Why We Will Never Abandon Our IPAs

Yesterday afternoon, I tansferred two half-batches of beer to into kegs. They contained a pale ale--and an experiment. One had been infused with two ounces of Simcoe hops (pellets), one two ounces of Yakima Chief's soon-to-be-released hop product called lupulin powder from Simcoe hops (backgrounder here). The notion is simple (though it took Stan Hieronymus to suggest it): how do they differ?

I'll be looking for a few things. Does the quality of aroma differ? Bitterness (remember the humulinones!)? Intensity? Durability of these qualities? Diagnostically, the experiment should offer some clues about how to use lupulin powder going forward. I will of course report back.

That's not really the point of this post, though. The remarkable thing about both batches (but especially the lupulin powder), was the way the aromas exploded out of the carboys. Simcoes are famous for being grapefruity-to-piney, but the aroma--especially with the lupulin powder--was intensely fruity. Not like any existing fruit, but a heretofore undiscovered, I imagine fleshy, tropical fruit that might, to the most careful of sniffers, suggest hop. But only just. It was mesmerizing; I can't imagine any human being who wouldn't be instinctively drawn to it. Even from the inch-wide aperture at the top of the carboy, it was like incense pouring out.

This is why we like IPAs. This is why IPAs have evolved as they have. One whiff of hops like the scent coming from my carboy would make a believer out of even the most hardened Germanophile. Brewers across the country have sampled that aroma and become magnetized (because how could you not?), and have then spent their careers trying to infuse the beer we drink with something as potent. I'm not an IPA fanatic, and yet about half the beers I brew are in that general tradition and end up with hops in the carboy so I can experience that wafting succulence.

This thrills me in part because the experience is something new under the sun. Beer dates back at least 11,000 years, but hops only go back a thousand. Dry-hopping is not new, but the strains capable of producing these aromas are. East Kent Golding is a spectacular hop, an ancient hop, a hop long used in dry-hopping, but it doesn't have the oomph of a Simcoe (or Citra or Mosaic, etc). American brewers had the dawning recognition of the potential of their native hops, and followed them to their natural conclusion. This is the same process that Bavarians followed, using local barley, hops, and their unique fermentation. And the British, with their fruity-earthy hops and floor malts, and on and on.

As I scented those Simcoes, I was encountering something Josef Groll, Arthur Guinness, and Anton Dreher never experienced. That scent is in some ways undiscovered--or just-discovered. It is wholly modern and wholly American. It is irresistible--even for people like me who revere gueuzes and bitters and světlý ležáks.  And it's why we Americans are as likely to walk away from our IPAs as Munichers are from their helleses.

Jeff Alworth