make beer interesting.
Let’s go back, shall we? To the history of hops!
Actually, let’s stay where we are. We’re not going to go back in time yet. Turn off the time machine! Aaah, the lever goes the other direction! Okay, phew, we’re safe for now. Be more careful next time! Are you drunk? Don’t answer that.
A hop is a chartreuse flower, the female flower of the hop plant. (hashtag girl power). The hop bud, looking almost like a lime green, psychedelic pine cone, contains enzymes meant to preserve and flavour. For beer’s long life before hops, it was flavored and preserved by a mix of spices and fruit referred to as ‘grut’. (that’s also a good name for a giant in a fairy tale.) Beer using grut was referred to as ‘ale.’ Beer using hops was called ‘beer.’ (shocker).Ale with grut was much more popular, but over time, hops were used routinely as their benefits became obvious. Now, our collective vernacular recognizes that ‘ale’ is a kind of beer that uses hops, and beer remains the same. Nowadays, hops are famous for their bright, citrusy flavor and are the most popular kind of beer in America. Popularity of craft beer is spreading like a spilled pint all over the world. It’s coming for you! Get excited. And there is a beer for every taste.
Beers to taste
If you’re interested in hoppy beers, there’s fortunately a continuum that you can escalate as slowly or as quickly as your taste buds allow. The acronym IBU stands for International Bitterness Units, which is the measure of hops contribution to the flavor of a beer. The range is 0-100, and any reputable craft beer or bar man will feature the rating on the box or tap.
The American Amber Lager scores in at between 18-30 IBUs and has a nice balance of both malt and hops. Malt lends beers its signature toasty, nutty, and caramel taste and color, while the hops range from either very low to medium high. A recommendation for a good craft beer of this variety is Leinenkugel’s Classic Amber , brewed out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the US, or Creemore Springs Premium Lager from The Creemore Springs Brewery out of Ontario, Canada. If your beer selection is limited, however, then rest assured that almost any beer labeled ‘amber’ or ‘lager’ or a variation of the two will fit this description and be a very pleasant beer experience.
Climbing the IBU ladder, in the range of 50-90, we meet the Imperial Stout. Oh baby. Sign me up for this bad boy. The Imperial Stout (Russian or American are the most common varieties) is the perfection of the intriguing balance of sweet and bitter that has made beer so popular. The Imperial Stout, or any kind of stout or porter, will have an incredibly rich, sumptuous texture and flavors of coffee and chocolate.
You can’t go wrong with any craft dark beer. Craft beers are made with such attention to flavor and complexity that even if you don’t pick a top-rated variety, it won’t matter; you’re in for a treat regardless. Nevertheless, some recommended varieties of an Imperial Stout is the Russian Imperial Stout from Weasel Boy Brewing in the state of Ohio, and Epeteios from Left Coast Brewery in California. Again, I have tried many, many, many, many craft stouts and porters and I have never yet had a bad one. The sweetness from the heavy malts, paired with the zippity-do-dah from the hops never disappoints.
And for you, the dare devils, I introduce to you your new best friend: the Imperial India Pale Ale. Get ready to shiver. The whole point of India Pale Ales (IPAs) and the imperials of this variety are to show off hops in all their bright and wicked glory. These varieties both taste and smell hoppy. Usually many different varieties of hops are used in these beers, giving dimension to the already bitter flavor. These beers will taste of citrus and the sun itself and are best paired with fatty foods like rich cheeses and pork chops.
Like I said about imperial stouts, if you choose a IPA or Imperial IPA made by a craft brewer, you will be drinking a better beer. Big breweries that mass produce their product have nothing on the little guys. So taste many different types. Get to know what you like, because there’s a lot to choose from.
Seriously, stop reading this and go get an IPA. Order me an Imperial Stout and we can make a toast to the villains that make the heroes great, that make the story of beer interesting.