IPA’s and Hoppy Beers: What’s Going On?

By Andrew Dickey for Indiana On Tap  

A lot of people want to pigeonhole craft beer drinkers into two categories:  hop heads, and everyone else.  This is too simplified because the latter group includes people that like dark beer, and those who don’t.  I think there are way too many varieties of beer to simplify our drinking this way.  Craft beer drinkers are as diverse as the styles of beer available, and some people like myself, enjoy nearly all of them.  Having said that, hoppy beers are clearly a phenomenon tha needs to be analyzed and addressed.  The following article will discuss some of the things about hoppy beers that I feel may have gone a bit too far, and even if you disagree with me, I want open a discussion on the subject which I feel is a long time coming.

In the middle of this last winter, it really occurred to me just how many IPAs and other hoppy beers are available to the Indiana drinker.  I love the IPA style, and I drink plenty of it.  All the same, I am amazed with the sheer choices offered.  Knowing that craft beer taps and space for craft beer at liquor stores is to an extent limited, I wonder what other styles of beer are neglected so that more hoppy beers are available.  We are definitely in a hop crazed period of beer drinking.  The beers that people wait in line for on Saturday mornings from Three Floyd’s are all hoppy.  At a recent tap takeover I attended in Ohio, a brewery involved brought only hoppy beers.

All this begs the question of what expense to all other styles of beer is the hop craze affording.  There are plenty of craft beer drinkers who do not like hoppy beers, yet the rest of us are enjoying them.  I wonder if maybe perhaps too many IPAs are on the market, and even perhaps getting far more hype than they possibly deserve.  I enjoy a lot of styles of beer, and don’t want to take away from the excellence of what hops does in many styles of beer, but there are a few things I feel need to be addressed.

There’s certainly NO shortage of abundant IPA options at most local liquor stores.

For starters, I would like to argue that the latest craze of fruit-flavored IPAs might have gone a bit too far.  Every flavor imaginable is used and some breweries have a long line of fruit IPAs, and pale ales.  I read last year that fruit beer would be the death of craft beer, and while I disagree with that statement at large, the fruit IPA fad is excessive.   Hops naturally exhibit many fruit like essences in their flavor, so I wonder if adding fruit to the beer detracts from some of the natural flavor of hops in these beer styles.  It’s worth noting that many of these fruit IPAs sit on the shelves at liquor stores long after they are fresh.  There are far too many of them, and more seem to be flooding the market.

My second point is that while a lot of breweries excel at IPAs and all other styles of hoppy beer, how many different IPAs does one brewery need to make? One only has to look at the shelves in a liquor store to see my point.  I can’t keep track of how many IPAs Sam Adams makes, and New Belgium seems to be following suit.  There are other breweries who have long been known for their IPAs, and the varieties of such.  While breweries are making what is popular, I don’t see a brewery having seven different IPAs working for everyone because not everybody likes hoppy beers.  I talk to a lot of people who do not like hoppy beers at all, yet if you go to some liquor stores, they are the most prevalent styles of beer in the windows.  The best ones will sell, and the others will sit there for months.  When there’s too many IPAs to choose from, a drinker is going to go with the best value, and the brewery they know the best.  What I like about craft beer is the diversity of styles available, and while I enjoy hoppy beers, there are many other delicious styles out there.

I worry that not every brewery is going to make it if everyone focuses on IPAs at such levels.  I mentioned earlier in the article about a tap take over in Ohio I attended recently. There, a brewery brought six IPA’s and all were solid, but not every brewery should or can do this.  When there’s too many IPAs to choose from, I think the style will suffer.  Craft beer is special in its diversity, and too much of one thing is not always a good thing.

On the local level, a brewery might offer a portfolio of half a dozen regular beers, and it will include a pale ale, IPA, and a double, imperial or a another variety of hoppy beer.  If these prove to be the most popular of their beers among regulars, or in outside sales, emphasis will be focused on the hoppy beers–and seasonals and specialities will reflect this as well.  Now imagine this going on at breweries state-wide, and at a national level.  All of a sudden, there’s a lot of IPAs and hoppy beers on the market.

It’s a competitive market and the best products, (and the best advertised) will sell the best.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Hops are being more widely produced locally, and if more hops are produced, this certainly can positively affect the price of beer.  As many specialty IPAs are sold at a high price, they are a novelty.   As I write this article, a large display of Bell’s Hopslam is in my view.  Like Founder’s Harvest Ale, and all of Three Floyd’s limited releases, it is a popular beer, and it creates quite a stir.  Sometimes these IPA’s are hard to get.  This only generates more interest in the IPA style in general.  When Zombie Dust is unavailable, excellent ales from Bare Hands, 18th St., Daredevil, and many other Indiana breweries will be purchased instead (as they should be–their beers are all amazing)!  People drink what they like, and if so many people didn’t like IPAs, the style would not be so popular.  Still, not everybody needs to make a plethora of them.  Some breweries have a different niche, and while it might be tempting to get involved in this craze, it’s not always the best marketing move because as I stated above, there can be too many choices on tap, or at the liquor store.

So while IPAs are popular, this is a great time to drink them.  Good liquor stores offer dozens, including those fruit flavored ones!  If you drink at a brewpub, the style is not going away anytime soon.  I can’t think of anything crisper than a cold IPA, and its thirst quenching happiness generally leaves me fulfilled.  I like the piney ones best, and Six Points Resin will always be one of my favorites.  I’m sure you have a go-to IPA, and I salute you and I wish you fine drinking.

So perhaps too many IPAs are on the shelves than could be consumed freshly, but it’s great to have choices and breweries take a risk when they produce beer for retail sales.  It’s a competitive market and the best products, (and the best advertised) will sell the best.  Knowledgeable staff generally revert back to their favorites, and if you like IPAs or pale ales, I encourage you to branch out and try as many as possible.  You’ll no doubt discover some great beer and help ensure the craft beer drinker will continue to have great choices.  While I think fruit IPAs may be excessive and some breweries continue to make a plethora of mediocre IPAs, hoppy beers are still some of my favorite styles of beer and I’m glad to have so many choices wherever I go.

 
 

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