Breweries are also experimenting with new hop strains and new combinations. They’re adding fruit and spice. They’re barrel-aging their IPAs. Dogfish Head is about to introduce Rhizing Bines as part of a promotion dubbed “A Hop Eclipse Now” that will see the brewery host more than 50 beer dinners nationwide. The new double IPA includes a hop known only as Number 644, obtained from Sierra Nevada Brewing, which adds unusual “earthy, melon-rind, tropical notes,” according to Calagione.
In March, Dogfish Head will launch still another IPA, Sixty-One, which marries hops with Syrah grape must. “It’s equal parts vinous and citrusy fruitiness,” Calagione says.
Not to be outdone, Green Flash this year will roll out six new draft-only IPAs under its “Hop Odyssey” program. A black IPA with piny hops is planned for February. Coming in August is Cedar Plank Pale Ale. The wood aging adds “a peppercorn spiciness and a tannic, dry mouth feel” that augments the hops, promises the brewery’s news release.
Boston Beer this month will introduce Samuel Adams Double Agent IPL, an “India pale lager” that combines the fruity blast of Pacific Northwest hops (usually reserved for ales) with the smoother finish typical of lager beers.
Haphazardly elevating IBUs can create a harsh, unpleasant brew. It might also be a futile endeavor, as our sense of taste can handle only so much. Shellhammer at Oregon State can tell you the lower limits for perceiving hop bitterness: They range from about 5 IBUs to 13, depending on the individual. But he can’t peg an upper limit because the research hasn’t been done.
Silva speculates that once you get past 100 IBUs, your palate loses its ability to detect further gradations in bitterness. Steele estimates that the limit is reached somewhere between 70 and 80 IBUs.
Identifying that ceiling is important, insists Steele. Otherwise, “you reach a point where you’re wasting hops: You’re getting nothing out of them.”
Kitsock is the editor of the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.