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Session #77 wrapped up

The SessionJustin’s Brew Review has posted the roundup for The Session #77: Why IPA is a Big Deal. That 32 bloggers found time to write provides a bit of commentary unto itself.

Justin provides a summary, although (as always) reading the full post (and clicking a few links) is recommended:

1. HOPS! for the taste/flavor
2. Different than mass-produced “macro” beer
3. Hype/abundance of supply

Session 77 – IPA: Why it’s a big deal

The SessionToday the topic for The Session is “IPA: What’s the Big Deal?” What follows is based mostly on what’s occurring in the United States, although IPA Madness doesn’t stop at the U.S. borders, which you’ll see by visiting today’s posts (look for the links at the bottom of the announcement).

Nearly eighteen years ago, beer author-brewer-consumer Randy Mosher presented a travelogue of a recent trip to the world’s largest hops growing regions to listeners at Oldenberg Beer Camp in Kentucky. At one point he tilted his head back as if he were taking a big drink, reaching his hands into the air and grabbing fistfuls of imagined hops, then bringing them back down to his mouth.

“Americans have been starved for hops so long,” he said, “that right now we’re just shoving them down our throats.”

The implication was this would pass. It has not. I’ve cited this from Hop Culture in the United States before, but 140 years later it is still relevant:

“The brewing industry is not exempt from the influence of fashion. A careful survey of the types and descriptions of beers in vogue at different times will show that fashion has had something to do with our trade,” the author wrote. He described changes in beer dating to back before hops became an essential ingredient, and considered what might be next in England. “We will not further refer to the threatened introduction of lager beer into this country, than to say fashion takes strange freaks, and it will be well for brewers to be prepared for all eventualities.”

At the beginning of 2008 pale ale was the best selling craft beer style in supermarkets, followed by amber ale, amber lager, wheat beers, and then IPA. Yes, wheat beers, then IPA.

In the four years between the end of 2007 and end of 2011 sales of IPA increased 260 percent and it became the No. 1 craft style. The next year sales increased 40 percent again. This gets harder to measure, because now we have Black IPAs, White IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Session IPAs, and Cider IPAs.

And late Thursday, Harry Schuhmacher passed long the boldest of predictions.

All this reflects still growing interest in aromas and flavors being discovered in hops — or more accurately, created during the brewing process. IPA has become a synomym for hops. When Mosher made his 1995 Hop Tour these are a few of the varieties that weren’t yet commercially available: Amarillo, Apollo, Bravo, Calypso, Citra, Galaxy, Mandarina Bavaria, Mosaic, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, Riwaka, Saphir, and Simcoe. For starters.

More than once last week at the National Homebrewers Conference I was asked what the next hot aroma/flavor would be? My best guess is more variations on this theme. No doubt there will be new varieties released, maybe touting a little more gooseberry, a lot more blueberry, a subtle melon, more lime, even coconut. But, and I hope I am not just being pie-in-the-sky optimistic, brewers also have an opportunity to blend varieties already in hand — often rich in compounds that breeders and farmers worked to keep out of hops as recently as 40 years ago — to create something new.

As Alex Barth, president of hop merchant John I. Haas has pointed out, “This love craft brewers have for hops refocuses attention on the plant.” IPA deserves some of the credit. It hardly seems likely it will fall out of fashion soon, but that’s no reason to be pissed off about the attention it is getting.

Two examples. The popularity of Union Jack India Pale Ale has helped fund expansion at Firestone Walker, which is why you can get Pivo Hoppy Pils, dry hopped with generous portions of Saphir. Likewise at Marble Brewery in New Mexico. Its IPA drives growth, so beers like Marble Pilsner — brimming with perfumey Old World Hersbrucker hops — end up getting packaged. These are good things.

I seem to have wandered off topic. Hops will do that. Lord know what I’ll write about on IPA Day. Maybe coffee-infused wood-aged extreme saison IPAs.

Session #76 roundup; #77 announced – IPA: What’s the Big Deal?

The SessionGlenn Humphries has posted the roundup for Session #76: Compulsion. Thirty takes on the same topic; excellent reading.

And Justin Mann has announced the plan for #77 on July 5. The topic is “IPA: What’s the Big Deal?”

I’m just wondering, why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild?

He wonders about still more, but then it seems like just about everybody has something to say about IPA these days (currently recommending The Myth of the Authentic IPA at Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog). The Session #77, open to all bloggers, is July 5.

‘Top Beers’ . . . and none German?

Or Czech?

I think all the chatter about brewing innovation last week locked up my brain, but there’s nothing like a list of best beers to give it a kick start.

This time Wine Enthusiast magazine offers its (apparently first) “Top 25 Beers of 2009.” You can view the list in pdf form here and the introduction here.

To the credit of Lauren Buzzeo, whose byline is on the introduction, nowhere do I see the Enthusiast screaming BEST BEERS IN THE WORLD. In fact, I can’t really tell but it might be drawn only from beers the magazine reviewed in 2009 (did you know they review beers? I knew Stephen Beaumont sometimes wrote stories for them). And let’s remember the publication does cater to an American audience. However, if I wanted to be fair all the time I’d have to give up blogging, wouldn’t I?

So, let the ranting begin:

  • In his first Pocket Guide to Beer in 1982, Michael Jackson listed 42 5-star beers. Fourteen were from Germany. This list has zero. Same number as from the United Kingdom.
  • Five lagers, all from the United States. The Czech Pils? Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest. The bock? The doppelbock? The dunkel? Sorry, none of any.
  • Eighteen of the beers are from the United States, four from Belgium, one from Canada, one from Italy and one from Norway (a collaboration with two U.S. breweries).
  • Three Belgian White/wit beers, no German weizen beers. Is this a freshness issue? Then drink Schneider Aventinus.
  • No pale ales or India pale ales (although Avery Maharaja Double IPA makes the list).
  • Two pumpkin beers (sorry about that, Mike).
  • Only 11 styles (that’s using the magazine’s designations, with pumpkin being one of them) represented among the 25 beers listed, so not exactly showcasing a “wide range of styles” (see below).
  • Most popular style: Belgian Dark Strong, which might be why the average beer on the list is 7% alcohol by volume. Three beers less than 5%. The nine top-rated beers average 8.7%.
  • Hey, there are great beers on this list (and I can even buy almost 40 percent of them in New Mexico). My point is not that so and so brews a better such and such. I wouldn’t pretend my list of 25 would be any better (OK, I lied, you’d like mine better, and I’d probably over-represent America and stronger beers, particularly since I’d include at least one IPA.) So I better quit and let the author have the last word:

    “With so many selections currently available to the American beer consumer, it was important to showcase a wide range of styles produced in various countries and regions at all price points. From classic styles like American lagers and wheat beers to newer, more experimental styles such as American wild ales, this list demonstrates both the beauty and craftsmanship of a traditionally brewed beer as well as the excitement and cutting-edge adventure of the craft brewing scene today.”

    (The photo at the top was taken at Brasserie Caracole, which brews Nostradamus, No. 19 on the list, in the last wood-fired kettles used by a commercial Belgian brewery.)


    Damn Pete Brown: The best beer trip ever

    Pete BrownAuthor Pete Brown – who is having way too much fun in his role as “the second-best beer drinker in Britain!” – has talked Coors into letting him take a pin (small cask) of India Pale Ale from its White Shield brewery in Burton-on-Trent and transport it to India in much the same manner the highly hopped beer would have traveled in the 19th century.

    Not everybody would consider this the best beer holiday ever, but if you care about IPA and its history this might be better than a visit to Belgium or one to Bavaria. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. You can go to Bamberg next year.

    The Morning Advertiser provides the details (they wrote “pint” but must mean “pin”):

    He’ll follow the route round the Cape of Good Hope, taken throughout the first part of the 19th century before the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 shortened the journey.

    Working with Coors brewer Steve Wellington, Pete will take to Bombay a pint of IPA brewed by Steve in Burton-on-Trent, Staffs, exactly as it would have been in 1820.

    He sets off from Burton by canal in mid-October, spends a month on a P&O cruise ship, jumps on a 19th-century three-masted tall ship for the passage round the Cape, then spends a month on a giant container ship before arriving in India in late December.

    Martyn Cornell provides more perspective:

    “I’ve been saying for several years that a British brewer really ought to take a cask of well-hopped IPA and ship it to India to see what happens to the flavour – the Norwegians still do a similar thing with Linie Akvavit, though that goes to Australia and back, rather than the sub-continent.”

    Which brings us to . . . an article in the new All About Beer magazine (dated September and with Dave Alexander on the front) titled “IPA Master Class.” From Roger Protz. But only half the story.

    The cover touts the “Search for Authentic IPAs.” That means, I guess, that Stone IPA, Victory HopDevil and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale aren’t authentic.

    Te article provides important historical perspective about both IPA history (credit London before Burton-on-Trent) and the impact IPAs had on pale lagers. You need to read more, right?

    I just wish that Protz, or AABM with a companion story, had got to American IPAs. A heck of a lot more drinkers consume US-brewed IPAs these days than those brewed in the UK. And these are beers that showcase Northwest hops.

    Protz lists his personal Top Ten IPAs, with five from America:

    – BridgePort IPA
    – Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
    – Goose Island IPA
    – Sierra Nevada IPA
    – Pike IPA

    Great beers every one, but are they the first ones you think of when you say I’ll have an IPA?

    But back to the top, the Morning Advertiser reports that Brown intends to write a travel book, rather than a beer book, about his journey. I can’t wait.

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