I like hops. A lot. That’s no secret around here. In fact, I’ll shortly be re-posting a poem written all about hops in honor of the fresh hop season. But, by no means does that indicate that I can’t “understand the delicate subtlety and complexity” of other styles of beer. But, that’s exactly what renowned sommelier Timothy Wilson, of Las Vegas’ Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, thinks of most of us that love IPAs. When Stephen Tanzer’s Winophilia asked several sommeliers what their favorite beers are, Wilson answered appropriately by praising several beers from Private Landbrauerei Schönram in Upper Bavaria. But, he then went on unprompted to bash IPA drinkers and even a few regional breweries:
The vast majority of American beer drinkers who typically consume the commercial crap brewed by Budweiser, Miller and even the vaunted “quality regional” breweries such as Sam Adams, Yuengling and New Belgium don’t appreciate these Bavarian beers—much the same way that those who drink sweet and oaky California chardonnays don’t fully grasp the subtlety and restraint of Chablis or Mosel riesling. Most of the rest of American beer drinkers consist of the “micro-brew connoisseurs.” This is the consumer typically enamored with “India Pale Ales” – those extremely over-hopped, high-alcohol beers such as those brewed by Stone, Dogfish Head and Rogue. This group will probably never fully understand the delicate subtlety and complexity of the world-class beers made in Bavaria—the same way Turley zinfandel drinkers will probably never appreciate Barolo or Burgundy.
First of all, I know…who cares what some sommelier in Vegas thinks of IPA drinkers? Important or not, if you say stupid things on the internets, chances are someone is going to talk about it. There are just a few IPA drinkers around here, and I thought it might make for interesting conversation.
Second, he sadly might not be too far off. But, only for a small percentage of IPA drinkers. Lumping all IPA drinkers into this group that can’t appreciate other beers is, well, pretty idiotic. There are some who get caught up in the “hops arms race” and just can’t get enough. But, even most that consider themselves die-hard hop-heads usually prefer a beer with a semblance of balance. It might be nice to have a sample of a 10% ABV 100+ IBU brew, but when it comes to having a few pints I’ll take the 6% IPA with lots of hop flavor and a balanced bitterness.
Third, I find it amusing that he picks a Bavarian brewery with an American brewmaster as his favorite and then goes on to bash Americans that love IPAs. Eric Toft has been brewmaster at Private Landbrauerei Schönram for almost 12 years, according to Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. He grew up in Wyoming and lived in Colorado, and I’m assuming he’s had just a few IPAs and can obviously still appreciate and create some fantastic Bavarian beers. In fact, Eric is a representative of the German Hop Growers Association, and he has been coming to the Craft Brewers Conference since 2007 to create beers for the conference that show off the qualities of their local hops. I sampled the Pilsner created for the 2010 conference in April, and it was an uber-hoppy Pils that any hop-head would be right at home with. Funny, eh?
Mr. Wilson, my suggestion is to stick to wine when criticizing people’s preferences. Many of us that that prefer our beloved IPAs can also appreciate many other styles of beer, including traditional brews from Bavaria. Personally, I don’t drink imported beers on a frequent basis these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But, if I lived in Bavaria and had access to an always fresh supply of those beers at an affordable price, then I’d drink the hell out of them.