City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Beer Town: All-American hoppy beers are popular, but there’s a bitter debate

Pliny-LogoIt seems that the members of the American Homebrewers Association like their beers big and bitter.

For the fifth year in a row, they voted Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder the “Best Commercial Beer in America” in the annual poll conducted by Zymurgy magazine, the journal of the AHA. It’s also the fourth consecutive year that Bell’s Two Hearted Ale came in second.

The top five beers — 1. Russian River Pliny the Elder; 2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale; 3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA; 4. Bell’s Hopslam Ale; 5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA — are all in the American IPA or double IPA style category. And they all have loads of American hops, along with alcohol in the 7 percent to 10 percent by volume range.

But are these really the beers most Americans drink? Or are they just the favorites of beer geeks and hop freaks? As in most things, the answer depends on who you ask.

In May, beer writer Adrienne So penned a piece for Slate under the let’s-go-viral headline “Against Hoppy Beer,” saying that “the craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews.”

The swift and snarky reaction among many beer geeks was to brand So a troll.

But beyond the assertion that some people won’t ever get beyond the evolutionary instinct that tells them bitter is bad, it’s an undeniable fact that craft beer enthusiasts are in love with IPA.

Also in May, Shanken News Daily, an email service covering the spirits, wine and beer business, reported: “In markets around the country, beer retailers and bar operators say the heavily hopped India Pale Ale (IPA) style is now dominating the craft segment. While seasonal crafts (combined) are still craft beer’s top sellers, that’s unlikely to remain the case as IPAs continue to rise.”

In addition, Shanken reported that “retailers are carving out specific space in their cooler and shelf sets to merchandise IPA.”

Here in Atlanta, Green’s beer buyer Adam Tolsma says that the top sellers among craft beer in his two stores are Sweetwater IPA, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Terrapin Hopsecutioner, in that order. And Tolsma notes that Sweetwater IPA and Terrapin Hopsecutioner 12-packs in particular are big sellers during summer holiday season.

So maybe the AHA members are right. On the Fourth of July, if you aren’t drinking an American light lager, like Bud, there’s a good chance you are drinking an American IPA.

If you want to do a little reading while you sip an IPA over the Fourth of July break, you might want to pick up a copy of “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution” by Tom Acitelli (Chicago Review Press, $19.95).

As the subtitle suggests, Acitelli tells the story of how “America came to dominate the way we think, drink, talk and write about beer.” And, of course, the revolution was flavored by American hops.

Are you drinking IPA this summer? Or do you hate bitter brews?

6 comments Add your comment


July 3rd, 2013
1:10 pm

Hi. I’m kp. I like IPAs.

Deviant Dales has become my standard year-round after work beer. A blast of fresh hop flavor is just what is needed to unwind after work.

It’s not just the beer geeks going after the IPAs. I was talking with a guy at work one day, who by no means was a beer geek, just a beer drinker. We were discussing local restaurants. He mentioned a Mexican restaurant that he likes to go with his family on Tuesdays because they have a magician working the room to entertain the kids. He said they also make their own beer and have one called IPA that’s really good and what he gets every time he goes there. He was talking about the US Border Cantina in Alpharetta and Terrinzi’s hop bombs.

Bee Hive Haired cashier at Dooleys Den

July 3rd, 2013
1:41 pm

You spelled Chris’s name wrong.

Mr Know It All

July 3rd, 2013
1:47 pm

I don’t drink anything unless the label tells me when it is cold enough to drink.

Beer Geek

July 4th, 2013
5:09 pm

Thanks Bob for a great column.
There are not too many beers that I won’t drink. I enjoy my imperial IPA’s along with a great Octoberfest or a well balanced pilsner. I wonder if this hopfest that is engulfing the country is a passing trend or the real deal. Time will tell. This hopfest is making it harder to find a well balanced lager from a craft brew house. Especially here in the south.

Scott Piehler

July 4th, 2013
6:57 pm

Here’s my take on the whole hops thing. (Full disclosure-not a big IPA guy, but I enjoy a good one.)

The problem to me is hopheads who automatically think “higher IBU=better beer.” Hoppy, malty, whatever-it’s about taste. In many ways it reminds me of hot sauce freaks who only care about Scoville units. Great hot sauces aren’t just about heat, and great beers aren’t just about hops. Is the beer balanced? Does it represent the style well? Does it suit the food? I could go on.

Put it another way-car magazines are fixated on 0-60 times. Yeah, faster’s better, but a ZR1 Vette probably isn’t the best choice for hauling lumber. It depends on the situation.


July 7th, 2013
7:01 am

I am not a big fan of IPA’s; but I don’t think I’ve ever turned one down either. Too me, part of the pleasure of drinking beer, wine or coffee is trying something different. I don’t quite understand why so many people seem to get completely stuck on one thing. I am a little bit more of a season drinker. For example, I prefer light refreshing weisse (wheat beer) in the summer and stout or brown ale in the winter. It all gets down to a matter of personal preference though. I encourage folks to try something different from time to time. You’ll discover many other styles you’ll like besides IPA.