My friend Gina politely snarled, “Why the hell would anyone put hops in beer? It’s not in the German Beer Purity Law, is it?” Gene: “Reinheitsgebot.” Laurie: “Gesundheit.” Gina: “That’s what I said.” Rick: “Yeah, hops is in Reinheitsgebot.” Laurie: “Gesundheit.” Gina: “Which is it?” Rick: “Yeast.” Gina: “I’m talking about hops.” Rick: “Hops is in there.” Gina: “I know. I don’t like hops. They should have stuck to the Gesundheit thing.”
That’s what “Thirsty Thursday sometimes sounds like on my WDEL Radio show. Gina brought up a good question, one many beer tasters ask. Why hops? Simple. Beer was invented to help guys become less self-conscious so they could dance, attracting women. Impressed with the men’s newly discovered coordination, the women tried the men’s beer. They liked it. Soon, the men’s beer was gone and the women were asleep.
Now, there was no reason to dance and there was no baseball on TV. Did I mention the beer was now gone? So, the local brewers added hops and that stopped the women from drinking all the men’s beer. This hopped taste is what many women refer to as a “beery” taste. Women who appreciate craft beers like hefeweisen, trappist ales and lambics like my friend Gina often refer to poorly balanced hopped beers as “beery beers.” There are guys who feel the same way about beer, but they’re not on the show and if most of the guys I know felt the same way about beers as most of the women to whom I have introduced craft beer, then I’d have to write this column all over from the beginning and I really don’t want to do that.
Recently, Gina tasted the “Nova Scotia Style Pale Ale” by Alexander Keith’s in Nova Scotia. She was surprised to discover this Pale Ale, a style known to us as “beery,” was not “beery.” Why? Because it’s “balanced.” What does “balanced” mean? I put the question to three brewmasters, two of whom drew their heads from their kettles long enough to email these answers.
From Rob Pfeiffer, Master Brewer at Twin Lakes Brewery in Greenville, Delaware: “What makes an IPA balanced? The hops in an IPA provide bitterness, the malt provides sweetness and one should balance the other. For example, your tongue senses salt, bitterness, sweetness, sourness and umami (mouthfeel, satisfaction), so, as in when a chef prepares a meal, these items must be balanced.”
Brian Finn at Iron Hill Brewery in Wilmington, Delaware added: “Some styles of beer are supposed to be out of balance. For instance, Scotch ales and barleywines would be considered malty while American pale ales and American IPA’s would be considered hoppy. IPA are almost always considered hoppy yet they are more balanced than regular American pale ale. This is because IPA’s are stronger and to achieve this more malt is needed. This makes the beer sweeter and to balance it out more hops are needed. Regular American pale ale will not be as strong so less sweetness is perceived resulting in a drier more bitter tasting beer.”
Ah-Ha! THERE is your “beery beer” explanation! And let’s not spoil the story of why hops were added with any unsubstantiated rumor about using hops to prevent spoilage of the beer as dandelion, marigold and heather were tried and didn’t work as well. Let’s also not mention hops being first cultivated in Bavaria around 750 AD for this reason. I prefer the idea of adding hops for the sole purpose of watching Gina’s face scrunch up like a puffer fish.
Note: Twin Lakes brews one of the world’s greatest pale ales, the Greenville Pale Ale. Ask for it when you go out to eat. Available now in tasty, modern cans, Twin Lakes is no longer available only at taverns & restaurants. Iron Hill brews the legendary “Wee Heavy” (Scotch Brown Ale) and their “Old Ale” is simply one of the best beers in history. Iron Hill beers are available only at their own restaurants. A variety of Alexander Keith’s, brewing since 1820, is just now available in Delaware liquor stores and absolutely worth your time and tastebuds!