Hops Alone Ain’t All That, Dammit!

Late yesterday afternoon, I popped the top of a bottle of Granville Island‘s new 25th anniversary brew, Brockton IPA. And I liked it. Liked it a lot, really, and wrote as much over on my mostly Canadian blog at That’s the Spirit.

In so doing, I also came across a reference to a review fellow Canuck Alan McLeod published of the same beer, which he also quite apparently enjoyed. As he is wont to do, Alan provided a link at the end of his post to the reviews of the Brockton at Beer Advocate, which I made the mistake of clicking. Before I explain why I think that was a mistake, however, I need to tell you about the beer I sampled post-Brockton.

I will omit the precise name of the brew because, frankly, there are many that could be fit into its place, but suffice to say that it is a hop-powered IPA from a brewery much beloved among the raters and advocates. Fermented to the same strength as the Brockton, it has all of the west-coast Canadian beer’s hoppiness, more even, but without much in the way of balancing malt. So while the aroma is certainly enticing with all of its hoppy allure, the body is little more than pure bitterness, without any subtlety and precious little complexity. In the end, it is, in fact, a fairly boring dose of hops, but one that has garnered a significantly higher overall ranking and about twenty times as many reviews at the Beer Advocate site.

Which is why it was a mistake for me to read the Brockton reviews. Of the three posted, two complain openly about the lack of hoppiness in the beer, and one borderline implies the same, although adds the mitigating (and correct, IMO) observation that the Brockton pays greater homage to the British style of IPA than it does to the American one. So here’s the poor Brockton being punished because it doesn’t have sufficient hoppiness, even though what it does present is both apparent and beautifully balanced, while the other beer is rewarded for basically no reason other than the brewer dumping an extra load of hops into the kettle.

Taste and reviews are, of course, subjective, and I discount no one’s opinion, even when it doesn’t agree with my own. But some things like bitterness and balance, I think, are fairly quantifiable, and more of the former without the latter is simply not an automatic improvement. This is what makes the Brockton, as well as much hoppier beers like Pliny the Elder and Victory Hop Devil, such great feats of brewing skill, and the second beer I sampled, quite frankly, a waste of my time and palate.

The Brockton I finished. The other beer I poured down the drain in the kitchen sink.

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