Wet Wednesday: In Search of More Hops

We're going to go all the way back to the beginning. Not the beginning of alcohol, but my personal drinking experiences. It started with Captain Morgan straight from the bottle at the fraternity of a good friend of mine. Later that college summer I started drinking beer from the keg. It was disgusting. I don't know if it was all the rum or the blacklight, but both the beer and I were a little green. Throughout that year of college, I realized that you can't just keep taking shots to maintain a level of drunkeness. And once you've had enough shots, you can't taste the beer anyways, so I started to develop a tolerance to the taste of beer.

The next summer I was at a house party that only had one handle and a fridge full of beer. A friend handed me a bottle of Pyramid Hefeweizen and for the first time in my life, I was amazed that beer could taste good. It had flavor. I ventured out trying many of the beers that now comprise our benchmark and determined that beer doesn't have to taste bad. Beer is more than a measured delivery system of alcohol to your bloodstream.

I started working on determining why I liked some beers over others. I like the general sweetness that applies to wheat beers. I prefer the heaviness of ales over the smooth and sometimes sour/bitter taste of lagers. I appreciate the chocolate/coffee/creamy maltiness of stouts and porters, but Guiness really isn't my personal preference. I LOVE HOPS. When I smell a nice hoppy IPA, I feel like a girl smelling her favorite bouquet from the boy she loves.

Upon graduating, I was so enamored with Pale Ales and IPAs that I kept searching for more hops. Double IPAs (aka San Diego Pale Ales) and higher alcohol contents because higher ABV in IPAs tends to correlate with more hops in the brewing process. I was fortunate to move into a house and meet the gentleman across the street who happened to be a certified beer judge for beer competitions. We went on a field trip to BevMo getting multiple 22oz. IPAs for our own tasting. I learned about "dry hopping," the process of adding hops after the brewing process to increase the hop flavor. The beer I remember fondly that day was AleSmith's X Extra Pale Ale. (GREAT taste without simply depending on more hops and higher alcohol content. This is what an IPA should taste like if you wanted slightly fruity flavors instead of just hop flavors.) With more of an understanding of hops and the brewing process, I continued on my quest for more hops.

Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA, Green Flash's West Coast IPA, Stone IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, Left Coast (Oggi's) Torrey Pines IPA and Hop Juice Double IPA. Every time I tried a new IPA, if it had more hops than the previous, I liked it more. I began to worry that I would never find enough hops...that I would always be in search of more...until I made the step from the Ruination IPA to the Hop Juice. It says right on the label that the Ruination IPA is so named for the ruinous affect on your palate. That once you try such an amazing beer you won't be able to truly enjoy any lesser beer, because your mind will always drift back to greatness. They were right. When I moved on to the Hop Juice, I finally found something that was too hoppy. It came of as more liquid hops than beer. It smelled and tasted like plants, not beer. The name was actually very appropriate.

The Stone Ruination IPA is perfection on my tongue. It pours in a pint glass with a perfect head that looks like a cloud sitting atop the perfect colored beer. The foam looks so heavy and so light at the same time. It adds to your first sip, but doesn't go away. It's strong enough to remain as you put the glass to your lips many times, yet never interferes with your swallow of beer. You never accidentally inhale the foam unless you become too enamored and literally dip your nose in it as you try to take in more of its perfect aroma. You can smell the hops without feeling like you're in a green house. Your first sip forces you to step back and realize it's going to take a while to finish this beer, both because it is heavy enough that you can't handle more than a sip at a time and it is amazing enough that you want the experience to last as long as possible. If you have ever heard someone refer to beer as liquid bread, then this would be the greatest bread you have ever tasted. It has enough alcohol (7.7% ABV) that a single 22 could get you buzzed, but you are never turned off by any hint of too much alcohol. It's never sour or sweet. It leaves the perfect rings of foam around your pint glass as a good pale ale should. It has more hops than most people can handle without having too much. In fact, with most characteristics of this beer it strives to push the envelope without ever being too much. A six pack is usually $15.99 and a 220z. bottle is usually $5.99 and it is worth every penny.


  1. Aaron - we're going to have to sit down together one afternoon/evening and teach me what hops actually taste like. Also - how does one tell how much hops are in a bottle simply by looking at it? Inquiring minds want to know!

    PS I enjoyed this walk down memory lane. For some reason, I always assumed you took to beer like a fish to water...

  2. That was a big part of my quest. There was no way of knowing when you ordered a beer or picked up the bottle if it actually did have more hops and more of a hop flavor than other beers. In Pale Ales and IPAs more hops tend to correlate with higher ABV, but this isn't a rule by any means.

    IPAs are named India Pale Ales because English brewers needed to create beers that could survive many months in a sailing ship as it went around the Cape of Good Hope on its way to India. Brewers didn't have the greatest technology a few hundred years ago, but they did know that hops and alcohol acted as natural preservatives and so this combination was born.

  3. Actually, this was a big part of my quest. When you order a new beer or pick up a bottle, there is now way of knowing how much hops or hop flavor the beer actually contains. In IPAs higher hop content tends to correlate with higher ABV, but this is not a rule by any means.

    IPAs are called India Pale Ales because English brewers needed a beer that could survive the many months it took a sailing ship to go around the Cape of Good Hope on its way to India. They didn't have very much technology a few hundred years ago, but they did know that hops and alcohol acted as natural preservatives and thus the combination was born. More hops and more alcohol meant great tasting fresh beer for English colonists in India.

  4. As for trying to taste the hops, I would start with a normal ale, such as Bass (which should have minimal hop smell and taste), then move up to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, then a Stone IPA, then the Stone Ruination IPA. Each time, look for a distinct plant taste, almost like freshly mowed grass or a lot full of weeds. It won't really be sweet like flowers or pine trees. It won't smell like walking through a field of wheat, but through a forest with tall grass and no pine trees. It should actually remind you of generic plants.

  5. So I thought my first comment was accidentally deleted...and I rewrote it from memory. But it turns out it wasn't deleted. So now I have two comments that are almost identical and I need to try and decide which one to delete. But as I read between the two, I'm kind of intrigued at what parts are exactly the same and which use slightly different language. I kind of want to analyze my own writing between the two comments. Why did I use a contraction in one and not the other?

  6. I absolutely love Aaron's tour de force in these comments. I am equally fascinated by the differences in versions 1 and 2 of his non-deleted "lost comment".

    Though I am not a huge fan of IPAs, the Ruination is a definite exception. I don't go out of my way to put them in my fridge, but every time I have a Ruination I am impressed. I am perpetually impressed.

    In a sign of how popular this beer has become, it is now on the beer shelf at my local Vons in Los Angeles. They sell it for $5.99 for a 22oz bottle.