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When you read a magazine, evaluating what to brew next, what are you looking for? Are you jumping right to the style? Is difficulty a factor? Adjuncts? From the beginning of my homebrewing life (early 2012), one factor has overshadowed every recipe decision for me: IBUs and the resulting  bitterness.

I don’t know, if I am more sensible to bitterness in beer than other people, but excessively bitter beers are just not drinkable to me. And I brew what I like to drink. Here is an important distinction: hoppiness is not equal to bitterness. Hoppiness describes the hop aromas and flavors, imparted to the wort by the hops added late in the boil, at flameout, or in dry-hopping.  Bitterness is –  well –  the taste of tar and soil and rocket fuel on your tongue when you force down that IPA that the hipster type at the bar described as a “revelation and a challenge at the same time”.

I am perfectly fine with hoppy. I am not fine with bitter. I can deal with certain bitterness, but I am turned off by anything swings toward the dark side of the malty-bitter balance. Some time ago it was discovered that a gene is responsible, if a person tastes broccoli as bitter or not. Maybe the same is true for beer; maybe some drinkers perceive the bitterness less because of a genetic trait. That doesn’t change the fact that I prefer malty beers, and sometimes the IPA trend frustrates me.

Bars, pubs, and restaurants are proudly carrying whole shelves of IPAs, drowning out malt balanced options. Beer magazines have caught on and are riding the wave. Sometimes I can read really quickly through an issue of Brew Your Own by ignoring all IPA centered articles and recipes. As isolated as I sometimes feel with my taste, I am not alone.

What’s in a name

IPA, or India Pale Ale, got his name from its destination. It was brewed in England and exported to India, and later to other colonies including the Americas. Differing accounts exist about the strength of the early IPAs, but there is consent that it was strongly hopped, to survive the long sea voyage across the world.

In the US the Prohibition was the great brewing inhibitor. Brewing styles and recipes fell by the wayside and after America started drinking again, lagers dominated. It were the smaller breweries in the 1970ies that revived long neglected styles, among them the IPA.

Over the top

The rest is history. The IPA is now more successful than it ever was. But is it too successful? Is it now pushing other beerstyles from their well deserved spotlight? There are nuances, of course, and every IPA is not the same. There are some that I can drink, but I haven’t found one I actually enjoy. And isn’t enjoyment the point of drinking beer?

Again, I am not begrudging hop heads their fun, but I am pleading to not forget about the beer lovers, who just don’t like beer past a certain level of bitterness. On reddit I found proof that I am not alone, as evidenced by this post:

Poster Maltinger writes

I get it! Some people like bitter beers! Good for you! But does that mean that 3/4 of the table in some pubs have to be IPAs?

Other blogs and publications have sounded the same horn, but their voices are few and far in between. Tastes are changing, and that is where my hope resides. If tastes can swing to more bitter beers, they can swing back as well. Hopefully the chase for 100+ is a just what it is now, a craze that will eventually pass.

One can always hope.

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