Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Lite" beer

I brew an IPA last weekend.

Before I brewed the beer I shared my recipe with a fellow homebrewer. Being that it was an IPA I was brewing, the inevitable first question out of his keyboard was "how many IBUs?" I told him I was expecting 50, to which he responded "Ah, an IPA lite!"

Lite! LITE!?! How dare he? I think there not a single homebrewer out there that doesn't take "lite" as an insult (consider Bud Lite, Coorse Lite, Miller Lite, and you'll see why) having one's beer termed "lite" is cause for retribution, and possibly a challenge to a duel (swards, pistols, or beer guns, which ever is handier). But really, it wasn't his fault.

See, 50 IBUs for an IPA is not "lite". It's smack dab in the middle of the range of the guidelines. Only one problem: That guideline applies to English IPAs, and today's homebrewing (and for that matter, craft-brewing) world has been subjugated and contorted by ridiculous American IPAs. (Which should, by all rights, be called APAs, or ABA (American Bitter Ales) but the Americans like the IPA label.) Think of the average English IPA, now think of Dogfish Head 120Min IPA, do you see why I say ridiculous?

The IPA, if one is to believe the legend, was brewed extra-hoppy in order to survive the trip from England to India. But "extra-hoppy" was relative to the low-hop, low alcohol, malty ales that it derived from, and a good portion of that extra hop taste disappeared during those months of travel. It was never, NEVER, even close to being 20 ABV, 120IBU. Those are kinda of numbers you would never find in English beers. Only a nation founded by repressed puritans and fortune seekers could come up with that kind of nonsense.

Seriously, the human palate has a limited capacity for detecting bitterness. It tops out at about 90 to 100 IBUs. Anything above that would taste just as bitter. So what's the point of a 120IBU beer or, for God's sakes, 280?! If you have to write "Theoretical" in front of your IBU rating, nobody will ever know.

Americans have often had this mentality of "Go hard or go home". The problem is that American brewers export this mentality to the rest of the world. Gone are the days of moderation. "Extreme Brewing" is the new mainstream.

But we must remember that extreme is the outlier. That IPAs are suppose to be bitter, but not dissolve your stomach lining. That stouts are suppose to be easy drinking, low alcohol beers. That not every beer style needs an "Imperial" version. And that, above all, beers are not a test of courage, not a testament to the strength of your digestive system. They are somethings to be enjoyed and shared. Cherished for their craft, their feel, and their taste. Remember taste? That's that feeling hiding under all that bitterness in your mouth.

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