Monday, July 20, 2009

Are You a Hophead?

Are you a hophead? Since my beat-up copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a hophead as "North American slang for a drug addict," you might want to think carefully before you answer.

Me, I'm definitely a hophead, though of the milder sort than some. By that I mean I can also appreciate a good malty brew, like a Scotch Ale or a doppelbock; a beer doesn't have to have 50+ IBUs for me to get my fix from it.

Still, I like hops. One of the key reasons I became a homebrewer two decades ago was that that was about the only way you could get real fresh, hoppy beers (unless you were lucky enough to live somewhere you could get Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on a regular basis). These days real hoppy beers aren't so hard to find and I probably brew more dark, malty beers than I do IPAs, but you never forget your first love.

So when I felt the need for a hit this weekend, I opened a 750ml bottle of Urthel Hop-It Belgian Blond Special Ale that I picked up in Anchorage last month. The story behind this ale illustrates both the love of hops and also how the beer scene in America has really become the envy of the world. Hildegard van Ostaden, a Belgian brewer, visited the Pacific Northwest (including the Great Alaskan Beer and Barleywine Festival) in January, 2005. In the course of the trip, she tasted so many amazingly hoppy IPAs that she was inspired upon her return to Belgium to start her own brewery and begin brewing hoppy beers with a Belgian twist. The first one was Hop-It.

The beer poured very clear, with a beautiful golden color and a thick white head of lovely pinpoint carbonation. The taste was very hop-forward, as you would expect, but with the spicy, peppery notes characteristic of a Belgian yeast. The 9.5% ABV is well-disguised, but makes the beer very warming as you drink it. All-in-all, it's a superb beer and a real tribute to the kind of cross-pollination that makes this a wonderful time to be a beer drinker.

Speaking of hops, the latest of Kenai River Brewing Company's Single Hop IPA series is on tap; this one is hopped with Vanguard hops. For those of you who may have forgotten, the Single Hops are brewed identical to KRB's Sunken Isle IPA, with the exception of using only a single variety of hops. This really lets the different characteristics of the hops shine through.

In this case the Vanguards are a hybrid of the Hallertau Mittlefruh hop, and shares a lot of the same character as that German variety. It made for a delicious IPA, with lots of hop bitterness but without any of the citrus or resin notes of some of the more usual Pacific Northwest hops, like Centennials or Cascades. Very nice.

Finally, my lovely wife Elaine and I stopped by St. Elias on Friday to grab a pizza and a beer before heading out to listen to some live music. The Marathon Mild was still on, so no Vanilla Porter yet. Zach estimates it will be on sometime this week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!


insaenpleasures said...

A few years ago now, the owners of Dogfish Head did a funny video about "Hopheads". I have not been able to find it since but it was done documentary style.

Bill Howell said...

I believe this is it:

Funny as hell!!



William said...

FYI...Marathon Mild ran out last night (7/22) so the Porter should be on today. Can't wait!