Sunday 20 November 2011

Wasting hops

The day has come.

I didn't think it ever would.

I definitely didn't think it would be so soon...

But I now think there is such a thing as using too many hops in a beer.

And there are breweries out there wasting perfectly good hops in search of loopy lupulin levels.

I love hops. I love it when a beer uses lots of them. But some beers just use too many. These beers, otherwise perfectly excellent, are thick and tangy and overpowered with hops. They sting the tastebuds, blunt the enjoyment and they bring a wow that is on the shocked side of the reaction rather than the pleased side.

Hops are incredible little things. They make beer exciting whether used liberally or with balance. And I want to be able to taste the hops. I want that hit of aroma, that quench at the end of the gulp, that clinging bitter feeling that makes me want to drink more, but I don't want to feel like I've just licked a hop sack or sucked on a handful of pellets. The thing is, when you use too many hops it just tastes too intense, too muddy, unclear. That’s what I don’t like. It’s great to use lots of hops but I want a clarity of flavour from them, not just an upper cut to the uvula.

Hops are aggressive in a way that malt can’t be. Malt can be big and soft and cuddly whereas hops can be fighty and screamy. Skill from a brewer is finding a balance, even if that balance is weighed down on one side or the other. Getting that balance right means I’ll drink more than half a pint of it or order another bottle of it.

I love hops but recently I've tasted too many beers which use too many hops.

Am I alone in thinking that hops are being wasted unnecessarily or have others find beers that are just too bitter to enjoy?


  1. The other day, as I was tasting some Franconian beers to review for a magazine, I realised something: with all these "hop (yeast and even wood) driven" beers, it is so refreshing and rewarding to drink something where the malts set the tone.

  2. Let us know the names of these beers that are too hoppy :)

  3. Of course! As with all things flavour-related, balance is key. Hoppy beers that use hop overload just for the sake of it, are nigh on undrinkable and should be viewed as curios rather than 'great beers'. For similar musings, check out Matt's Briggate Beer Blog, he's made a similar point recently.

  4. Been thinking the same myself; I love a good belt of hops but some beers are just getting insane. It's almost like there's a hop arms race going on.

    Without naming names, I had a black IPA at the London Brewers Alliance event that was so overhopped I was still tasting it when I got home - not pleasant.

  5. That day had to come. Some brewers are silly. You can overhop. Well said. They can also over alcohol beers but that's another story.

  6. Amen to that!

    I have got to the point where I don't remember the last American style IPA that I drank in a pub, let alone the insanity of "imperial" IPA. Even in my homebrewing, I have only brewed an IPA once and am in no rush to do so again.

  7. Utterly agree Mark - there are some brewers both in the UK and overseas who seem to think the more hops the betters. Wrong every time - it's not big and it's not clever.

    John Clarke

  8. Hear hear! I'll name names and say that I found a mere half pint Brewdog's Hardcore IPA too much at a beer festival earlier this year. I had to use Darkstar Hophead to clear my palate, itself hardly a shy and retiring beer.

  9. Oh yes, it is about time this became a hot topic... I predict a surge of fuller bodied beers on the way in the next year or two - here's my thoughts from a couple of weeks ago

  10. Adding to what I said above. Could it also be that at least some of this IBU crazy is being fueled by lazy brewing?

  11. Ok, I'm not alone on this one!

    For me the thing is that these over-hopped beers just taste like noise - there's no clarity in the flavour and it's just confused and overpowering. Beers can be very hoppy but the best will always have a clear, bright flavour to them.

    Matt - I think the reason Kernel is so popular is the fullness of the mouthfeel in the beers; it works well with the hops. Thin beers with lots of hops just don't work. Your blog is spot on. Bring on the bigger bodies!

  12. PF - Perhaps laziness but also perhaps chasing trends. Big hoppy beers get talked about a lot but invariably they are based on US beers and the best of them have a lot of malt to back them up.

  13. It's very easy to dump a ton of hops in the brew kettle, generate some insanely high ibu number, and create a lot of buzz for the beers that will cause many people to buy it. It's a lot more difficult to brew something balanced and flavorful, and the brewer probably won't get any short term gratification from the result.

  14. Sounds like a valid point but without you suggesting names then it's just a matter of personal taste - can't see it being a general systemic problem. If a beer is too hoppy you can generally have something else next! I'd rather brewers were trying for flavour rather than relying on 'Camra says this is rea(lly dull) ale' and leaving it at that.

    Again, as you have mentioned before, a detailed tasting note can be key.

  15. But chasing trends also has some laziness into it - just do what everyone else is doing and not think too much about it.

    On the other hand, a brewery is first and foremost a business and if insanely hoppy beers sell, who can blame brewers for making them (provided they are as popular as we have been led to believe).

  16. Totlly agree, i found myself giving a beer back to the bar last week that i couldn't stomach and ordering another. The landlord asked if there was a problem with the beer but it was in perfect condition. It was a seasonal and they had gone way OTT.

  17. I completely disagree. Hoppy beers are innovating; fun, complex and enticing. There is a lot for this. I would rather drink a 300 ibu pale ale than an average Fuggles and Golding bitter to quench my thirst.

    As for lazy brewers' comment. Do you know how expensive it is to gamble on using so many hops? How much is lost if one spill happens?

    However Mark is missing the point. The most dangerous thing about using too many hops is the supply and demand. If we use too many then we can't sustain brewing. This is vital and this is important and for that I will argue that yes we may use too many hops. Otherwise no. Let's keep brewing innovate and unrestricted. Otherwise it would be boring.

  18. But then again there are some bitters which are world class and better than some 300ibu beers. It's a complicated world.

  19. Quite right. I am sick of hop bombs and booze bombs, though a well made imperial stout is still welcome. Why should I fear for my dental enamel just to provide a forum for the experimentations of a trend chasing brewer.

  20. There are plenty of other ways to make interesting and innovative beers than using tons of hops. Plus it's no longer particularly innovative to make super hopy beers any more is it?

    I completely agree that there is nothing wrong with very hopy beers as long as the malt base can back it up though. Balancing the unbalanced. Give me a bottle of pliny the elder any day of the week!

    Tis the season for the malts to have their say though, bring on the stouts and porters!

  21. The backlash begins.

    "upper cut to the uvula". Haha, love it!

  22. Please name names. The only British ones I've gleaned from this discussion are HopHead and Punk. The former is bloody outstanding, the latter an excellent IPA--at least the one time I've had it cask conditioned, over a year ago. Neither are "over hopped" though!

    I've yet to encounter a beer that's really, truly over-hopped. That said, I drink mostly at home (no pubs where I live, certainly none with hoppy or otherwise good beer), and most of what we drink there is homebrewed half-IPA: 120 IBU at 3-3.5% abv. (Yes, the IBUs are theoretical, but about 5.5 oz per 23 litre batch.)

    I started brewing around 60-70 IBUs (2-3 oz per 5-6 gal US batch) and told Yank homebrewers that they were wasting hops when they were doing over 5. Diminishing returns and all that.

    Then I tried it myself. Thing is, the vast bulk of the hops are used in late kettle additions--15 and 5 minutes, very little at 60 minutes. All modern Yankohops or from down under.

    Without naming names, it's a matter of taste, as has been said already. If it's these huge, 8% ABV hopmonsters from the US, then I agree that they're out of balance, but not because of hops!

    The infamous Steel City beers...the ones I've had have been admirably hopped, but nothing at all over-the-top.

  23. I don't agree. If anybody is wasting hops, it's brewers who take aim at a single-hop pale ale and send an underwhelming underhopped beer to market. I'll name names - Arbor's Citra was a huge disappointment, but there have been a few others.

    I'd accept it's all horses for courses, and that one drinkers underwhelming is anothers balanced. I would say the only beer I've tried in the past few years where I could only manage one pint, was Young's one-off Burton Bitter, a malt monster that had me gagging at the thought of another. A good beer, but for me, too much like hard work.

    It's a shame to see your post flushing out the 'why, oh why' crowd, Mark. As for naming and shaming - one respondent mentions a black IPA they had at LBS. I'm wondering whether that was the Brodie's Dalston Black IPA. If so, then I strongly demur. To me, that beer is one of the best iterations of a black IPA brewed in the UK, and the hops (Galaxy, IIRC) lent a softer, grassier edge to the style. I'd much rather see Brodie's 'waste' that hop in a beer like that, than Greene King using the same hop is that Old Golden Hen of theirs.

  24. As a brewer my opinion is, that it is the thought process that counts. i.e. Thinking about how the beer you create will be perceived. I like bitter beers and i love hoppy beers. (I also like all genre of beers) I try to ensure a relatively low IBU with heavy last minute hop additions of powerful hops. But as with everything, one man's utopia is another man's nightmare. Beer is as always very subjective and so i always think opinion is a non argument. Enjoy what you enjoy regardless of anyone elses opinions. If you like it bitter and hoppy or you like it dark, smooth and malty, it's all the eye of the beer holder!

  25. This argument is a little futile, as with everything, people do too much and too little in equal droves, and right now to be honest, I really dont think the UK scene needs to be told they are using too many hops.

    The most exciting UK breweries right now for me are Kernel, Brodies & Magic Rock and they all make strong, bitter, flavoursome beers with a lot of hops and bitterness (and I would love to see Camden do more of this too).

    Of course there are people using too many hops, but I think right now.. more UK breweries are making bland, mundane bitters that all taste the same. Each to their own eh...

  26. You're wrong.

    The only waste of hops is from crap breweries using not enough hops to taste of anything and too much crystal malt which overpowers them anyway so they are doubly wasted!

    I want beer to be bitter and to taste of the massive variety of hops around now not like it used to of toffee and dusty UK hops.

    This is now, this is how we roll...

  27. "I want beer to be bitter and to taste of the massive variety of hops around now not like it used to of toffee and dusty UK hops."

    Indeed and your views on crystal malt co-incide with mine, but as well as knowing what hops are for, you have to know what they are NOT for.

    That's probably the point Mark was making.

  28. I specifically didn't give names because it is a personal opinion so my 'too hoppy' might be someone else's 'not hoppy enough'. I do love hops though and most beers don't use enough, but that's a different post for another day.

    It's easy to throw lots of hops in, but that takes no skill. The skill is in knowing how the hops will work together and getting flavour from them rather than just an assault of bitterness. Using too many hops leaves a beer that tastes dirty and intense. It's still very possible to use lots of hops and not have that horrible raw hop pellet flavour.

    Thomas - What's innovative about using lots of hops? And I do know how expensive hops are which means their use should be about getting good flavour out rather than just making an impact. There are wonderful 100IBU beers out there and they work because the hops don't taste like a punch.

    Jimmy - There's a reason Pliny is so loved and that's because it has that balance! It's super dry but full of flavour and bitterness but it's a clean flavour rather than one which is messy and dirty.

    Erlangernick - I didn't mentioned Hophead or Punk. In my opinion both are excellent beers.

    Sid - That Brodies Black IPA was fantastic! No hops were wasted in the making of that beer! It is all a matter of taste. And I would prefer to see too many hops than not enough, it's just using them well. Like a good curry, it can use a lot of spice but the best ones are those which allow you to taste them individually and not just get HEAT.

    Josh - All great breweries who use hops really well. I don't want breweries to be shy with hops or stop using them, I just want the beers to show off the hops in a better way. Just look at Kernel: very rarely are they too bitter and their flavour is always good.

    Gazza - I want beers to be bitter and taste of hops, too. What I don't want is for them to taste like I've just chewed a handful of random hop pellets. And let's not start on bloody crystal malt...

  29. I've grown to like hoppy beers - which I never thought I would - to the extent that I can drink Hophead and then think "right, let's have something really hoppy..." But after a certain point it gets a bit silly. I think looking for "the beer with the most hops in" is about as grown-up as looking for the curry with the most chillies in - and about as sensible as making a stew and swamping it with salt ("more salt than ever before! be warned, this may be too salty for you!")

  30. Like you have clarified in your last comment, it all comes down to the skill of the brewer. You can throw a truck load of hops in a beer and still have it be beautifully balanced. As with any ingredient, it takes a skilled hand to make the various potential flavors work in harmony. Yes, bitterness is easy, but crafting a great hop aroma through blending the highest quality hops and having some skill at dry hopping and properly finishing and packaging your beer is not something to be overlooked.

  31. Yesterday I was working in the Starr Hill tasting room and heard a few interesting comments on the subject of "hoppy" beers (usually short hand for "c-hops").

    People were commenting how good they thought the IPA from another Virginia brewery is, how the bitterness and hop flavours are so different from everything else out there on the market. How complex and refreshing the beer in question was. The beer? St George's IPA. The hops? 100% Fuggles.

    Fuggles and Goldings are not boring, perhaps they aren't trendy with certain sections of the beer loving community, but they are anything but dull.

  32. "Fuggles and Goldings are not boring, perhaps they aren't trendy with certain sections of the beer loving community, but they are anything but dull."

    The trouble here is that fuggles and goldings are over familiar to UK beer drinkers due to their use in mainstream bitters that dominated the UK beer scene for many years.

    But that said, I find the bitter bashing you get from certain sections of the "crafterati" to be quite tiresome.

  33. As another brewer I think long and hard about what hops to use, yes I probably use far more than most breweries do, but like Pete most of my hops go in late for aroma. There is a difference between a bitter beer and a hoppy beer, it is easy to be lazy and bung in a load of high alpha hops at the start of the boil and get out something totally harsh and undrinkable, and I've tasted a few recently. But better taste and excitement, than bland brown beers with no hop character whatsoever.

    I spend a lot of money on my hops and I like to think I make good use of them, but is there a back lash out there? I don't think so since I know what is selling, and on the whole it's pale and hoppy brews.

    It is all personal choice, and if you see a pump clip from a brewery who you think hops their beers too aggressively then choose another beer, it's not rocket science. Let's see in two years if there is a massive wave of malty brown beers packed with crystal malt etc, you never know it might happen.


  34. I thought something similar a while back It's oft overlooked that beer is a sum of all it's parts, not just the perfumery of hops.

  35. There are far too many beers that go for hop overkill and it just spoils any flavour character that the beer once had.

    I'm sad to say that Buntingford's range of beers, so well made in so many ways, all end up tasting the same and leave the mouth with an unpleasant taste of hop. I pick on Buntingford because it's one of my local brews and is brewed by two of the sweetest kindest people I know. Please bring the hop bill down and get the flavour of the malt back.

  36. i think youre missing the point mark. theres much more diversity to be obtained these days from the use of, and combination of hops than that of malt. we're all familiar with malt characteristics (at least we should be, otherwise wtf we doing voicing an opinion on a topic such as this?).

    hop usage and the combination of hops is vital. especially baring in mind the complex nature of different hop varieties and seasons (harvests). people concerned here really dont have anything to moan about. or have reason to raise issue. why worry about breweries wasting their own money on hops? its their business.

    in all fairness, you really should look at the relentless amount of breweries that are popping up all over the UK at the moment. the majority of which are producing nothing but boring shit beer. those are the ones that are not only wasting hops. but also malt! embrace those that experiment with hop usage.

    and seriously? whats the obsession with IBU's? if you'd have any brewing knowledge at all youd understand that brewers will adjust the first wort or early bittering hops accordingly to provide a balance for the 'late additions'.

    you could have a good career doing PR with a brewery thats renowned for being bland, filtered to fuck and clearly lets the accountant determine the hop profile of their beers.

    oh, wait..