The Bar Code: Put Down That IPA!

I’m sick of IPAs. I’m sick of out-of-control hoppiness, unbalanced beer, and 8 percent ABV. Northwest brewers appear to be in a perpetual arms race to up the amount of hops they can cram into a given beer, and I think all of us are suffering as a result. Sadly, given the current state of the brewing landscape, I don’t think things will be changing soon.

My primary reason for disliking IPAs is that because of their intense hop load, bitterness is amped up until the entire beer tastes out of balance. If you have too much bitterness, sweetness, acidity, spiciness, or another flavor, any subtleties or nuances are lost. What’s worse, in my eyes, is that IPAs tend to trample any other flavors you might be trying to enjoy, like perhaps a meal.

As someone who regularly tastes a lot of wine, palate fatigue is an issue. Overly tannic reds are often the cause, but I also find the same effect with heavily hopped beers. There’s something disappointing about a swig where all you can taste is bitterness; it reduces complex and interesting beers to a single, narrow aspect of a much larger whole.

In addition to being overly bitter, IPAs tend to pack a lot of alcohol into each glass. That combination of high alcohol and high bitterness overwhelms the palate, and in double and triple IPAs, you’re looking at something like 10-plus percent ABV and 100-plus percent IBUs (International Bittering Units). At that point, we’re in the same realm as hot sauce made from ghost peppers: They’re less about flavor and taste and more about how much punishment your taste buds can take. Sure, a small sample of a beer like Pliny the Younger or other such triples can be enjoyable, but drinking 12 or more ounces? No, thank you!

I can’t help but wonder if some of this increased emphasis on hops and alcohol is based on a simple fact: The more aggressive a drink tastes, the more someone will think they’re getting for their money. A delicate, subtle summer ale might not impress like a swaggering, burly IPA does, but that doesn’t make the IPA the person you want to hang out with all night. He’ll probably get you kicked out of the bar.

Of course IPAs have their place in a beer drinker’s repertoire. There are times when an intensely aromatic, hoppy beer is welcome in my glass. That said, with warmer weather approaching, now is a good time to leave some of that winter bite behind and explore the wide range of lighter ales and lagers that local brewers are producing. Sure, they might not feel like a punch in the mouth, but for many of us that’s a good thing. Of course Seattle brewers will keep making IPAs because they sell well and you can give them all kinds of ridiculous names, but it’s long past time to give more tap handles and shelf space to a fuller range of beers.

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