I didn’t start truly appreciating the complexity of the IPA until I started homebrewing.
Translation: I didn’t know what all went into an IPA until I made really, really undrinkable, terrible disgusting beer.
Prior to reading The Complete Joy of Homebrewing from Chuck Papazian, I was certain I knew all there was to know about beer flavors. I mean I had sampled everything from Bud and Bud Light, Miller Lite and MGD, Coors and that Coors Banquet stubby buddy, to the rarer Ice-based beers like Bud Ice and Icehouse, and the canine brands like Red Dog, national brands like Falls City, regal royal brands like Olde English, the bull-centered brand Red Bull (the malt liquor not the energy drink), and then let’s not forget Keystone, Old Milwaukee, Pabst and Old Style. DANG. I think I just described the entire world of beer, y’all. I’m a cultured guy, what can I say?
But here I am holding a copy of the book, which is a second copy because I had too many post-it flags sticking out and smeared scribbled notes in the margins, not to mention spills and unknown sticky substances soaked into it. Learning about all of the different beer styles and where they come from is fascinating. And if you buy some of those beers after reading about them, it’s considered research and you can justify those purchases as an educational expense with your accountant. Trust me. I write about beer; I am to be trusted.
So here are some shared learnings:
So, an IPA was hopped to high heaven to ensure it would survive the trip from Europe to India via the high-seas way back in the day, aye? OK, cool, so an India pale ale. Got it. This is about colonialism and world domination, and there is obviously no better way to empower your global thirst for power than dispensing strong, hoppy beers amongst your shipmates. But what does hoppy really mean? TIME TO GET SCIENCE-ISH?
*Puts on lab coat*
I began my quest to actually understand what these piney, dank, mini artichoke meets nug of kush type “flowers” were actually used for in beer and how their different complexities and competing layers can make vastly different flavors. It seemed I had to ruin a few beers on my own to truly understand the process…
There’s a laundry list of varieties and the same hop can be used for multiple reasons: first wort hops, bittering hops, flavoring hops, finishing hops, dry hopping, wet hopping, DOUBLE dry hopping... I had so many new additions to my vernacular at the same time, I was bound to screw this up. So here I am opening up every single silver packet of hop pellets that arrived in my homebrew kits, WEEKS BEFORE I NEEDED THEM. Imagine me sitting at a desk with dozens of one to three-ounce packets of varying hop packages, all labeled in tiny illegible print that smudges when you cut into the packet. Green hoppy dust coated my entire life for days after this experience.
Because I didn’t have any zip bags handy, some hops just ended up loosely tucked back into their sliced open bags, some were folded into random newspapers, and some were just scooped into a red solo cup. Certainly, these stupid hop mistakes were as bad as the time I received my first smack pack of yeast and SMACKED IT, seven weeks before I had a brew day planned for no other reason than I get off on smacking things in a suggestive fashion. But how else do you figure this stuff out? I’m sure Bobby Budweiser smacked every smack pack of yeast back in 1876 before his stuff hit the internet back then. I MEAN SERIOUSLY FOLKS.