Before, it was easy for me to declare that so-called India Pale Ale was not my favorite beer type, ordering one infrequently only for a break from my favored Belgian Lambic-style and Trappist ales.
But the day of the one-dimensional, hop-forward, mouth-drying pale ale as the only “hoppy” style has passed in America. Oh, there still are plenty of them around and they continue to have a following.
But most craft brewers have moved beyond the standard IPA to creatively combine different types of hops for more complex and appealing hop character.
Not only that, they are adding hops at different stages of the brewing process to compound the pleasant effect.
“I might add some (hops) right away to the kettle for bittering,” says Redwood Steakhouse and Brewery head brewer Konrad Conner. “Later, I add a different one for flavor and then I’ll another more after fermentation is finished.
“That last addition enhances the beer’s aroma.”
That last step is called “dry hopping.” Hops added at this stage can be either as whole “flowers” (see image) or in pelletized form.
Some examples of this creativity were offered recently at Redwood’s monthly Beer Appreciation Society gathering.
Conner presented six beer samples, including two of his own. All demonstrated creative use of hops to one degree or another.
The best example for me was the Intergalactic Jack pale from Tri-City Brewing in Bay City. Spokesman Jay Green said the name derived from the inclusion of Galaxy hops from Australia, which provide notes of mango and passion fruit. The resinous, piney hop signature was still present, but not dominant.
The next most interesting hoppy ale was the Left Hand Path black ale from River’s Edge Brewery in Milford. Brewer Kim Schneider said she employed Chinook, Centennial and Citra hops and consciously chose a type of dark-roasted barley malt not overladen with chocolate or coffee flavors.
Those two are moderate on the alcohol scale, not so for Mother Handsome double IPA from Axle Brewing Co. in Ferndale. Former Redwood brewing assistant Adam Beratta used three types of hops, including one from Africa, plus wheat and rye (and barley) for an 8.7% alcohol-by-volume bombshell.
Conner explained that European beer makers struggled to preserve their product before hops came along. “They used herbs, spices and fruit for flavor while hoping that somehow those things would preserve the beer, with mixed results.”
It’s fact that the British happened onto the IPA style by finding that kegged beer to which gobs of hops had been added arrived in the good shape after the long sail to the Asian colonies.
With at least 300 breweries and brewpubs in Michigan, a hop-growing industry has developed, chiefly but not exclusively in northern Michigan.
Because of limited scale and high startup costs, Michigan hops cost more than identical varieties from the Pacific Northwest or Europe, Conner says.
“The brewers support Michigan hops because it helps the economy and encourages growth in that (hop-growing) sector. That can only be good for us brewers.”