Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mighty Arrow Pale Ale by New Belgium Brewing Co.

Me and hops have a very odd relationship. Always have and as far as I can tell, we always will. You see, while I accept and am totally OK with the fact that hops are a part of the brewing process, I am of the belief that the American brewer in many cases has taken the use of hops to such an extreme level as to make their beers close to undrinkable. I am of the (apparently unpopular) belief that a beer should not taste like a bar of soap (see: Sam Adams), nor should it be so bitter as to be undrinkable (see: Hop Devil among others). In much the same way as I (and most other people) enjoy a little tannin in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon but too much ruins it, I want a little hop in my beer but I don't want to be overwhelmed with piney bitterness. Hops is the "spice of beer," and I don't want it over-hopped anymore than I want a cook to dump an entire jar of black pepper in my soup.

Hops perform two functions in the brewing process. They're used to add flavor (again, the "spice of beer") and they act as a stabilizing agent/preservative. A story I've recounted dozens of times (and oddly enough, seems to impress chicks....which I totally don't understand) is that the foundation of the over-hopped beer is the India Pale Ale (IPA), and that it was over-hopped out of necessity-not because they necessarily liked the flavor. When English beer couldn't survive the trip by boat from England to India (then a British colony) without spoiling, thus depriving the English settlers beer (a problem, I admit), some clever brewer realized if you dump a boatload of hops into the casks of beer during the brewing process, it would preserve the beer long enough to survive the trip by ship to India. Voila, now you've got Indian Pale Ale and a bunch of happy English settlers in India. A practical solution to a real problem.

It isn't that people like IPAs that bothers me, everyone is obviously entitled to their own taste in beer, its how the thought process behind the IPA has spilled over into other American beers. Sure an American Pale Ale should be hoppy, it just shouldn't be overly hoppy. It's a Pale Ale, not an IPA. And I think that's my beef with New Belgium's Mighty Arrow follows this new trend of making Pale Ales into IPAs.

Which isn't to say it's terrible, it's just not my taste. It's got nice head and a nice body, pours a clear orangish color...from the appearance it looks excellent. But after you take that first sniff, you are just overpowered by bitterness. Sure there's a little orange, but it's mostly just floral bitterness. The taste? Well it's just more of the same. Bitter on the front, bitter on the end....a little caramel and a little citrus mixed in, but at it's heart it tastes like hops. I wouldn't recommend it, but if you're an IPA person, you may very well like it.

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