There was one thing and one thing only that I could write about for the Spring Equinox installment of the Magic of Beer. As we welcome spring and all the rebirth of the green growing things around us, one flower stands out in the world of beer. The flower I speak of is Hops, a bright spring green flower that grows on vines and is used exclusively for beer. This little flower has an interesting history in that it was used not as beer flavoring but as a beer preservative. When the English Empire spread to India, the British subjects living there still wanted to enjoy a good pint of beer and hops was used in the brewing process to keep the beer fresh to survive the long ocean voyage to the Indian subcontinent. Over time, it became a familiar favor for beer and has enjoyed a renaissance with the microbrew boom in the US and across the world. There are several beer styles that use hops to give it that floral, hoppy, bitter taste. They include Pale Ales, India Pale Ales (IPA), and bitters, to name a few. Hops come in several varieties that grow all over the world but here in the US the Willamette Valley of Oregon is known for growing some fantastic hops.
But here is my confession, Juggler Readers. I do not like Hops. Or at least I thought I didn’t before I started exploring the Pale Ales for this feature. Truthfully, I still wouldn’t name hops among myfavorite flavors, but we have reached an understanding. Hops has a very distinctive bitter flavor. I read somewhere recently, though do not have a source to provide, that women are biologically programmed to reject the taste of bitter. Anthropologically, as the preparer of meals, women became in tuned with the flavors that might indicate food was spoiled or poisoned and often that meant bitter. Whether that is true or not, I do talk to many female beer drinkers who prefer a malty-er flavored beer over one that is excessively hoppy. Hops and I still have a rocky relationship but one of the things that has helped me come to terms with it is home brewing. I understand the hopping process now so I can see where it belongs in a well brewed beer. One thing I learned about hoppy beers is that the strong bitter taste can be overwhelming at first. That first taste can make someone decide not to finish the pint, but that is exactly you should do. The flavors will open up on your palate. There are some hoppy beers that I have learned to appreciate. I will showcase those beers here. However, because of the vast variety of hoppy beers, feel free to explore styles and brands on your own this spring.
New Belgium Mighty Arrow
New Belgium is one of my favorite breweries and a great one to support as Pagans due to their green initiatives. Mighty Arrow is named after a beloved border collie and features the pretty
dog on the label. Mighty Arrow has a sweet honey flavor, but not as strong as something like mead. The hops taste fresh and flowery without being too overpowering. It is crisp and refreshing.
This is a go to beer on tap for me in a lot of bars. I have featured an ESB before (New Belgium’s 2Below) and it remains a favorite. ESB means either Extra Strong or Extra Special Bitter depending on who you ask. The bitter refers to the use of the hops but it isn’t extreme. The result is a malty, drinkable, lighter beer with an unsurpassed mouth feel and great drinkability. Fullers is a British brewery and should be available just about anywhere you can get imported beer. I enjoy drinking a variety of beers and rarely do I have two of the same beers in one sitting, but this is an exception. One pint of this and I am looking forward to another pint.
Left Hand Sawtooth ESB
ESB is a favorite style now and I enjoy it often. I have even recently brewed my own ESB, results yet to be determined. I have written about Left Hand brewery from Colorado several times and I experienced Sawtooth on tap at a local bar. It was a nitro tap which is an excellent way to experience the real complexities of a beer. Left Hand Sawtooth tastes like velvet with a rich, luxurious flavor. The feel is creamy.
This local beer is very popular in Atlanta. It is Sweetwater’s flagship brew and it is exactly what you might want in a Pale Ale. I spent some time on a recent vacation getting intimate with this beer as it tended to be the best offering at several places we found ourselves. It is available throughout the South East and is worth a try. The hops are prominent and you really smell and taste the flower and because of that, this beer really tastes like spring.
Terrapin Hop Karma
Another local beer, this one brewed in the college town of Athens Georgia (Home of the University of Georgia). It is an interesting take on a hoppy beer in that it isn’t a pale ale at all. It is called an Indian Brown Ale or Brown IPA. The brewers took a more traditional Brown beer recipe (which is one of my favorites) and added a good dose of flavor, aroma and bittering hops. The result is a full flavored beer with complexity. It tastes like the first spouts of green growing things bursting through the dark, brown earth.
Bass Pale Ale
I had this post all ready to go when I realized I was missing something very important. Last night, I was at an event to benefit St. Baldrick’s, a foundation that raises money for childhood cancer research by accepting donations for people to shave their heads. This particular event was at a little comedy club near my home and truthfully, the beer selection wasn’t that great. I started with a 420 but then I wanted something a little smoother so I ordered a Bass. Bass is an English Pale Ale. The label even tells me it is the first English pale ale. The result is a rich malty beer with slight hops aroma and flavor but very little hops bitterness. It is the grandfather of Pale Ales and I would have been wrong to have excluded it.
This Equinox, spend the day honoring the new spring. Buy or plant some flowers, honor the gods and enjoy a hoppy beer.
And if you are in the southern hemisphere but haven’t yet been able to follow along with the magic of beer, check out the Autumn Equinox installment and Happy Fall!