A couple of weeks ago someone at work came up to me and asked if I’d caught wind of the latest “beer thing”. I have a couple of people at work who do this, pointing out beer jam websites, articles for powdered alcohol and handing me coupons for craft beer battered frozen French fries.
My belief is that these people do this because they love to see the cringe on my face when they bring me something that grates against my straight-forward beer nature. I mean, if you think that your French fries are going to come out of the oven vastly superior in flavor because they’ve been flash frozen “craft beer battered”, then I really have nothing to say except enjoy your French fries. But in this case it wasn’t fries, it was an offering from a company named Hop Theory.
The product Hop Theory is hoping to get into your beer loving hands is teabag like sachets that you can drop into your beer to, as they say, customize or improve it. The company believes in this product so much that it initiated a Kickstarter a while back and apparently, enough people believe in it as well as they have already met their initial goal of $25,000.
On the surface, this probably doesn’t seem all that strange to people in the beer scene who have gone to Randal events at bars, or have had beer from a Frankencask. But there is an underlying fundamental difference; these two things while altering the flavor of a beer are done in a spirit of playful experimentation that is not meant to really “improve” the beer (although sometimes I think the Frankencask people believe that, which is why I am not in favor of them).
I mean, do you really think that your local beer temple believes that passing DFH 60 Minute IPA over gummy worms, habaneros and chocolate covered cherries really improves it? Of course not, it’s just a fun thing to do that brings people into the bar on an otherwise slow Wednesday night.
But Hop Theory is trying to sell you that they are improving your beer, because you’re beer is…well, inferior. And I guess it could be – depending on what beer you’re drinking. But if you do happen to be holding a 60 Minute while you’re reading this you’re probably thinking, “Heeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyy”.
Oliver Gray wrote an excellent post on the Hop Theory satchets based on how you should not mess with the brewed beers of professionals. In it he pleads with people that if they do have to perform this act of adulteration that you first experience the beer as it was intended, the way the brewmaster meant you to enjoy it. Enjoy the product which could have easily come from years (and sometimes decades) of hard work, multiple failures, and a pure love of the craft and art that has put that seemingly simple 12oz of liquid in the glass that you have in your hand.
I’m going to come at it from another direction, because while I understand the inbreed desire to experiment and tinker when given the tools to do so (hey, I work in an R and D division), to those who are looking to elevate their beer experience (especially the ones who will be dunking Hop Theory’s products into all varieties of American mass produced lagers) I’m here to tell you that in this case the ends probably won’t be as rewarding as they could be.
Also, I’m not going to lie (and in this case I’m not) I feel that some of the statements made by Hop Theory in regards to their product overstate what it is delivering and some of the comments being left behind by donators don’t click with me either. Let’s address some of them as we discuss:
For the first time ever the consumer becomes the brewmaster.
Don’t delude yourself. Adding flavors to your beer doesn’t make you a brewmaster any more than putting nuts, sprinkles and chocolate syrup on your ice cream makes you a glacier [what the French call a person who makes ice cream]. Brewmasters dedicate years of their lives to understanding the process and chemistry of brewing to control every nuance of the beer that they’re producing. You’re dipping a bag full of orange peel and hops into an American mass produced lager or lower tier craft beer because you think it might taste “neat”. Yes, making a cup of tea with a tea bag can be considered brewing, but that’s where the similarities end.
With Hop Theory, an average beer becomes craft.
Obviously Hop Theory hasn’t talked to the Brewer’s Association about their definition of the word “craft”. Adding hops and spices to Bud Light will not take away its adjunct base, reduce the size of the brewery it was produced at, or change its ownership.
Now if you want to argue that it takes an average beer and makes it taste like craft…well, maybe to a point. But in every beer there is more than hops and some spices. There are ranges of malt, alcohol content, mouth feel and many other aspects that help bring every beer style together. To add ingredients to a beer while ignoring these other factors will not give you the same experience as enjoying a beer that has been brewed specifically to that particular style.
Love this idea. I can only drink craft beers. – Hop Theory donator.
This brings up a point – the first blend that Hop Theory is going to sell, Relativity, is a mixture of cascade, orange peel and coriander, which means that it is basically designed to swing any beer into the Blue Moon category. If you want your beer to taste like Blue Moon – why not just buy Blue Moon? It’s probably only a couple of bucks more and the flavor will be much more authentic.
“But Ed,” you ask, “what if I want my beer to taste like a Belgian Wit or Allagash White?” To which I ask – do you believe dropping this packet of potpourri into your Coors is going to get you anything close to a true Belgian Wit? How about the touch of malt sweetness that balances the whole beer, a touch of wheat, a slight tartness at the end, and the spiciness that comes from the yeast? Where are they going to come from? Your only way to pull this off is to buy an appropriate Belgian beer and then add Relativity to it and hope you come close, and again my suggestion would be – just buy a Belgian Wit if that’s what you want.
In fact, let’s take a look at Hop Theory’s proposed path forward. The next satchets they are hoping to produce in the coming year: raspberry, pumpkin, and peach. Sounds a little fruit forward doesn’t it? There are plenty of well made fruit beers out there. The thought of taking an inferior beer and adding this kind of flavoring to it makes me feel the same way I do when brewpubs advertise a raspberry wheat beer only to watch them pour raspberry syrup into a pint glass and fill it with their house wheat beer. And that feeling is sad.
Are you working on a blend for IPA lovers like myself? – Hop Theory donator.
Then there’s their planned offering for a Double IPA satchet. While turning a light beer into a fruit beer is one thing, turning one into Heady Topper is a whole ‘nother level of “ain’t gonna happen”. The higher IBUs in a double IPA. The higher malt to balance it out. The depth of flavors that come from hops actually spending time in the boil. None of those can come from a teabag.
Our sachets can be taken anywhere where “boring beer” is being served.
Maybe it’s just me, but this grates upon my firm convictions on beer etiquette. If I’ve been invited someplace where I suspect “boring beer” is being served I do one of two things. One, just drink what they offer and shut up. No one wants beer snobbery at a party and I’m not about to bring it along as my wingman. Like tDoB co-found Chuck always says, “The best beer is free beer”. The second, if I have the proper relationship with the host and guests, is to just bring my own and of course, enough to share with others.
As a bit of a beer snob, this will be perfect for those backyard bbq invites, camping trips and even football games where all anyone ever brings is ‘cheap’ beer!! – Hop Theory donator.
But would I whip one of these satchets out at a party and drop it into my host’s “boring beer” in front of him? Not anymore than I would be likely to pull out a bottle of Heize 57 that I’ve brought from home and dump it all over the awesomely grilled porterhouse he’s just served me. Rude. Sorry.
And I know what some of you are thinking, “Ed, duck out of the party for a few seconds and do it on the low-low”. Great, so now you’re crouched in the dark corner of your host’s bathroom behind a locked door teabagging your beer. Is this REALLY where you wanted your day to go? I didn’t think so.
Hop Theory lets you be the brewer; anytime and anywhere.
Again, you’re not even close to being the brewer no matter the time or the where, and to be honest I find Hop Theory’s use of the phrase insulting, just as I have quite a few of Hop Theory’s statements. It’s broad, misleading marketing terms like this that belittle the occupation and craft of a large segment of the very market whose attention they are trying to grab.
“Great beers here we come.” – Hop Theory donator.
But hey, it’s your beer, you earned the money used to buy it (Hopefully. Some of my readers are pretty sketchy) so you’re entitled to do anything you want with it. Play. Have fun. Just remember you’re a person adding some flavors to a beer, not a brewmaster. And that beer you’ve created? It’s no truer to style then putting gull-wing doors on a VW bug makes it a time machine in a Back to the Future movie.
When you’re ready to enjoy a style of beer the way it was truly meant to be then seek one out. I’m sure you’ll find it a much more rewarding experience. There’s a great big world of beer out there waiting for you. But just remember, with Hop Theory satchets; you’re just playing in it, not exploring it.