Two hemispheres of IPA


I know Michael Jackson (insert overused “not that Michael Jackson, the other one” here) was famous for saying that the United States was the world leader when it came to beer.
And he was right in a lot of ways. I’m sure that, if I went on a trip to the US, I’d be drunk most of the time. And would no doubt have carry-on luggage that clinked on the return flight.
But if there’s one thing I don’t like about the US scene is its apparent obsession with overly-hopped IPAs. See, in Australia, we have brewers that will make an American IPA but will ensure that it’s also balanced. It’ll definitely have a kick, but it doesn’t cause you to pucker your lips, squint your eyes and wonder if you’re going to be able to finish the bottle.
The Sierra Nevada hemisphere hop ales offer a neat example of this. The Southern Hemisphere, made with dried, fresh hops from New Zealand is a nice piece of work. It makes use of the NZ hops but doesn’t go overboard, resulting in a beer that’s over 7% but doesn’t seem like it.
But then we have the Northern Hemisphere wet hop ale and, guess what, it’s exactly what I expected from a US IPA. I don’t exactly mean that in a good way either. The dominant characteristic is bitterness. A bitterness that I didn’t acclimatise to by the halfway point in the glass. A bitterness that was always front and centre regardless of the fact that my palate was somewhat deadened by the few beers I’d already had.
Some of the US IPAs I don’t mind, but as an occasional thing. There is simply no way that I could drink it regularly but they’re an enjoyable novelty. But some others, not so much. Like the Northern Hemisphere – the bitterness was so overwhelming that is made it impossible to enjoy the beer.
Seems the approach some US brewers take with hops is like a restaurant that cooks a meal so laden with a certain spice that it’s all you can taste. You know there were a number of other ingredients that went into the dish, but it’s that spice which is all you can taste.
And surely it’s easier to crank up one ingredient to overwhelming levels than to feature it while also ensuring it’s in balance with everything else.
Would I drink them again?: The Southern Hemisphere, yep. The Northern Hemisphere, no. In fact I didn’t even finish my glass.

2 replies »

  1. This post reminds me of why we so often say in the US, “Go hard or go home.”

    Unbalanced palate busters is what we do best! USA! USA! USA!

    Granted, my taste buds actually like that kind of thing, too. I haven’t had either of these brews, but my interest has increasingly grown in New Zealand hops (along with an appreciation for all the “C” hops of America).

    • Well, you’ve got to go with what your palate likes. For myself, a lot of these intensely-hopped numbers are novelty beers. The beer you drink to say you’ve had it, rather than one you’d go back to. I’m also thinking of Green Flash’s accurately named Palate Wrecker here.
      I’m sure there are some great beers made in the US that aren’t hop bombs. One of them that springs to mind is Samuel Adams Noble Pils – so delicious (but bear in mind that the US beers that make it down here are only a small, small fraction of those that are available to you).
      And even some of those highly hopped ones can work – I think the Green Flash West Coast IPA is a nicely balanced beer, even with the loads of hops in there.
      For me it’s all about balance in the end. You can have loads of hops (or whatever other ingredient comes to mind) but make sure it doesn’t dominate proceedings.

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