I was out the other night with some friends. We'd dropped by a local Mexican place after going to the Rural Route Film Fest (I know; I'd never heard of it either) at Out North. As we enjoyed our margaritas, the topic of beer came up. Seems there will be yet another microbrewery starting up in Anchorage, to which I say "hooray!" My friend said that a certain master brewer was not a fan of the IPAs. He thought they are just a fad. The two people I was talking with agreed, they were dark beer lovers.
I used to not be a much of an IPA person myself. I enjoy my porters and stouts, with their almost chewy richness, or, on rare warm days, maybe a fruity raspberry wheat or a hefe. IPA wasn't my go-to beer for hot days, though I would sometimes drink it because it's what Jon enjoys so we often have some in the house.
Then a few years ago, Jon and I were visiting my family in Wisconsin. We were walking on a rail-trail on the outskirts of Wonewoc when either my brother or my sister-in-law pointed out the hops growing along the side of the trail. The remnants of the 1860s Sauk County hops (Humulus lupulu) craze? I picked a few of the dried fruits (it was February) and popped them in my mouth.
The slightly bitter, zesty flavor filled my mouth. And that, I explained to my friends at the bar the other night, was the moment I began to appreciate the IPA. I agree that some IPAs seem to be bitter just to be bitter. But I now recall a perfect IPA I had last Wednesday at Snow Goose when I was there with my mountain biking gang. (They had gone biking while my friend Corinne and I went for a stroll.) The beer had a full, bright flavor. A little citrus zest and a little bitter. It was the color of pale honey. It was like a first kiss.