Why I'm hopping mad over ever-more extreme beers

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

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Rob Willock: "If I ever wanted the mouth-puckering and eye-watering sensation of sucking a lemon - I would suck a lemon. It would be much cheaper than a bottle of extreme IPA"
Rob Willock: "If I ever wanted the mouth-puckering and eye-watering sensation of sucking a lemon - I would suck a lemon. It would be much cheaper than a bottle of extreme IPA"
I don’t often venture into the specialist realm of beer writing — for reasons that may quickly become apparent. I employ the services of two award-winning beer writers — Pete Brown and Roger Protz — to do that and, as they say: “Why get dogs and then bark yourself?”

However, I was moved to dedicate this column to the subject after reading in the national press last week that demand from craft-beer-loving hipsters is causing a worldwide hop shortage​ and price increase.

I should start by declaring that I don’t have the greatest palate. I once described a rather expensive Alsatian Gewürztraminer to a po-faced wine sommelier as “peanutty”, before remembering that I’d just eaten some peanuts.

Additionally, I’ve never knowingly been at the vanguard of anything and I am not what you would call an “early adopter”. I’ve just bought another Volvo, for God’s sake.

Extreme brews

But it is from this position in the middle of the road that I am going to take a stand against ‘powerfully hopped beer’, and nervously suggest that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

But before an army of bushy-bearded, be-skinny-jeaned Hoxtonites descend on my office in Crawley, West Sussex (unlikely, I grant you) to give me an achingly on-trend piece of their mind, let me quickly explain myself.

Over-hopped beer is the inevitable result of a craft-beer arms race, in which a multitude of small producers are attempting to outdo each other with ever-more extreme brews. And, noticing a bandwagon passing, the big brewers are ‘hopping’ on board.

And just like during the Cold War, when the world stockpiled enough nuclear weapons to destroy itself, too many hops will do the same thing to your cheeks.

If I ever wanted the mouth-puckering and eye-watering sensation of sucking a lemon — I would suck a lemon. It would be much cheaper than a bottle of extreme IPA and it would count towards my five a day.

I’ll go further and declare that some very ordinary brewers are using the astringency of an overblown hop profile to disguise the otherwise very ordinary nature of their beers. It is creating a one-dimensional range of drinks that I confidently predict (as someone who thought the iPad wouldn’t catch on) will have a very short lifecycle.

Passing phase

So my advice to publicans — for what it’s worth — is to sell the hell out of mega-hopped craft beer while the craze lasts and make a juicy margin from those customers who’ll pay a premium to be seen drinking the stuff. Enjoy watching them pretend to relish it, and make a side bet with your colleagues about whether they will buy a second, or revert to something less ‘challenging’.

Like Rubik’s Cubes, Hacky Sacks, yo-yos and hula hoops, super-hoppy beer is a passing phase being driven by a cool crowd, who will soon move on to something else, leaving a small, residual band of enthusiasts to sustain a niche market.

Meanwhile, hop farmers will inevitably have over-produced in anticipation of a permanent step-change in demand.

Then hop prices will collapse, and you’ll once again be able to buy them cheaply to hang decoratively from your ceilings.

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4 comments

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Consumer choice

Posted by G Jones,

Rob doesn't like 'extreme' well-hopped style beers? Fair enough.

We all have different tastes, if a particular style isn't to your liking you never have to look far to find something that is. The ever expanding choice is what I love most about the world of beer.

Whether chucking bucketloads of rare/unusual hops into a brew is a passing fad or not, brewers will continue to experiment and innovate. I look forward to finding out whether whatever's next hits the spot or is like sucking lemons, whilst still enjoying longer established ales with recipes unchanged in decades.

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A "fad" since 1981

Posted by Terry Collmann,

Why yes, this trend for extremely hoppy beers has only been going on in the US for more than 30 years now - it's clearly only a short-term fad. Great to see you've got your thumb firmly on the pulse of modern beer culture, Rob.

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Over Hopped beer

Posted by nixstar,

Here Here to this couldn't agree more

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