You know what we haven’t talked about recently? Beer. Let’s change that. RIGHT NOW. When better than NATIONAL IPA DAY — yup we’re gonna talk India Pale Ales today guys.
In the past I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the barley, how it’s processed and what goes into malting. We’ve talked about the difference between a lager and an ale – the key difference being that any beer worth a damn in my book is usually an ale. Yet for some reason I have yet to bring up the substance most people would think of when beer comes up. The substance my charming British professor would refer to as “the wicked and pernicious weed” with a gleam in his eye: Hops.
Hops, for those of you who don’t know, are perennial flowers that offer little in the way of traditional beauty to the English garden. They weren’t even used in beer production until the 11th century where previously beer had been flavored with herbs and spices and very, very sweet. Prior to the inclusion of hops beer was very sweet, very strong and with made with just a touch of strychnine; sugar, alcohol and poison kept the beer safer to drink from microbial nasties than water. Hops were discovered to have some amazing antibacterial activity that pairs exceptionally well with keeping yeast alive and happy. Brewers were delighted and thus beer transformed from a more sickly sweet substance into the bitter brew we know today—and thankfully without the strychnine.
Hops come in one of two varieties: bittering and aroma. The bittering hops are higher in oils (alpha acids) that provide those desirable antibacterial qualities to your beer. As a result these are boiled for a longer period of time to fully take advantage of this property. During the boiling the bittering hops also release beta acids which impart, well, bitterness—hence the term “bittering” hops. Aroma hops contain significantly less of the alpha acids and so they are not typically added into the beer for the long haul. Instead aroma hops will be utilized either 30 minutes, 10 minutes or even after the boil has finished depending on the desired flavor outcome. Aroma hops are typically where all those flavor notes like “citrusy, grassy and with just a touch of huckleberry” come from.
Different types of beer can be generated by switching up what kind of hops you use, how long you boil and when you add in your aroma varieties. IPAs or India Pale Ales are particularly noteworthy as hop-tastic beers and often the subject of much debate. I have found that with IPAs most people fall into one of two camps: okay in a pinch or vehement disgust. It’s rare that I find an IPA enthusiast but then again I seem to lately find myself surrounded by fruity beer drinkers. Seriously, guys, am I the only person in the room who wants good ol’ nut brown or red ales? Fuck I’m just an old English man at heart. As for IPA I guess I fall into the “okay in a pinch” category with the occasional desire for a Sierra Nevada. They make some good beers and their brewery is BEAUTIFUL. IF you ever want to go on a brewery tour check them out. It’s like Willy Wonka for beer nuts.
IPA’s picked up the India in the 18th century thanks to the East India Trading Company and a demand for pale ales in, uh, India. Pale ale refers to the malting variety – paler malts if you remember are a lighter color and flavor than say chocolate malts. Since these beers underwent a longer transit time it seems likely to me that they were deliberately hoppier in order to keep them easier to preserve and transport. The name stuck, the beer became popular and there you have it: a particularly hoppy, bitter ale.
Ah but can you bake with it? I say yes! Since IPAs are bitter and very flavorful—quite often citrusy—I had a sudden burst of inspiration one day. This beer pairs really nicely with the flavors you find in carrot cake and quite often I can find carrot cakes prepared by commercial bakeries to be cloyingly sweet. The cake itself is already loaded with sugar; both refined sugars and from the addition of carrots, raisins and crushed pineapple. On top of that? A cream cheese frosting containing enough powdered sugar to get you convicted if mistaken for another popular addictive white substance. Wouldn’t the bitterness from an IPA help balance this out a bit? Answer: it does to a delicious and structurally delightful degree. The addition of beer to my cake batter not only created an amazing and undefinable flavor to those who ate it (“omg this is the best carrot cake I have EVER had”) but it also made the batter itself more acidic. Thus I amped up my baking soda and wound up with a really great acid-base explosion in my cake base. It was tender, it was moist and it only improved after sitting wrapped on the counter for a day. So enjoy and be sure to give the cake a day wrapped to rest…if you can manage to restrain yourself that long. I switched out the traditional pineapple for apple butter because that’s what I had on hand and frankly, it’s more delicious anyway. Oh and the beer I chose was from Bison Brewery which hands down makes my favorite beers—these guys should start paying me for endorsements!
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