Hopped Up Eugene

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Often in life there is a turning point to a specific event or occurrence   A moment where you look at yourself and acknowledge (maybe with a choice explicative), that there’s no turning back now.  I know we’ve all had these moments so I don’t feel the need to embarrassingly relay any of my less than flattering times I’ve gotten in too deep, most of which occur after a pint or two. On the flip side, there exists a tipping point where everything starts to come together all at once, and good things start to happen.  You can call it hard work and timing, plain good luck, or maybe magic. Whatever the phenomenon, it feels good.

Everyone can get behind more choices! Flight at Ninkasi.
Everyone can get behind more choices! Flight at Ninkasi.

The craft beer industry feels like it’s right at that tipping point.  Both locally and nationally, we’re seeing big changes happening.  Granted, all of this success does come with a lot of worries.  Many of us get frustrated when domestic beer giants try to spend there way into looking like a fresh new craft beer company.  Third Shift Lager, anyone? And for every new craft brewery startup, the founders may be wondering if the bubble is going to burst. But for the rest of us, craft beer is finally opening us up an entirely new world of tastes and experiences.  Before if you wanted to try a new style, a tiny beer bar was usually your best bet.  Now, the local pub and grocer are offering more and more choices.  It means they’re listening to the customer, and craft beer is coming out on top. It also means that people who used to be 100% “yellow beer” drinkers and 10 times out of 10 stuck to their Buds, Millers or Coors, are trying craft beer and enjoying the choices and variety that they bring.

With these additional choices, you may have some questions as your palate tries more, and generally more hoppy, beers of the pacific northwest.  You may not like all, or any, IPAs and you may be wondering why.  So, this post is not intended for those of you who already know what you like and why.  Nor is this intended to be a catch-all for craft beer.  Craft beer is complex and different and varied.  Every style is unique, as is every beer and every batch within that style.  But, for the sake of getting a few quick FAQs out there, I’ve compiled a small list of a few common “hoppy” craft beer questions and answers.  

Fresh hops ready to be brewed last fall.
Fresh hops ready to be brewed last fall.

1. What exactly are “Hops”?  Hops are a vine cone plant (cousins to cannibis) that grow extremely well in the same type of climates as grapes.  This is one of the reasons why Yakima Valley is the number one place to grow hops.  Many gardens and farms in Eugene also grow hops, and you’ll see the female cones flowering in the summer which can later be used for brewing.  The hops are added at different times in the brewing process for bitterness and aroma.  Each hop variety will add something different, which sometimes can mean a real sticky mouthfeel, a piney flavor or a grapefruit aroma.

2. What are the most common hop varieties?  If you can only remember two, just remember your geography. The two most popular hops, especially for pacific northwest pale ales and IPA’s (and this is only based on my opinion), are Cascade and Willamette hops.  Cascade hops are often where you get the citrusy and floral aroma and hop character.  Willamette hops are more fruity and floral.

You can also generally count on the “3 c’s” for IPAs; Cascade, Centennial and Columbus.  All are citrusy with a slight “resin” flavor.  Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means yet- it takes time to be able to distinguish hop characteristics.  Other hops to know are Simcoe, Summit, Crystal and Amarillo.  I better stop myself before I start listing them all, but my point is that there are lots of different hops, and lots of different combinations.  So if there’s a beer or a brewery that you don’t like, you may not like that specific hop variety that’s being used.

Outside Boneyard's Brewery in Bend, OR. Their popular IPA, RPM, uses 4 different hop varieties.
Outside Boneyard’s Brewery in Bend, OR. Their popular IPA, RPM, uses 4 different hop varieties.

3. I don’t like hops because I don’t like the bitterness.  Now what? You’re going to hate me for saying this, but don’t knock the hops.  First off, hops aren’t 100% responsible for the bitterness.  There can be countless different reasons why a beer is bitter (including the possibility that something when wrong in the brewing process).  Secondly, and if you read question 2 you’ll know, there are many different hop varieties and each one has a different mouth feel, a different taste and a different aroma. And if you think you’ve tried them all, you haven’t because new hop strains are being developed every year. Lastly, beer isn’t just hops.  Don’t give up on craft beer just because you had one (or ten) beers with a hop forward profile that you didn’t like.  There are plenty of breweries that are making beers that have exciting and complex malt profiles, fun things going on with the yeast, and interesting barrel-aged experiments. You can still enjoy and love craft beer, without falling for every double or triple IPA.

That’s all for this week.  Let me know your follow up questions or comments and I’ll either give you my unscientific opinion, or try to find someone who actually knows the answer.

Cheers, Lana

EDN's Beer Writer, Lana O'Brien, loves talking about beer as much as she loves drinking it. From bartending to home-brewing and now writing for EDN, she's on a mission to discover the best local craft beers. Follow along in her weekly column, Hopped Up, every Wednesday. Connect @lanaobrien.

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