17 Jun 2009 @ 9:38 AM 

A little more history for you today, but this time with a poignant question. Behold this piece from Duke’s Digital Collections:

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought of after reading this was (click for a larger image, but I bet you know the ad):

Hops are the soul of beer

I think all this begs the question: What is the soul of beer?

I’ll be honest. I’ve always been a little irked by the latter ad, here. Hops are not to beer what grapes are to wine, unless the analogy centers around “a thing that grows on a vine that is ultimately in the beverage.”

If you want to think about it as a soul, I think we can safely say that grapes are the soul of wine. They are the primary source of fermentables, the primary source of variability. I don’t think that’s true for beer. Granted, one of the main reasons that the analogy doesn’t work is because beer has a more complicated list of ingredients than wine. But, let’s face it, as much as I don’t really want to agree with Pabst here, the primary source of fermentables and the primary source of variability in beer – if that’s what you want to call its soul – is really malt. (I am really interested to know what Pabst did with their malting that they thought was so exceptionally different.)

Yes, I can absolutely make my pale ale taste widely different with hops. I can go from grassy to piney to citrusy to cat pee. I can accent the malt or I can completely bury it. I can’t, however, make my pale ale into a stout or a kolsch with hops. For that matter, I can’t even make beer without malt – but I can make beer without hops, even if it won’t necessarily taste like what you and I think of as beer. Hops have only been an addition in ales in the past 500 years…. out of 4000 or so. Has it been soulless for most of its existence?

What do you think? What’s the soul of beer?

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Categories: history, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2009 @ 09 38 AM

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