Thu Apr 18th, 2013 at 04:51:27 PM EST
Beer, like so many other consumer products, suffers from fashions. Somebody establishes a new idea that proves popular and then, before you know it, everybody is doing it, trying to cash in.
Twenty five years ago, beer in the UK was either brown with complex malty goodness or it was Guinness; with maybe a light ale just to give it a different flavour. Yellow was for lager and tasteless nonsense. As for the concept of hoppiness; unless you were actually involved in brewing, that was just that strange peppery taste you sometimes got in the back of the throat when you swallowed the beer. Apparently that was the bitterness, but if you didn’t really know how to interpret that information, that didn't really help.
Then a beer called Summer Lightning came along. Yellow it was, but sharp, bitter and more-ish as well. It was a revelation and stole drinker’s tastebuds. Other brewers took note and decided that they’d have some of that, thank you very much. Of course, it helps that yellow beers are cheaper to produce (pale malts have more fermentable sugars) and so are more profitable These days malty beers are rare as rocking horse manure while it seems that most real ales are a golden something or other.
Meanwhile, hoppiness has gone through a dozen fashion cycles, each one increasingly assertive. Now we have hops which are grapefruit, kiwi fruit or even tangerine in flavour. We are in the throes of what should be termed a Citric Revolution.
Over here, BrewDog started it off, about 6 years back and inspired by the cousins across the pond, BD brought out their “PunkIPA” which, for the time, was a revelation. A no-nonsense aggressively grapefruit hop flavour that was the first British beer to emulate the big hop boomers we’d been enjoying from the USA. It was rightly successful.
Of course, when something becomes dominantly popular, the problems start. At the moment all brewers seem to be playing with new hops, hoping to be the first to get their hands on the next big flavour thing. For a punter selecting a beer it seems you have to carry a copy of Hop Growers monthly, know your hops and the impact they have on beer. American Citra. New Zealand Sauvin, Mouteka, then find the brewers who do single varietal hop beer. Keep up to date. It’s great for the scoopers and tickers (beer anoraks), but for everyone else, not so much. I admit I lost track a while back.
I must say I really wouldn’t mind, I really enjoy many of the great beers that there are around these days, but most of these new hop beers are dull. It seems that, to show off the new varieties, the brewers think that all they have to do is concoct some thin golden beer with little intrinsic flavour as a base and then add in the hop de jour and hey presto, a brand new beer. Maybe I’m not the most discerning of tasters but to me they all appear to be some combination of grapefruit and lemon. They’re samey and boring, forgivable perhaps, but I just don’t think they’re very good beers and I’m sick to death of them.
You see, for all that everybody says they’re following the lead of the Americans, you won’t find any of the USian brewers making the sort of thin hoppy slop now found all over the UK. Yes, they brew hoppy bitter beers but, they do so much more than that. For all their hop innovation, their beers are full-bodied with a rounded and dangerously drinkable flavour.
I’m probably coming over as some grumpy romantic nostalgic for the days when beers were rancid and tasted of dust and flies, but I’m not. There are some cracking beers being made today, better beers than I’ve ever had. It’s just that they all taste of so much more than just lemon or grapefruit.