Saturday, June 16, 2012

it's only too hoppy if you get a nosebleed


Trafalgar Brewing India Ink Black Pale Ale | Oakville | Ontario


Amsterdam Brewing Company Boneshaker India Pale Ale | Toronto | Ontario

I enjoy beer, I really do. It all goes back to drinkability, this whole idea of adults treating alcoholic drinks as thirst-quenchers. Personally, my decisions around what wine to buy and drink revolve around the food I want to eat. That sort of thought process applies less to beer drinking. In the case of these specific beer (styles), food almost should never play a role, because these extreme New World IPA's are so aggressive in their hop profile that they obliterate anything else you put in your mouth. It's great to see the spirit of innovation and experimentation shown by this new wave of North American brewers, but at the same time, I think there's still something to said about balance, and a more humble sensibility.

Are hop-bomb beers drinkable? Can brewers go a bit too hard towards that bitter extreme? There's no doubt that watery, mass-produced plonk (Budweiser, Molson, Coor's, etc.) is an inexcusable choice for anyone professing to enjoy beer - there's simply no reason good enough for proper beer drinkers to be drinking tasteless, characterless beers, not with all the fabulous craft beers now available. But I can't help but feel that these extreme, hop-forward beers try to go for the knockout punch and forget what makes beer so wonderful in the first place.

In the Middle Ages, a Belgian monk was venerated for advising villagers to drink beer instead of water, as a safer alternative to ward off disease. We can't forget that beer is meant to be, first and foremost, refreshing. These two beers, very much like those wines that try to knock your head off are anything but drinkable. Well made, certainly - impressive even, but when/with what do you drink them? People say spicy food works with these IPA's, but the fact that they're so bitter makes the heat even worse. Savoury? Not a chance against such bitterness. On its own? Still, simply just too hoppy.

The Trafalgar India Ink is interesting - an IPA that thinks it's a stout. Why not just be a proper stout? The Amsterdam Boneshaker, such an appropriate name. Both these beers have such high alcohols that they almost seem like a novelty . . . you have a taste with some friends, just to marvel at how hoppy and alcoholic a beer can be, and then open some proper drinking beers for dinner. And beers are not supposed to be for tasting instead of guzzling, because if any drink is supposed to be unstuffy and for the people, it's beer.

It's all about drinkability. Knockouts are fun to watch for the uninitiated, but the real boxing fan appreciates the footwork, the hand speed, the methodical round by round beatdown. It's such an American thing, but this trend of let's see how hoppy we can get this beer too shall pass.


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