Mug Shots: All hopped up

Passion-specific jargon is fun and educational. In beer speak, “hopheads” get their considerable jollies from lupulin, and it’s all street legal.

Lupulin is the minute yellowish-brown hairs obtained from the strobili of the hop plant, and the hop (Humulus lupulis) is the traditional flavoring agent of beer. Hops provide the bitterness to balance sweet barley malt. Once bitten, hopheads seldom return to the under-hopped, watery, mass-produced, alcoholic spritzers consumed by the likes of Homer Simpson.

Take it a step higher, and you enter the realm of the gravityhead, or aficionado of high-gravity beers, themselves lately popularized as “extreme,” which is an appropriate descriptor even if the implied connotation suggesting “new and different” isn’t very accurate. In fact, “gravity” beers always have been with us.

In the art and science of brewing, gravity is an expression of the ratio of fermentable materials to water. A beer recipe begins and ends with a gravity reading, and in between, the blessed yeast converts sugars and starches into alcohol and carbon dioxide, transforming the non-alcoholic watery bread into what we know and savor as an adult refreshment — beer.

If one begins a batch of beer with a high starting gravity (big proportions of grains and sugars) and deploys a hardy, can-do yeast strain capable of performing without succumbing to the alcohol it creates, the result is what we call a “gravity beer,” or a high-alcohol libation not to be confused with “small beer” or “lawnmower beer” — unless your yard implement is a backhoe.

Obviously, gravity beers — Imperial Stout, Double IPA, Barley Wine, Trappist ales — are designed to be enjoyed responsibly. Drink them slowly, and wrap your senses around big flavors with surprisingly subtle textures. Let your sober buddy drive you home.
After all, gravity — and time — marches on.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. He writes about beer for Food & Dining magazine. Visit for more beer.