So, on top of enjoying a good beer, I really enjoy hot and spicy foods. Fresh peppers, daring Mexican, Indian, Thai, Buffalo wings, and most of all, hot sauce! Some people would put me in the insane category. I eat things that can make grown men cry. I’m no tough-guy, nor am I trying to be when it comes to the tongue-torching things I adore. I’ve seen people devour foods so hot and spicy that I wouldn’t dare do more than a bite. Besides the fact that a good beer can help wash away your misery, what exactly does this have to do with beer?
Well, you see, hot foods have become a competition by their makers to make the hottest, most blistering concoctions ever created. Genetically engineered peppers, concentrated hot sauces, pure capsaicin. There are even contests to see if you can finish a plate of whatever they can throw their lava sauce onto. It’s more for the enjoyment of those watching than those eating I assure you. The problem with the one-upmanship to create the hottest dish is that I consistently see a sacrifice of flavor in order to obtain heat. I have had many sauces that are certainly hot, but other than that they have zero appeal in the way of flavor. Some are downright nasty. To me, the enjoyment of hot foods isn’t the heat, it’s the peppers and how they are prepared. Heat is a byproduct of some of the most flavorful peppers on the planet.
Now, IPAs. The hoppy, bitter side of the beer spectrum. IPAs are what got me into the Craft Beer scene. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. That was my first love. Most people couldn’t stand the smell or taste of it. I couldn’t get enough. As Craft Beer caught on and more people started offering IPAs, the hop wars were on! East Coast, West Coast, Double, Imperial, Piney, Citrusy, bitter, Bitter, BITTER! In many ways the IPA escalation has mirrored the heat wars. Not to mention you can see some pretty funny product names in both the hot sauce and IPA aisles. Yeah they are cliche and tired, but every now and then I get a chuckle out of one.
Beer makers have gone to the extreme. In most cases it seems the end goal is bitter. How many IBUs can they pack into a single 12oz bottle. IBUs are International Bittering Units, which provide a measure of the bitterness of beer by hops used during brewing.The hops have been engineered, studied, combined, and concentrated in an effort to add extreme bitterness. I will be the first to admit, I was hooked. Dogfish 60. Had it indeed become…malty? No longer was it the hop bomb that turned my palette upside down. But as the years have gone by I am seeing more and more IPAs on the market that offer nothing more than bitterness. Have they committed the same mistake that hot sauce makers did so long ago? Have they sacrificed flavor in the never ending quest to produce the most bitter product on the shelf?
Maybe it’s me. Have my tastes in beer changed in a way that I now prefer a more balanced product? Is it “hops fatigue”? I think not. The same beers that I used to enjoy I’ve found that I enjoy just as much now when I approach it without the anticipation of a 100+ IBU event. To me it’s back to flavor. I want a beer that’s bitter and flavorful. The bitterness should be a byproduct of the hops much like the heat is to the pepper. At any rate we will continue to see the hop wars and heat wars escalate and there will always be a place for them in the market. I do know that I’ll be eating more hot foods in the future and I look forward to washing them down with a good IPA.