Hop Cigars

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I’ve been known to enjoy a nice cigar after a big meal, often paired with a LBV port or a big beer. I used to have a small humidor, but after the kids came along I noticed I hardly ever sparked one up, so I got rid of it, and the cigars that were inside, a decade ago. Still, I’ve accepted a cigar from friends while out at beer events from time to time, and I confess I do enjoy the ritual of a cigar, how it slows down the pace of life and forces you into an unhurried, relaxed state. Even so, I’m not quite sure what to make of these. A cigar company is making cigars that are “seasoned” with Centennial hops. The company, Hopz, markets them as “craft beer cigars” with tobacco from the Dominican Republic.

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Ted’s Cigars carries two different sizes of Hopz cigars. The first is the “Toro
hopz-toro

The second is the “Petit Corona.”
hopz-petit-corona

Here’s the story about how the Hopz cigar came to be:

One evening, after a particularly lengthy “meeting” at the local pub, it occurred to Ted that he should set out to create the perfect smoker’s complement to his favorite IPA.

He experimented with dozens of craft beers, and equally as many hop varieties, until settling upon Centennial Hops, known for their robust floral aroma, to season this premium Dominican Republic Cigar. The result is the HOPZ® Craft Beer Cigar.

We use the same aromatic process that we use to season our Maker’s Mark Bourbon Cigar to give this 6×50 toro its remarkable ale-like qualities, and then seal it in a glass tube for freshness. When paired with an extra-hoppy IPA this cigar makes the already pleasurable experience of a well poured pint worth sitting down for. Ted invites you to do the same.

Hmm, I can’t decide if that sounds ideal or completely foul. The claim is that they’re perfect to pair with hoppy beers. Anybody try one? What do you think? Is this a good idea?

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The Hopometer

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Today’s infographic is an interactive one called The Hopometer, which is subtitled “Visualising beer strength and bitterness.” It was created by Peter G in London, whose blog Paint by Numbers is used for “focusing on [his] experiments with data visualisation predominantly using Tableau Software.” That’s why you really need to look at it on his page.

The_Hopometer
Click here to see the interactive original version of the Hopometer.

Weigh In On What’s The Big Deal About IPA?

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For our 77th Session, our host is Justin Mann, who writes his eponymous Justin’s Brew Review. His topic is to question the popularity of craft beer’s fastest growing category: IPAs. Or as he puts it, “What’s the Big Deal About IPA?

For quite some time now, I’ve been wondering what makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular. Don’t get me wrong–I thoroughly enjoy it and gladly participate in #IPADay. I’m just wondering, why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild? Is it because CBEs want to differentiate craft beer from crap beer? I don’t care if a watered-down pilsener is labeled as “triple-hops brewed”; it wouldn’t satisfy someone looking for an IPA.

At the same time, not all CBEs prescribe to the IPA way. The author (a beer writer!) of a recent article proclaims that “hoppy beer is awful” and that it is allegedly “alienating people who don’t like bitter brews”. I happen to like IPAs and DIPAs, so I’m not going to preach about only non-hopped craft beer, as the author suggests, just to turn people away from over-commercialized yellow-colored water. Besides, maybe the bitterness and hoppiness of an IPA is exactly what some beer drinkers that have yet to be introduced to the ways of craft might want.

So what’s the deal? Let me know what you think by sending me a link to your blog post on July 5. Or if you’re not a blogger, I’d still love to hear what you think. Leave a comment [on his announcement post], or connect with Justin’s Brew Review on your favorite social media platform.

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So on Friday, July 5 — the day after celebrating American independence with a hoppy beer — weigh in on what’s the big deal with these hoppy brews, these “eepas.”

Alice outstanding in her field ... hop field, that is.
My daughter Alice in the hop fields on harvest day several years ago.

Pedigrees Of Common Hop Varieties

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Today’s infographic is a dizzying chart of Pedigrees of Common Hop Varieties, created at the University of Minnesota, who began doing hop research in 2010. They describe the poster as a “24×36-inch poster [that] displays the pedigrees for over 40 varieties of hops developed by English, American, German, and Japanese breeding programs. From Brewer’s Gold to Bravo, Centennial to Millenium, Chinook to Challenger.” It’s also available for purchase.

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Click here to see the chart full size.

Ruining Craft Beer With Hop Bombs

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-four hours, you’ve no doubt seen the provocative article on Slate, Against Hoppy Beer, The craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews, by Adrienne So. I’d been hoping to avoid taking the obvious bait, but I find myself thinking about the article itself, the way it’s gone viral and the two camps that have been set up online defending or decrying it.

From Slate’s point of view, it’s a massive success. As of this morning, almost 1500 people have left a comment, nearly 4,000 shared it on Facebook, and it’s currently one of the most read and shared articles on Slate. That’s eyeballs on the page; that’s money in the bank. But the article itself, though there are a few deep flaws, isn’t itself that inflammatory. It’s that headline, or as Stan points out: headlines. Because while the page itself displays Against Hoppy Beer, The craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews, e-mailing it changes the headline to Hops Enthusiasts Are Ruining Craft Beer for the Rest of Us and bookmarking it saves the headline Hoppy beer is awful — or at least, its bitterness is ruining craft beer’s reputation. If you look in your browser bar where the URL you’re at is displayed, you’ll see that’s what it’s titled online in the address. To me, that suggests that the last one was Slate’s original online title and the plan from the beginning was to pull people in with intentionally inflammatory, and somewhat misleading, headlines. It’s certainly not the first time, for them, or many other websites. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s a rare article of mine that has the same title when I started as what ends up printed on the page or displayed online.

To me, that’s the ticking hop bomb, not necessarily the article itself, that discourse so often happens online in response to something incendiary rather than just as a desire to have a discussion or to address issues important to us a loosely defined group.

hop-bomb

Because the issue of balance in beer is certainly a worthy one. Or as Stan Hieronymus muses.

It’s good to call for balance in beer, and too bitter is too bitter. Although perhaps there could have been a little more, well, balance. Maybe more about why there’s more to “hoppy” than bitterness.

But if the transition from bland, flavorless macro beer to a craft beer landscape should have taught us anything, it’s that there’s plenty of room for lots of kinds of beer: hoppy, malty, sour, dark, light, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That hoppy beers have been in ascendency for a few years now is certainly true, but so what? All flavorful beer is selling more and more each day.

So admits that “[n]ot all craft beer is hoppy. There are many craft breweries that seek to create balanced, drinkable beers that aren’t very bitter at all.” How could she not? She blames Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for starting it all, perhaps forgetting Anchor Liberty Ale was the first beer to use Cascade hops and was considered very hoppy in its even earlier day. But as Jeff Alworth correctly points out, it wasn’t so much that those beers introduced imbalance, they re-introduced a new mix of flavors, ones which emphasized a bit more hop character than a majority of Americans were familiar with in the 1970s. I was alive, and drinking then, and can tell you there were not a lot of hoppy beers to compare these with. As Alworth puts it. “That was shocking because we’d slowly leached all hop character from hops and told customers that bitterness was the enemy. THIS was the bizarre position.”

Maybe it’s the bubble of Portland that has given So the impression that hoppy beers are the big sellers, but again, as Alworth points out. “When you look at the best-selling craft beers, they’re not hoppy: Fat Tire, SN Pale, Boston Lager, Blue Moon, Widmer Hef. Those five beers account for at least four million barrels—something like a fifth or a quarter of the market.” For several years, IPAs have been the fastest growing category in mainstream grocery stores, as reported by Nielsen and IRI, but you have to remember that’s from a very small base, and is not representative of the market as a whole. But even that aside, breweries are at heart, businesses. If their hoppy beers were not selling, they’d stop making them. Which begs the question. How can something that’s selling, and selling, be ruining a market that continues to keep growing? I’ve heard brewers tell me that they feel like they have to have at least one hoppy beer in their line-up, because customers expect it, and want it. Does that sound like a situation in which hoppy beers are alienating the customer? Or ruining the market?

Whenever I hear the canard that people don’t like bitter flavors, one word leaps to my mind: coffee. Please tell me again how people won’t drink something bitter? Go ahead, I’ll wait until after you’ve had your morning cup of joe, or even your Earl Grey tea. Even if you’re adding milk or sugar, it’s still a bitter concoction to some degree. Bitter is one of the basic tastes humans experience, and is present in virtually everything we eat and drink. Are there times when it’s too much? Of course, just as there are beers I find to be too sweet, or display too much oak character in a barrel-aged stout. Balance is the key, but sometimes even balance can be overrated, if done well. If every beer was balanced in the exact same way, they’d all taste the same again. And we all know what happened to American beer when that was the case. There’s room in the beer world for all manner of beers on the continuum of possible flavors, and if you want something that’s not overly hoppy, there are many, many choices available. So concludes by suggesting what she believes everyone who loves, or is obsessed, with hops should do now. “Give it a rest.” To which I can only reply, in the words of the great Marcel Marceau, who spoke the only word in Mel Brooks’ film Silent Movie. “No.”

What I’d really like to see given a rest is the attention-getting, inflammatory headline in which the article that follows can rarely back up its provocative premise. It’s the schoolyard equivalent of “look at me, look at me!” It’s like saying hoppy beers are ruining craft beer, or they’re just awful or that they’re alienating people. Those are just headline grabbing stunts to lure people in. And, sadly, it works. But it doesn’t seem to do anything to further what might otherwise be a valuable discussion about the changing nature of peoples’ tastes, preferences and the marketplace. And now I think it’s time to go to the refrigerator and grab a Pliny. After all this, I sure hope it still tastes good.

UPDATE: And while I was writing this, Jeff Alworth also posted his own response, Hops Are Not A Problem, which is worth taking a look at, too. As he nicely points out, bitterness is relative, hoppiness isn’t just bitterness and different regions have different styles.