This is not a rant about beer terminology; this is more of a public service announcement. I would personally love to see more people exploring more beers and in my experience the word “hoppy” tends to be a bit of a roadblock for a lot of people. Though I do realize how many amazing puns this word provides us and I do not wish you to stop making them.
Lets just start out by stating the obvious: all beer has hops in it.
So on that note, I would like to provide you with a few alternative words to use so as not to scare your friends/family/strangers at the bar away from beers that they could potentially love!
Without getting super sciency and boring let me say that there are tons of different types of hops that can give beers a huge variety of flavours. Also, the character of the hops changes depending on what point in the brewing process the hops are added. The basic purpose of hops is to provide the beer with bitterness, which is a lot of what people don’t like about them but believe me some bitterness is necessary to balance the flavour of the beer. Hops also provide beer with a bunch of flavour and aroma, this is where using more specific descriptors really comes in handy!
First lets do a quick review on tasting beer. Here are some things you should pay attention to when drinking a beer that you wish to talk to others about. Note: most of these descriptors are aimed at hop-forward beers, there are many other useful terms to describe malt and yeast-forward beers, which are not mentioned here. A more comprehensive tasting guide can be found on Mirella Amato’s website beerology.
What colour is it?
Is it clear or hazy?
Does it have foam? If yes, is the foam dense or light and fluffy? Does it last or dissipate quickly?
Take a sniff, what do you notice?
Is it floral? fruity? spicy?
Maybe you can’t smell any hops and it just smells sweet or even boozy, that is perfectly okay, your nose is not broken, sometimes the hops will not be very noticeable in the aroma but this is why we DRINK the beer
When people say they taste something “upfront” or “on the finish” they are not necessarily trying to be a pretentious A-hole, they usually just want to communicate at which point each flavour is most prominent. Try to think of your sip like a story in grade school: beginning-middle-end. Complex beers have different flavours happening at each point in the sip where a bland beer can be described as one-note.
Here are some ways to describe what you are tasting:
This beer is hoppy citrusy
This beer is hoppy floral
This beer is hoppy fruity (if you want to get fancy, try to think of the type of fruit you are being reminded of, for example pear, apple, apricot, tropical, melon etc)
This beer is hoppy earthy
This beer is hoppy herby
How long are the flavours lingering after your sip? Does the bitterness sit on your tongue or is it gone right away?
This is a funny word that people often mix into the taste category. You will know if your beer is very sweet, heavy and full bodied and you will probably not attempt to describe that beer as hoppy. But sometimes the feeling on your tongue after sipping a drier beer can be similar to the lingering bitterness from hops. A highly carbonated beer also provides a nice sharpness that people like to automatically attribute to hops.
So lets give credit where it’s due, here are some ways to describe what you are feeling (yes, beer chat can get emotional but I’m talking mouthfeel here):
This beer has a hoppy dry finish
This beer has a hoppy crisp finish
This beer has a hoppy sharp finish
Now that you have a few more descriptive words up your sleeve, I hope you will reconsider the use of such an umbrella term as “hoppy”. If not for your own sake, for the sake of those who will automatically say “I hate hoppy beers” and then stick to the same boring beer (because that is who you are really hurting!)
Thanks for reading, I hope I have slightly expanded your beer vocabulary but also keep in mind that tasting beer can be very subjective as explained in Victoria’s recent post. And so I encourage you to keep drinking learning!