Stop Calling Your Beer ‘Hoppy’

Hoppy has practically become as ubiquitous a word as ‘beer’ in the craft world and I can. not. stand it anymore!

    “Wow, this beer is sooo hoppy.”

           “Ew, I can’t stand hoppy beers.”

  “What?! I LOVE hoppy beers!”

Sound familiar?

Sixpoint 'Beer is Culture' Glass

Before you get all in a huff, pointing out the zillion places I use the word hoppy in my blog posts, let me give you my reasoning.

Firstly, hoppy does very little to actually describe a beer.

Really think about it for a minute. What is hoppy? A beer that has a lot of hops in it? But aren’t all beers a certain level of hoppy?

Hops are the seasoning of beer, and range in flavor from herbal German Tettnang, spicy Saaz, floral Hersbrucker, tropical Galaxy, citrusy Citra, piney Chinook and on and on. With modern day hop breeding and harvesting, the hop flavor wheel is only growing.

Hoppy does absolutely nothing to describe these flavors, which is a problem if you love the tropical aroma and flavors of some New Zealand hops, but hate the piney-ness of West Coast American hops. Hoppy just isn’t enough.

cascade hop

Secondly, hoppy means very different things to different people.

One persons too hoppy is another persons easy-drinking pale ale.  Maybe the beer starts out with a pleasant herbal, noble hop aroma and finishes with a crisp snappy bitterness. To some, that German Pilsner you just drank is super hoppy! To others, if it’s not an extra imperial double dry-hopped IPA, then it ain’t hoppy.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, describing a beer as ‘hoppy’ may turn off people who think they hate ‘hoppy beers’

Hoppy is frequently mis-used as a synonym for bitter, which may or may not be true. As we’ve discussed before in my post 3 Common Beer Myths Busted, there are various ways in which hops can be added to the brewing process which attribute varying levels of hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. IBU, or International Bittering Unit, is the technical calculation for measuring hop-bitterness.

cascade hops

It gets tricky though because a ‘hoppy’ beer may have intense hop flavor and aroma without being bitter at all. Additionally, beers with very high IBU’s (>40 or 50) may not have much perceived bitterness. A good example of this comes when comparing a Double or Imperial IPA and a Russian Imperial stout – both have high IBU’s but the strong, somewhat sweet dark malt presence in the RIS will balance out the bitterness resulting in far less apparent bitterness.

Those people who think all so-called hoppy beers are bitter are therefore less likely to try something someone describes as ‘hoppy.’ Also, a lot of people don’t realize the range of flavors that hops can have.

So! The next time you hear the ‘H’ word about to exit your mouth, consider adding some description, for example, “this beer has some great citrus and pine hop aroma.” Or better, don’t even use the word hop at all! Just describe the beer as you see it and let other people make up their mind. You might convince some ‘hoppy beer’ haters they love ’em after all!

17 thoughts on “Stop Calling Your Beer ‘Hoppy’”

  1. Well, while it’s true not all so-called “hoppy” beers are bitter – most every bitter beer I’ve ever had has been over-hopped. 🙂

    I think most people just use the term as a simple shorthand to describe the most dominant characteristic of the beer; like a “hoppy” Double-IPA, a “malty” Doppelbock or even a “yeasty” Belgian Ale.

    Yes, every beer has those ingredients, and water. But when the dominance of one becomes immediately evident (to any ordinary beer drinker) it should be no surprise that people point it out. Maybe not always, but most of the time–they are probably right.

  2. Unfortunately, there’s some of us out there for whom “hoppy” is actually the only descriptor that works, and who would quite honestly get supremely annoyed if people stopped describing new beer suggestions as being hop-forward. For example, literally every beer brewed that pushes hop flavors as the primary, forward aspect has exactly one of two tastes to me: Rancid Perfume or Industrial Floor Cleaner. There’s nothing else, at all, that gets through – it’s like a wall. This is after a decade of drinking craft beer, with multiple attempts to get myself used to hop-forward beer. 80 Acre at 20 whopping IBUs tastes like SN Pale Ale tastes like Arctic Panzer Wolf tastes like Brown Cow tastes like Chillwave. Conversely, I’ll drink a 98 IBU stout and enjoy it, as long as the hop flavors are in the background behind the malts and adjuncts.

    So the question then becomes, how much of the general population has some version of that “cannot enjoy hops regardless of palate training” curse, and how useful is it to those folks to hear beers described as hoppy before they wind up with an Ugh Face from sampling something described as deliciously fruity and tropical?

    1. A very interesting thought!
      I guess the intent of this article was geared more for people who do NOT know their palate preferences so iron-clad as yourself. For them, the term may conjure up their one experience with a really aggressive, bitter IPA they hated. I don’t think I’ve known anyone for whom all hop-forward beers were a problem. I’m curious, which styles work best for you?

      1. It does seem to be a minority curse, at least among our beer-oriented niche of society. I have no idea how widespread it may be, and if it may have contributed to the relative paucity of aggressively hop-forward beer in quite a few cultures, or if many more folks either love hops right out of the gate or can develop an appreciation for them.

        Styles that work for me are fairly varied – really, anything where hop flavors are not the star! A lot of German beers work for me, from kolsches to hefeweizens and all the way through the entire bock lineage from mai- to eis-. A fair number of Belgian styles are tasty as well, such as wits, dubbels, and the derivations on dubbels called quads and Belgian strong dark ales. Stouts and porters of all sorts can be either incredibly tasty, or if hopped enough to become hop-forward, rather awful experiences (Founder’s Porter is a wall of “floor cleaner” to me, a lot of Clown Shoes stouts are “perfume”). Vienna lagers can be amazing, or disappointing, such as Eliot Ness being the former and the recent Sierra Nevada Vienna the latter. Many sour styles also work – I have yet to encounter a gose I haven’t enjoyed, and some saisons are quite agreeable, such as Surette or Fuego del Otono. A hop-forward saison like a Tank 7 or Ryan and the Beaster Bunny, however, I cannot enjoy.

        It’s a curse that I’m fortunate enough to be able to work around, with the plethora of styles being brewed these days. It does make things a bit tricky at some beer bars, and occasionally when I try a new beer in a style not necessarily known for being hop-forward, I get an unpleasant surprise. There are worse problems in life to have, though!

        1. I have to agree with the folks who have trouble distinguishing hops flavors once a beer becomes hop-forward. If the beer’s balanced, I can appreciate the malt, hops, adjuncts (if any), and other flavors easily. If the beer’s malt-forward, I tend to enjoy it. But if the balance goes more than slightly toward hops, all I get is a mouth full of bitter nastiness. I couldn’t tell you if that beer tastes like passion fruit, grapefruit, citrus, pine, or grass clippings because the bitterness short circuits the rest of my taste buds.

          As a home brewer, I appreciate what hops can do for a beer. I’ve made a couple of beers so sugary I had to dump them because I was afraid of over-hopping them. But I find that in general my beers are more well-received when I keep the bitterness levels balanced with the malt.

          One way to do that, which is harder for the beer fan than the brewer, is to find out the beer’s BU:GU ratio. That’s the ratio of its bitterness in IBUs over its original gravity (or “starting gravity”) in standard gravity units (e.g., 1.107 is 107 gravity units). This isn’t a perfect way to gauge relative bitterness, but it’s better than IBUs alone.

          For example, a local brewery makes a Kolsch. They don’t publish their original gravity, but a typical Kolsch recipe is around 24 gravity units. Theirs is a 24 IBU Kolsch. So their BU:GU is 24:24 or 1.00. That is intensely bitter, especially for the style. The stout I am drinking tonight has its OG on the label (107) and its IBU rating (65). That beer’s BU:GU is 65:107 or 0.61. I find it a little too bitter, but drinkable. I’ve found that my taste preference tends to hover at or a little below 0.50. I could barely choke down the local Kolsch I mentioned. It might as well have been a glass of hops extract for all I could taste. This stout is unpleasantly bitter but I can at least taste something besides the hops bitterness.

          Ultimately, I think this is a lot like heat levels in buffalo wings. While I can tolerate some pretty hot wings, there is a point at which you stop getting any flavor from the wing and only get heat… just as, for some of us, once you get beyond a certain bitterness level all we can tell you is that “this thing’s got a lot of hops in it”.

          Just as with wings, fortunately there are breweries out there which cater to all tastes. You have folks like Rogue, Stone, and Russian River putting out lots of hop-forward beers that people love. You also have folks who put out beers that aren’t so hop-forward that appeal to the rest of us.

          I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their 2.5-million Scoville wing sauce or their 0-Scoville Parmesan Garlic Ranch wing. To each his or her own.

  3. Great point!!!

    Except it’s not. We can’t at once bang the drum of driving newbies to craft beer – and then criticize 101-level language. It’s not THAT inaccurate when viewed through the lens of educational/basic words. It’s a necessary word to build a foundation and, in practice – works quite well.

  4. I don’t understand the problem with using hoppy as a descriptor for beer. Hops are used in beer as a spice or flavoring agent, so as it might not be a precise description, it serves its purpose. I was a chef for 15 years and never got annoyed by people who could not describe exact flavor profiles in the foods that they ate, so I am not sure why you are so uptight about this. Instead of sitting back, getting annoyed and bitching about people’s ignorance when it comes to the different flavor profiles that hops can give a beer, try educating them on it and encouraging them to learn more about it.

  5. I’m going to have to agree with “That Guy” – especially since ‘hoppy’ is an easily understood term for describing beer. Hoppy does mean different things to different people… as does every other f**king descriptor – because SURPRISE, it’s all subjective! When you know that the hops have a significant impact on the experience of the beer that beer is hoppy! The end! Now, it is of course helpful to have more information ON TOP of that, but there is nothing wrong with the use of the term.

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