Beer’s third-most-important ingredient, after water and barley, is almost as mystifying to most beer drinkers as Prohibition. But a new kind of beer has recently emerged that gives consumers an unprecedented ability to learn: the single-hop India pale ale.
It’s a style that demonstrates, as Boston Beer President Jim Koch once put it, that “hops are to beer what grapes are to wine.” Like grapes, the resinous flowers of Humulus lupulus are agricultural products that come in distinctive varieties, each with its own flavors and aromas. Instead of syrah and cabernet, the beer world has Simcoe and Cascade.
Most beers are brewed with a mixture of hop strains; brewers use some kinds primarily to produce a beer’s bitterness and others to add fruity, floral or herbal aromas. (Potent double and imperial India pale ales often pile them on: Founders Brewing’s Devil Dancer, for example, includes 10 varieties of hops.) Other beers, such as the 19 IPAs in the Single Hop Series from Denmark’s Mikkeller, use just one. That makes it possible for drinkers to understand the difference between, say, an earthy European hop such as East Kent Goldings (often featured in English bitters) and a fruity American hop such as Amarillo (a mainstay of West Coast IPAs), or to identify the nuances of similar varieties from one growing region.