Interesting Rob. I guess creating 'hop flavourss' from other plants is more acceptable than just doing it with synthetic chemicals, but I wonder if it really captures the bitterness and the floral tones accurately? That oily bitterness is as big a component of hoppy beers to me as other aromatics and flavours.
I confess I didn't know about the hefty water requirement to grow hops, so when I first saw the article I thought "what's the point"!
Think I'm right in saying that (apart from in Bavaria!) beer doesn't necessarily mean
fermented malt, water, yeast + hops...
...but sweet malt brought into (refreshing) balance by something! I think the normal bittering agent (gruit?) before hops were invented used to be other plant extracts (in fact don't some Scottish breweries still use heather?), and there are doubtless others - the other option I suppose being deliberate souring as in old ales or Belgian wits / bruins.
I imagine a lot of my favourite styles may well hold up very well with other bittering agents, as I'm usually after the taste of malt, not hops. There's an intriguing lager which I think I've mentioned here before (again Scottish) which tastes quite minty, but that flavour comes from hops I think - Three Hop Craft Lager by Caledonian - perhaps they're sneaking a bit of mint in alongside the hops!
Rob, there seems to be loads of different botanical things and fruits used to flavour beers, but I am pretty sure they are mostly adjuncts to hops rather than replacing them. I do really like an aromatic hoppy beer, made with whole hop flowers added late, rather than just dried, though some of the super-hopped craft beers are a bit tiring.
I think that's true Tom, but I'd say eg wits rely on the sourness as well as the hops to tame the sweetness - certainly low on the IBUs...
I think I generally want a beer to be refreshing, to be able to taste malt, hops and yeast but not to be too bitter, which is where I join you in parting company with many of the "craft" beers. I don't know whether, to get the hop flavour, you have to impart bitterness to that level - it seems so, but perhaps the brewers on here can say whether eg late hopping can extract the aromatics without all of the bitterness.
It would be great to find a brewery where I could try an unhopped beer to see quite how sickly/unctuous a beer would be without a bittering agent, and how much hop is needed before I:
a) notice the beer becoming refreshing,
b) start to notice actual bitterness,
c) start to taste the flavour of hops
and then there's the oiliness you mention, which I'd not registered but will now look out for. I appreciate there's probably 3 or 4 iterations of the above depending on whether it's just kettled hops, hops added late, hops added green etc etc. Must investigate
I don't know if you know beers like the Little Creatures Pale Ale from Oz? A lovely, fragrant but gentle aromatically hopped beer (all US hops I believe) but really no bitter bite at all. Widely available here I believe and made by the same people who have the Stella Bella and Suckfizzle wine estate in Margaret River.