I’ve got to say it: there seems a weird sort of snobbery around the IPA.
There’s a whole faction of brewers and drinkers (this is definitely an issue that goes both ways) who seem weirdly proud of how the beers they brew/drink aren’t hop bombs, as if that somehow makes them a better, more distinguished class of brewer/drinker. Kind of like this guy:
My theory is that this mindset comes from the misconception that throwing enough hops into any beer will cover any multitude of brewing sins. I can come up with many reasons and examples of why this isn’t true, but I digress (that’s for another post). I’m bringing this up because of Hopstock.
Hopstock, for those not in New Zealand/Wellington, is our annual wet-hop festival, where each of the beer bars gets to host a beer (or two) from a different local brewery. This year it was massive. I mean absolutely huge. Every bar was packing out, and a lot of beer was sold.
Now as I see it, Hopstock is a festival to celebrate the hop harvest, and as such, the first rule of Hopstock, and in fact possibly the only rule of Hopstock is:
Thou shalt make a hoppy beer.
Like all of god’s commandments, this one often gets mis-interpreted. You see, what people (both drinkers and brewers) think this means is that every beer should be an IPA. Preferably a IIPA, perhaps even a IIIPA. This is not the case.
As I see it, there’s only one deadly sin at Hopstock, which is making a beer with absolutely no hop character. And I can name two beers that committed that very sin this year: Mike’s Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels and Hallertau Bier das Schwarz Massive (BDSM for short… low-hanging fruit there Steve). Now the reason I can single out both those beers, is that although they broke the first rule of Hopstock they were both deliciously, fantastically awesome; so I guess they get a free-pass on that one.
N.B. there has been some debate about the hop character of BDSM. Some reckoned it was very hoppy; I found it comparatively not so. I must try it again with fresh eyes/taste buds. Anyway, let’s get back on track.
So if you don’t have to make an IPA, what sort of beer should you be making for Hopstock?
The simple answer is: anything.
You can make a Pale Ale. You can make a Golden Lager. You can make a Saison. You can make a Stout. You can make an Imperial Pilsner, an ESB, a Golden Ale, an India Pale Lager, Red Ale, a Hopfen-Weisse, even (if you’re bloody mad) a Black IPA. In short, you can brew anything as long as it has a perceptible hop character. Whether it be in-your-face-bitter-and-angry, or a soft, gentle floralness, cushioned by malt, then that justifies using fresh hops.
In fact, this year, Hopstock had some good diversity of styles. Besides the aforementioned Barrel Aged Sour and Imperial Schwarz, we also had a Berliner Weisse, a Märzen, an Imperial Red Lager, a Special Bitter, a Rye Black IPA, a good ol’ fashioned NZ Pilsner, and of course, more Pale Ales, IPA’s and IIPA’s than you could shake a mash paddle at. That’s pretty great diversity for a festival that people write off as just an IPA-fight.
This all links back to one of my larger bugbears, which is people complaining that every beer is too hoppy these days. Frankly, we have more diversity in beer styles available now than probably at any other point in New Zealand history. But whatever (again, that’s for another post). If you take away two things from this post, I’d like them to be:
1. It’s perfectly OK to not like massive hop monsters. No one should ever look down on you. You’re allowed to like what you like and not have to justify it to anyone else.
As long as….
2. You don’t look down on others for making or liking the big IPAs. There’s room for all tastes.
Being a good Beer Geek and citizen of the ‘craft’ beer community means making room for all types of drinker, whether they want a finely balanced ESB, the lightest Golden Lager, or the hoppiest, booziest, highest-IBU-perceptible-to-the-human-tongue IPA.