It 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?