A Beer-y Good Story: Hop to Wit

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
Boscos, Nashville
 We joined Music City Brewers around 1998. I can’t remember
Hop deity, Tom
for sure, but I think Tom Vista aka/Hop God, aka/Hop Tyrant, aka/Hop to Wit… yes, I made that last one up, was already a member. Either that or shortly after he joined. We were faced with a loud, boisterous, opinionated hop fanatic whose voice echoed in the acoustically horrendous beer hall known as Boscos. (And they didn’t even use Boscos’ chocolate syrup! SHAME!)
 Coming from a family filled with loud, boisterous, opinionated people I was suitably impressed. Tom doesn’t just add color to the club, he’s worked his garbanzos off in past competitions and provided lots of direction. Like his passion for hops.
 This was before the peak of American’s passion for over the top IPAs. Tom was a brewer ahead of his time. Our club kind of has a history of leading the way: Brandon Jones joined before Brett, Sour or Funk was in. (All separate in their own and also often intermixed.) Brandon went pro; Tom was already a “pro” in his own way. He opened up The Bunker: his home brewery, to fellow Music City Brewers. Pro brewers like Karen Lassiter trained, in part, on Tom’s system. “Chop, chop,” she would cry trying to get everyone a brewin!)
Karen Lassiter. NO, NOT the one with the beard!

 I suppose exposure to the brews of Tim Rastetter didn’t hurt. When Tim was brewing at Brew Works in Covington, Kentucky, he was doing IBUs well over 100 in the mid-90s. VERY early for the east coast. So at least my buds were ready for far, far, FAR beyond Ballantine hopping.
Former location of Brew Works. No picture of Tim: he’s retired and I respect his privacy
 Super hoppy beer helped lead the way into expanding styles that might qualify as non-high ABV extreme brews, something Dogfish may not even exist without. Even Brooklyn Brewery might be at least less what it has become. As always you have leaders, and those who are more likely to grumble as they follow anyway. (Sorry, Sam. Deal with it Garrett Oliver.) Before that, in America, “extreme” was more defined as brews not Bud or Miller-like.
Dogfish’s pre-chewed corn beer
 I admit: way out there brews are more likely to be one offs. How often are we going to have beer made from pre-chewed corn spit into vats? Probably only more than Phlegm-ish Porter. ( I hear the gravity on that is quite high!)
 Jokes aside, it’s just that kind of willingness to go beyond that has created the craft explosion: often with homebrewers leading the way.
 To be fair we need both: a dedication to the best standard, classic brewing, and pushing the envelope.
 I have written elsewhere about Tom, but not much about the hop ‘trend.’ I hated typing “trend” but I do have a point here. I find, for the most part, “trend” really doesn’t apply to craft beer and homebrewers. Yes, there are peaks. But almost every brewery: including the onslaught of new micros and nanos, have at least one IPA, some have two or more, I can think of a few that are close to just IPA focused. For homebrewers to say the BJCP has expanded the IPA category in the latest guidelines is a vast understatement. The entry level for IPA has expanded too.
List of expanded BJCP IPA categories. It’s still expanding so expect the next guidelines to have more.

 In other words IPAs, like what’s too loosely defined as “sours,” ain’t hula hoops, bell bottoms, or white striped black hair. Actual trends come and go. When they return they’re called something else. Unlike different types of IPAs, you don’t have one leg belled, the other not, or two different flared bells.
 I was a sub for a while and I saw some student wearing bell bottoms. I said, “Oh, bell bottoms are back!” Angry, he shot back, “These aren’t bell bottoms they are…” …and I don’t remember the term he used, to be honest, because my serious demeanor didn’t reflect the fact I was laughing inside. They weren’t even bell bottoms the first time.
 IPAs are still called IPA and now there are more kinds. IPAs haven’t gone away. They have become more the norm while they expand and continue to educate and reeducate palates: like the newer New England IPAs. It used to be I’d see a lot more patrons cringe, drink a single sip, then ask for something else. Very rare these days. They’re certainly not only some former ‘latest thing.” They’re not the hippies of beer.

 There are trends in beer: Zima, Billy Beer, beer packaged in dead animal skins. (Seriously!) Trends in beer tend to be packaging based, and mega brewers trying to fool craft beer lovers.
 Hoppy beers are here to stay. So are funky beers. Who knows for sure what’s next.
BrewDog’s End of History. 55%!

 We need our beer heretics. We need regular brews: and all our styles were once new. Very hoppy beers were once treated a heresy. Hoppy brews have settled nicely into being beer dogma. They even have a deity. I’ve met him. I consider him a friend. I’ve seen him dressed in a hop bag skirt… as far as I know he’s never blessed us with the what’s under the kilt version, not that I’m asking, or really want to know. Not my “thing.” (Though it certainly would be “his!”) I’ll just leave that to any curious ladies.
 Once a bar owner near our personal Adirondack escape told me craft beer was just a fad right after we bought our place in 2005. Now sometimes they stock two IPAs.
 Well, that my tiny amount of loopy lupulin wisdom; or if you wish “Hop to wit.” Saying you don’t like beer is becoming like saying you don’t like fruit, meat, nuts and vegetables. There are so many now; even ancient spin offs of beer more like wine, or just unique in themselves. All thanks to the beer gods, and in part the Hop God.
 We have been blessed.

                             -30-

A Beer Judge’s Diary is one of many columns by Ken Carman, Certified BJCP beer judge, homebrewer since 1979 and seeker of both simple and complex quaffs who once upon a time thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast in the 60s. Thus the adventure began.
©Copyright 2018
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved