Hopped to Perfection


Is it me, or is the east coast IPA slowly disappearing?   The maltier, orangier east coast style is creeping up the “Endangered Styles” list bit by bit.  In the IPA race, it seems that west coast (big hop aroma & bitterness, low malt profile), session (a low gravity west coast mutation), & the newer “Vermont-style” (back-loaded with hops for juicy aroma  & flavor, with low bitterness) are competing for the hearts & minds of the hop-craving populace.  The old guard east coast IPA, a stepping stone from the English ancestors with more crystal malt, a thicker base, & a darker body, is falling out of favor.

This is a little sensationalized – there are still plenty of east coast IPAs being sold (Victory’s flagship, Hop Devil, sure isn’t hurting).  But as far as what the kids are going for in an IPA these days, the bright, lighter, juicier hop bombs are in their hey day.  Ask for feedback on how to improve an IPA, & the answer will most likely be moving toward the modern model, throw in some Mosaic, Citra, lighten the color, trim the toffee/bready notes, & you’re getting there.  While there’s more breadth in this style than ever before, there also seems to be a gradual streamlining in the direction of some Socratic ideal, the collective unconscious’s perfect schema of an IPA.

Is it Heady Topper?  Maybe.  The rating sites would lead you to this conclusion, & plenty of brewers are now fashioning their hoppy offerings in this mold.  Or is it Pliny?  Or something from Hill Farmstead, or some other fill-in-the-blank brewery that’s catching the eyes of the beer geek populi.  I don’t know if we’ve cracked the code yet, but we’re certainly on our way.

The idea that there can be a “perfect” beer of any stripe is, to me, both distasteful & really intriguing, from a theoretical standpoint.  Rating sites & critical systems like the Beer Judge Certification Program imply that such an absolute exists.  What does a 50 point American IPA look, smell, & taste like?  It’s also a pretty fallible idea, really – beer, like anything else, will continue to evolve until a meteor wipes it off the face of the Earth.  People are already “over” the milestone examples I’ve mentioned & onto the next thing, which will soon also be passe. 

I say “distasteful” because I value diversity.  It’s a little sad to think that brewers might throw out old recipes in misguided attempts to keep up with the times, though I get that sharks need to keep moving.  The collective palate shifts, & businesses need to stay on top of what the public demands.  I pity the classic beers that end up in the vault, though, & there’s no reason that the same beer couldn’t do for someone today what it did for someone else ten years ago.  There are more drinkers of good beer now than ever, & I believe that we can bear the breadth of styles & tastes the supply side can yield. 

Speaking of Pliny - I give Vinnie Cilurzo a lot of credit for not changing the recipe.  After 15 years, Pliny still remains industry standard for double IPAs, is well-respected, & still commands a cult following.  I can imagine the temptation is there to throw in whatever hops are making tod’say geeks drool, but Vinnie has affirmed that Pliny is what it is, & hasn’t been updated to fit market trends. 

So maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, & there’s not as much obsolescence afoot as I imagine.  Part of me thrills at seeing the popular taste evolve & embrace different flavors that weren’t out a few years ago.  I just hate to see traditions & styles fall by the wayside, victim to the tides of public demand (as I’m sure the hop-averse can attest to) & those who can’t stand drinking the same beer twice.  So let’s not jettison something just because it’s been around for more than five minutes.  There is strength in diversity, & cultures thrive when there’s as much variety as possible.  Even if you might have already been there & done that, someone else down the line is getting their first taste of something great.  
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