By nature, beer is sweet. When you ferment grain into alcohol, you basically get sugar water. For the last 600 years or so, almost all beer has been made using hops: bitter green flower cones that preserve the beer and balance against the sweetness of the wort. In modern times, hops are sometimes added again to the cooled wort to accentuate their flavor.
A few years ago, American brewers started using hops differently. Instead of focusing on how many and what types were used to bitter the beer while boiling it, they started obsessing over the later stages, where the hops are used to impart citrus, floral and fruit flavors during a conditioning process known as dry-hopping. The result is beer that has a hazy appearance and a fresher hop flavor without as much bitterness.
Until Starting At The End, a collaboration beer made by Nick Mader and Brian Rooney, I’d never heard of anyone forgoing bittering hops entirely. Neither had the brewers — of the Westside’s Alma Mader and Brookside’s BKS, respectively. They both settled on trying the beer based on a podcast discussing the topic.
“Nick and I talk a lot about profiles of beer and how to utilize hops and we were just kind of interested in it,” says Rooney. “Both of us were a little afraid to do it because it’s such an unconventional approach to IPA. We both talked about it, like what would happen? Finally I said to Nick, ‘If you don’t do it I’m going to do it.’”
Rooney and Mader are among the city’s best and most innovative brewers, and decided to “share the risk” in making the beer as a collaboration. The idea was to “test the theories” about the perception of hoppiness.
“Neither of us knew what to expect,” says Rooney. “Nick would call me and say ‘I don’t know about this’ and I’d have to go over there and drink through it, talk through it and we’d convince each other that it was OK.”
The end result is, indeed, OK. Starting At The End has a soft floral bitterness that fades fast on the tongue. Interestingly, it appeared to me to have a very slight greenish hue. It’s not a beer I’d want to drink a six-pack of, but that was sort of the point.
“We found that a lot of these theories about dry-hopping are valid, and it’s changing how we make our other beers,” says Rooney. “I’m definitely using less on the hot side [of the brewing process] now.”