Adrienne So had a nice piece in Slate recently about the craft-beer trend toward hoppy (sometimes aggressively hoppy) beers. She makes the case that some brewers and beer geeks have perhaps gone a bit overboard. For the uninitiated, she offers an introduction:
Hops are the flowers of the climbing plant Humulus lupulus, a member of the family Cannabaceae (which also includes, yes, cannabis), and they’re a critical ingredient in beer…. Recipes usually call for only a few grams of hops per gallon of beer produced, but those little flowers pack a big punch. In addition to their bittering properties, hops impart strong piney, spicy, or fruity flavors and aromas. They also contain antimicrobial agents that act as natural preservatives.
Although they make up a small proportion of the ingredients used in beer, hops command the vast majority of the industry’s passion. Beer geeks have an intensely emotional relationship to hops. We wax poetic about the differences among varieties: the mildness of the Saaz, the bright tang of the exotic Sorachi Ace.
Nevertheless, she argues, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing:
From a consumer’s standpoint, though, beers overloaded with hops are a pointless gimmick. That’s because we can’t even taste hops’ nuances above a certain point. Hoppiness is measured in IBUs (International Bitterness Units), which indicate the concentration of isomerized alpha acid—the compound that makes hops taste bitter. Most beer judges agree that even with an experienced palate, most human beings can’t detect any differences above 60 IBUs.