IPA Challenge – Over-hopped or over hops?

I was at the Malthouse on Saturday for the third West Coast IPA Challenge. I was expecting hops, hops and nothing but hops, but I didn’t get it. And that’s a good thing.

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s no shortage of healthy, resinous, clears-the-sinuses American hops in both Epic Armageddon and Hallertau Maximus Hopulus Lupulus, and I’m a big fan of just that kind of beer.

What surprised me is how well-rounded both brews taste. I missed the West Coast Challenge last year, and I seem to remember the first WCIPAC gave us strongly hopped but one-dimensional beers. (Forgive me if that’s not your recollection – my memory is imperfect and I work to make it worse.) So I was expecting one-trick ponies, but instead I had two beers that were balanced, not brutal. The hops were there by the sack load, but they were balanced by other flavours resulting in big, confident beers that called me back for a second glass.

Hallertau’s MHL has floral and spice notes floating over the prominent West Coast hops. The flavour is resinous with a long, bitter tail. Epic Armageddon bears an obvious family resemblance to Epic IPA – it’s like the full-race version of a family V8. If I had to choose between them (and I don’t) I’d rate the Hallertau the winner for hop presence, and Epic the winner for a strong, impressive beer with good balance. It’s so balanced you could happily match it with spicy food, if beer and food matching is your fancy.

Going hell for leather on the hops has been one of the most obvious characteristics of New Zealand craft beers in recent years. Epic IPA probably started the trend in 2006 – compare it to Little Creatures IPA and you’ll taste how hops dominate the New Zealand interpretation of the style. Tuatara Pilsner, too, shows a much heavier hop presence than is typical for the style – even the definitive Czech pilsners.

But I’m detecting a change in beer fashion. We’ve done the full-frontal hops thing, and now I believe craft brewers are taking things a step forward by balancing hops off against the flavours and aromas of the malt and yeast.

If malt is your thing, check out the Malthouse’s own Stingo. This weekend Regional Wines and Spirits launches its own beer, co-brewed with Emerson’s. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s based on Extra Special Bitter so I’m predicting it will be a well-rounded offering with influential malt presence.

What’s your thoughts? Are we looking for more balance, or is too much hops never enough?

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7 Responses to “IPA Challenge – Over-hopped or over hops?”

  1. I’m not so sure. I don’t think we’re anywhere near done with our hop appreciation phase yet. The USA is at least 10 years ahead of us and they’re only just now getting over it. I think we have a lot of hoppy goodness still to explore, and I for one am pleased about that. :) There’s a place for all beer styles, but don’t ring the funeral bell before the hop has withered on the vine, so to speak!


    • I know wht you mean Greig, but the USA is the country that gave the world competitive eating – too much is never enough! I’m not wringing the funeral bell, rather saying we can add to our hop appreciation and take the communal pallate at step further. Cheers, Martin


  2. I think you mean Epic Pale Ale as Armageddon is in fact Epic IPA.

    Im definitly looking for more malt accented beers, however I always was. I hope the market starts to crave beers with malt ballance, even when they are extremly hoppy. So far I see a market that is lapping up extremly dry aromatic beers with out any concern for ballance. The wine world went through this (or perhaps are still going through this) with Sauvignon Blanc.


    • Thanks KHM – you’re quite right about Epic Pale Ale. Looking forward to your Regional brew this weekend. Martin


  3. If I could pick a new world pale ale to have a free pint of, every week for he rest of my life, it would probably be Little Creatures Pale Ale. Superbly balanced.

    Look out for “Punkadiddle”, coming soon. It’s another of our own responses to our own overhopped (but very popular) Monsters… and the plethora of other super hoppy beers around at the moment.


    • I once had too much (yeah right) of that little creatures and asked the guy next to me if he like “little children”………


      • And now you admit that on the interweb…

        Cheers Ryan, it was good to meet you and an excellent way to spend an afternoon


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