One of my favorite authors is Henry David Thoreau, who in 1843 wrote A Walk to Wachusetts, which later became chapter 3 of Excursions. In it, he recounts a long walk taken with a friend, during which part of their journey included waking through hop fields. Here’s the passage:
This part of our route lay through the country of hops, which plant perhaps supplies the want of the vine in American scenery, and may remind the traveller of Italy, and the South of France, whether he traverses the country when the hop-fields, as then, present solid and regular masses of verdure, hanging in graceful festoons from pole to pole; the cool coverts where lurk the gales which refresh the wayfarer; or in September, when the women and children, and the neighbors from far and near, are gathered to pick the hops into long troughs; or later still, when the poles stand piled in vast pyramids in the yards, or lie in heaps by the roadside.
The culture of the hop, with the processes of picking, drying in the kiln, and packing for the market, as well as the uses to which it is applied, so analogous to the culture and uses of the grape, may afford a theme for future poets.
It’s hard to disagree with that. Hops on the vine, especially at harvest time, are a beautiful sight. They’re just so green, especially in person. These were at the Moonlight hop field in 2007.
So today is the second IPA Day, fun new holiday celebrating beer that showcases hops. For several years, IPAs have been the fastest growing style in mainstream outlets, and have been doing very well everywhere else, too. Very few breweries don’t have an IPA or a similar hoppy beer these days, though as recently as a decade, or a decade and a half, ago that was not the case. Being on the west coast, and relatively close to the hops, it’s hard not to get caught up in hop fever. As much as I love malty beers, sour beers and most other styles, an aromatic hoppy IPA is pretty hard to beat. I find myself gravitating toward a hoppy choice, especially if I just want to enjoy the aromas and flavors of what I’m drinking.
Harkening back to that earlier time, Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa has a 1/4-acre of hops that owner Brian Hunt uses for his fresh hop beer each year and invites friends and family to come up the brewery and help pick hops, just like in the old days when it was a community effort.
Brian Hunt with some of his freshly cut down hops.
My daughter Alice in 2009 in the Moonlight hop fields. I just love being in the hop fields at harvest time. It just smells so great and, as I said, it’s just so green.
Ashley Routson, who co-founded IPA Day (and works for Bison Brewing), had an interesting piece today at CraftBeer.com, The Ever-Emerging Sub-Categories of India Pale Ale, in which she identifies a multitude of shades and variations of IPAs.
- American-style India Pale Ale
- Belgian / Belgo IPA
- Black IPA
- Brettanomyces/ Wild /Traditional IPA
- English-style India Pale Ale
- Farmhouse IPA
- Fresh Hop IPA
- Imperial Black IPA
- Imperial (Double) India Pale Ale
- India Pale Lager (IPA-style, but fermented with lager yeast)
- Red IPA
- Rye IPA
- Session IPA (IPA flavor at lower than average ABV)
- Spiced/ Herbed IPA
- White IPA
I’m sure some people will quibble with her list, but I love the broader idea that IPAs are not just one thing, but are different things to different people. The only real common thread is that they’re generally beers that emphasize the hop aromas and flavors possible in a beer. To some they’re unbalanced, while still others find that enamel-scraping, ginormous hop character what makes them so delightful. I can see both sides of the coin, and under the right circumstances like both subtle hop beers and the bigger hit-you-over-the-head variety, too. There’s a time and place for both. And they’re all worth celebrating. Happy IPA Day.
Jumping in the dried hops, waiting to be baled, at Hop School in 2007. I’m so glad I had a chance to do it, but I was sticky the rest of the day. You really have to love hops to do this.