Pushing the boundaries of hoppiness = happiness?

This past friday I was up at a buddy’s place here in Carneros and we opened a 22 ouncer of Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. This is SN’s “Imperial IPA” offering and a dandy of high alcohol and out of control hoppiness.

The beer is brewed with a heady dose of Magnum, Simcoe hops and other proprietary hop strains exclusive to the good brewery up in Chico. Hoptimum is a golden colored ale with a frothy head and an aggressive slap in the face of hop aromas. What stands it apart from other double IPA’s is a thick resiny finish that’s almost like sipping hop oil.

Not a brew to pound, the Hoptimum is a beer to sip while one reflects on how far American brewing has come.

But has the hop trend gone to far? While the standardized brewing guidelines for an Imperial IPA do allow for “high to absurdly high hop bitterness” it sometimes seems to me an ego contest between breweries to make the hoppiest brew on the market.

This has resulted in some fine beers, Pliny the Elder and Hop Stoopid being two examples. But while drinking a Hop Stoopid one evening I wondered if by trying to achieve the title of hoppiest brew, had American craft brewing begun to leave the rest of the beer loving public behind. For beverage nerds like myself and my friends a 22 ounce of high hoppy ale is an exciting tasting opportunity. For many other drinkers, something like the Hoptimum would likely be disgusting and not anything they would recognize as beer.

But as we have pushed the boundaries of hoppiness, in the high hops arms race so to speak, breweries have also improved overall quality, diversified the American beer scene and truly revolutionized what had once been a somewhat obscure British beer type, the India Pale Ale.

Had it not been for the original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, that pushed the boundaries of hoppiness back when it was first released we would never have reached this point today at which we can begin to wonder if hoppiness has gone too far. So drink up you hop heads for it is those who continue to probe the limits of gravity, IBUs and hop clonal selection that continue to push American brewing forward.


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