Hoppy Days

30 04 2007

I attended my 11th(!) beer class tonight at Tria Fermentation School. I’m such a regular there that the staff knows my name. Should I be embarrassed by that? I just really like it there. Oh, and I really like beer.

Tonight’s session was led by Mitch Steele, the head brewer at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego. Like a lot of West Coast craft brewers, Stone is notable for its hops-heavy beers. So, naturally, Steele’s topic was hops (“Hoppy Days Are Here Again,” to be precise). And I have to say I learned quite a bit. Hops, of course, are added to beers to provide bitterness, which—in a good brew—will balance out the sweetness provided by the malt. Hops can add fruity, earthy, floral, and spicy flavors. Hops help a beer retain its head. And hops help prevent spoilage, which is why, back in the day, those British brewers packed their products with hops before sending them off to India, giving us what we now know as India Pale Ales (IPAs)….

All that said, I’m not always a huge fan of hops. There are so many good flavors in beer, and I’m more than a little perplexed at the emphasis that so many brewers place these days on hops. And for my palate, anyway, I need some real sweetness to balance out the bitterness that hops provide.

So, coming into tonight’s session, anyway, I was skeptical about Stone and its hops-heavy brews. But I was pleasantly surprised. We tasted seven Stone products, and five or six of those brews certainly featured hops over other components. It was nevertheless a tasty evening for me. Of the seven brews, one of my particular favorites was actually a fairly hoppy brew—Stone’s 10th Anniversary Ale. If there’s any justice, that limited-edition brew will gain a regular place on Stone’s roster. It was pine-y and anise-y, and the bitterness of the hops somehow didn’t overcome those flavors.

I often like the smell of hoppy beers a lot more than the flavors. Tonight, for instance, I thought Stone’s IPA and, particularly, it’s Double Dry-Hopped IPA smelled incredible. The flavors were good, too, but—somehow or other—it was the smell that primarily sold me on those beers.

My favorite flavor of the evening came from Stone’s Old Guardian Barley Wine. It’s not completely clear to me what makes a barley wine, and that’s something I should work on in my, um, beer education, I guess. Anyway, the Old Guardian Barley Wine is strong (11.3% alcohol), dark, yeast-y, and sort of maple-y(?). Actually, I swallowed my sample of Old Guardian Barleywine before I could completely figure out why it was so appealing to me. It definitely didn’t strike me as overly hoppy. There’ll be a next time for me to try Old Guardian Barley Wine, I hope….

What else did I learn tonight? Well, I learned that I should’ve attended UC-Davis, where I could’ve majored in Brewing Science. I don’t know how I’d’ve explained that to my parents, though. I should’ve asked Steele how he’d explained it to his parents…. If you’ll make me 19 again, I’ll go back to school and do it right this time. (No, really, I don’t want to be 19 again. Ugh.)

Some of the beers we sampled tonight just aren’t available on the East Coast, so it was awfully cool to have the chance to taste them. When I visit San Diego, though, I’m definitely headed to Stone Brewing.




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