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Why are hops so sexy? The World May Never Know…

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Why are hops so sexy? Everybody likes to list out the Hop bill, but not the grain bill, yeast or water additions. What gives?

Why are hops so sexy? Is it because they’re expensive? Everybody likes to splurge a bit… Is it because they’re a close relative of the devil’s lettuce, and, er, uh, drug addiction in beer form?

That’s quite a stretch, for sure. But what could it really be?

You don’t hear breweries touting their latest stout’s Burton on Trent water profile on the label. And while a few breweries might list some of the specialty grains here or there, how many beer names do you know that are derivatives of grain names?

I’ll wait.

I’ll bet you can list half a dozen beers that are directly named after the hops they showcase, and I bet your Untappd list has two dozen more. There’s just something about them… why are hops so sexy?!

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The Answer is Mainly Smart Marketing

No matter how new and innovative, or how classically brewed, the tap wall of your local brewery usually has Pale Ales, IPAs, and other hop-forward beers outnumbering all other styles 2 to 1. That’s partially because IPAs are the third most popular style of all beers. First and second? American Lagers and Light Lagers. While there are plenty of great craft examples on the lighter side of the spectrum, we all know why those two styles reign supreme.

“The Brewers Association reports that IPA is now the third most popular style of all beers, following only American lagers and light lagers. IPA has 3.1 percent of the total beer market by volume, 6.4 percent in retail dollar sales, and is between 24 – 33 percent of the craft category,” according to their 2018 numbers. Let’s be real, the 2019 numbers aren’t much different.

GABF entries have been dominated by IPAs for the last decade. See for yourself.

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Smart money says that if IPAs are full of hops, and they make up the lion’s share of what’s on the brewing schedule, then they’ll be what is marketed most heavily.

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One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Mosaic, Citra, Vic Secret, hell Brent even wrote a whole article dedicated to Galaxy hops. You’re familiar with all of these names because they’re some of the hops that lead the charge on the still-present haze craze.

Even some of the more traditional varieties will sound familiar to you. Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial all probably ring a bell because of their place in the reigning champ West Coast IPA. Hallertau, Saaz, and Tettnang may be a bit less recognizable because they’re “classic,” but to some degree you’ve probably heard of these too.

Now watch this.

Antwerp, Belgium water? Edinburg, Scotland water? Gypsum, Epsom Salt, and Calcium Chloride. Either you’re a brewer, or this stuff sounds like a geography class, a spa, and a chemistry class got all thrown into a blender. These are popular water profiles and mineral additions that are made to water. To some degree, they’re in every beer you’ve ever tasted, but nobody talks about them.

How about malts? Again, these are all in just about every beer, in some amount or another: Carafa, German Melanoidin, Caramel/Crystal, and Victory. Yeast is even less recognizable with names like Safale US-05, Conan, Chico, and about 8,000 others. None of those things even sound like beer unless you’ve homebrewed a few batches or volunteered at your local spot.

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Are they less sexy? Or do they have less to do with the demand than hops do?

Smart money says it’s the latter.

Hops aren’t sexy. Money is sexy. IPAs and Pale Ales sell a crap load more than other styles, therefore their most distinguishing asset – the hops – are what’s glorified. It’s elementary, my dear Watson!

If we (as writers, designers, marketers, and advocates for the beer industry) focused on interviews about water, grain, or yeast, we probably wouldn’t get nearly as much traffic. Check Vine Pair or The Washington Post for articles on hops, and you’ll find them. Search again for articles about yeast, and you may not like what you come up with. A handful of awesome Houston brewers, owners, and industry vets have even weighed in on our site about… You guessed it. Hops and IPAs. Big shout out to everybody that has contributed so far.

It’s the same reason half of our art prints are of IPAs. It’s why we incorporate the hop flower on products like our best-selling GOAT got hops shirt, and we’re not very original either. The guys over at Hop Topic literally plastered one in the middle of their logo, and it’s all over all their merch.

So as long as IPAs lead craft beer, we’ll keep on writing about hops, you’ll keep on reading about them, and you’ll keep seeing them on everything from can labels to logos.

Even on social media we see brewers, farmers, owners going on trips to make their hop selections. You certainly don’t see that about the other ingredients!

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You Know Who Cares A Lot About Grains, Water Profiles, and Yeast Strains?

Brewers care. And early adopters (or craft beer nerds) that are so passionate about beer, they trade it, write about it, take pictures of it, and so on. Nobody else gives a damn.

But hops? Hell, even your mom knows that craft beers are full of hops! When at the family reunion, Thanksgiving, or some other communal family time, you’ve probably turned down a beer or brought your own. “I prefer craft beer,” you explain as un-snobbishly as you can muster…

The reply is always some brand of, “Oh. Like IPAs, huh? What even is an IPA? I can’t stand all that hoppy stuff.”

So next week, we’ll start our 9 part series on yeast, water profiles, and malts, with 3 articles dedicated to each. Cyke.

Why do you think hops are so sexy? Let us know!

Beers to you, Houston.

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Anthony Gorrity
tony.d@beerchronicle.com

Anthony's a Houston native, a graphic designer, and a UH Coog that loves good beer almost as much as he does his city. He's an ex-oilfield guy that spends his days doing graphic design and marketing projects for one of Houston's fastest growing companies as well as some of the coolest breweries in town. Fueled by sessionable IPAs and gangster rap, he's ticked his way through H-Town, rocking the most unusual Nikes he can find. When he's not writing for us, he's with his family or rooting for the Rockets.

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