BeerSci: Are Hops Addictive?

unnamedModern-day hopheads–the beer drinkers who gleefully, obsessively seek out hoppier and hoppier brews–don’t usually start out that way. Most people have a natural aversion to bitter compounds–useful for avoiding eating lethal doses of poisons in the wild. No, one must work one’s way up to hops: Start off drinking beers with lower IBUs (International Bitterness Units, one measure of how bitter a beer is), be them ambers, lagers, brown ales, or stouts. Next, try a pale ale. Then try many pale ales. Then discover the IPA — and with it, become obsessed with hop varietals such as Simcoe (piney aroma) and Amarillo (fruity aroma). Be happy with that for a while. Maybe try a double IPA (twice the malt, twice the hops as a regular IPA), which may or may not be successful, depending on whose you drink. Begin to love being punched in the face with a fist of hops. Become obsessed with IBU ratings. Buy the hoppiest beers one can find, even if they don’t actually taste all that good. Despair.

Back in 2005, a pair of California-based brewers (Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker) came up with a tongue-in-cheek definition for this hop passion. They called it the lupulin threshold shift, describing it as “when a double IPA just isn’t enough.” (Lupulin glands on the hop cones hold the main hop compounds that eventually contribute flavor and bitterness to beers.) I’ve seen many a beer drinker ask why they feel compelled to seek out ever-hoppier beers. Could it be that their brains and tastebuds are addicted to the hop?

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