When you’re new to craft beer, knowing which styles to try can be a tricky thing. Our guide, “Gateway Styles for the Craft Beer-Curious“, is a good place to begin. Start out mellow and turn up the flavor little by little with the malt. Eventually, you’ll be drinking dark beer and feeling like a pro! But, malt isn’t the only ingredient responsible for giving beer its flavor. Hops are the next frontier! Because of their bittering nature, they can take a little getting used to, but if you try, you just might find yourself falling in love with hops.
Hops aren’t only for bittering, though it’s one important job. When added later in the boil hops can add flavors and aromas to a beer that can be quite delicate. Depending on the variety, hops can be floral, herbal, resinous, grassy, fruity, and spicy. They can add notes of pine, citrus, lavender, lemongrass, and tropical fruits. And lots more!
Even malty beer has hops to balance it out. Without hops, malt can render a beer too sweet. If the brewer does a good job offsetting the malt with hops, you’ll have a well-balanced beer to enjoy. If you’re a little shy about trying hoppy beers, what you may not realize is that you’re already developing a taste for hops in every beer you try. They may be hiding a bit, but they’re there subtly influencing your beer drinking experience.
Hoppier Ambers and Reds
If you’re already enjoying Amber and Red ales, you can test your palate by looking for more hop-forward versions. These styles can vary a lot, but there are certainly some made with a good amount of hop flavors peeking through the rich malts. You’ll be able to taste the hops, but they won’t be overwhelming. Brown ales and even darker beers can be hopped up too. Sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are on the hoppy side. Read labels or ask your friendly bartender about the hoppiness of malty beers. The play of malts with the hops can be simply divine!
Hoppy Lagers and Blonde Ales
The mounting popularity of hops in beer has given rise to the hoppy lager or IPL (India Pale Lager) style as well as hoppy blonde ales. With these, you can enjoy a very light, “crushable” beer while not giving up the hop-forward flavors many have come to love. For someone wanting to familiarize themselves with hoppy beer, this is a very easy entry-level way to do so. Because of the clean malt bill, you’ll likely be able to really taste the hops, but the gentle lager/blonde ale style will keep things smooth and light.
This style can also vary quite a bit. Some versions have good strong malt bodies while others can be fairly light. Either way, a beer in the “pale ale” category will prominently contain hops. Here in Utah, pale ales are often very close to the 4% ABV “session” IPAs offered locally on draft. Drink them all to acquaint yourself with various hop flavors. They’re a great stepping stone the the full-blown IPAs.
IPA (India Pale Ale)
The IPA is the crown jewel of the hop experience. If you relish an IPA, it’s official; you’re an all-out hophead! You will find some maltier IPAs, especially when needed to balance a strong hop presence, but the style is most definitely first and foremost, a hop haven. Often there are several different hop varieties included in one recipe creating complexity in the beer.
Hops may be added at different times, and the longer hops are boiled, the more bitterness they impart to the beer. “Late addition” hops are utilized more for flavor and aroma. Dry-hopping, employed late in the fermentation process, is purely done for the delicate aromatic characteristics it brings to the beer. Unless the label gives you information on how the beer was made, you may not know much about the hop profile until you drink it. IBU’s (International Bitterness Units) are not a reliable indication of hop bitterness in a beer. Lauren wrote a fabulous exposé on that subject in her post “You’re Looking At IBUs All Wrong.”
If you’re not a fan of bitterness in beer, the trendy North Eastern style hazy IPAs may be your jam. Their focus is on squeezing as much juicy flavors out of the hops with minimal bitterness. Keep in mind that hoppy beer does not have a long shelf life. The fragile aromas and flavors created by the hops will fade over time leaving a sad, bitter skeleton. In other words, an IPA that sits around for several months will not taste as the beer gods intended. Keep it refrigerated and drink fresh!
If falling in love with hops sounds like a lot of work, go read my earlier post “Beer; An Acquired Taste.” Learning to appreciate all that beer has to offer is well worth the effort. Is any relationship worth having easy? Beer has many facets, all important, and all worthy of admiration, if you take the time to savor it. Don’t be shy; lean in, and let hops sweep you off your feet.