Do I like America’s hoppy ales? Absolutely.
I had my first one maybe 20 years ago. I can’t for the life of me recall what brew it was — a Sierra Nevada? An ale produced by one of my homebrewing friends?
Regardless, the flavor was a revelation. My palate was so used to the thin, flaccid, weak lagers that were omnipresent in our great nation. This pale ale or India Pale Ale boomed in my mouth. It offered both malt sweetness and a florid, crisp finish.
Clearly, I was not the only American who was impressed. Highly hopped brews moved from brewpubs and beer-geek shops to groceries and the corner bar. And, America being the competitive place that it is, these brews got hoppier and hoppier. Making the bitterest beer possible became a point of pride for brewers, and a way to grab media attention. The hop shark was jumped a five years ago when Ontario’s Flying Monkeys claimed it had produced a 2,500 IBU ale. A Budweiser contains about 10 IBU, and more than a few online sources note the human palate has trouble discerning differences above a 100 or so IBU. Even Dogfish Brewery, which make some very fine and intriguing ales, not long ago touted Hoo Lawd, which scored 658 International Bitter Units (IBU).
These days, hoppy beers end up in my glass more often than not. In part, that’s because the eateries I go to tend to offer a bipolar beer menu — Coors, Miller, and the like, and lots of big ales, with maybe a few stouts and such. Chain grocery stores also stock these two extremes of beer heavily, along with shandy and fruit beers that little appeal.
So, I was delighted when an unexpected package arrived the other week carrying Riegele beers from Augsburg, Germany. The Wall Street Journal has reported that some brewmeisters are rebelling against German government rules limiting how brews may be made. I, however, am glad to see German breweries continue to make beers that taste, well, like a grain-based drink.
Riegele Commerzienrat Privat is a disarmingly simple Dortmunder brew. This dark straw colored drink has nearly no head, is slightly sweet, and slips from creamy (on the sip) to dry (on the gulp). Riegele Speziator Doppelbock Hell (a Maibock/Helles bock) is a little darker, and tastes very different. It’s more viscous, more malty, and weighs in at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Riegele Augustus Weizen Doppelbock is a foamy mouthful. It is loaded with malt and shows the crazy wheat beer notes of banana and raisin.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ll enjoy hopped ales until the day I die. But taking a vacation via the beers of Germany has been very invigorating.