Home Beer Let’s ban “hoppy” and “malty” from beer descriptions

Let’s ban “hoppy” and “malty” from beer descriptions


shutterstock_97166366 (1)Friends, Romans, countrymen: Lend me your ears. And beers. I have a serious proposition, one that I’ve been meaning to put down in writing for months: Let’s collectively agree to stop using “hoppy” and “malty” as beer descriptors.

Those words tell drinkers nothing, and it’s lazy not to reach for more precise flavor descriptors. When writers (and breweries, who often use these words on packaging) label a beer “hoppy,” that could mean anything from bitter to dank to grassy to floral to citrusy. Different varieties of hops impart a huge range of flavors, just as malts do. Doesn’t it make more sense to tell readers that this “malty” beer offers aromas of toasted biscuit, bread crust or honey? Then we can actually begin to imagine the taste of the beer we’re about to enjoy.

This isn’t about snobbery. We don’t need to write tasting notes like we have poetry MFAs. But it is about precision. Yesterday’s New York Times piece in praise of the American lager (hear, hear!) was an enjoyable read until I dug into the tasting notes on the panel’s 10 recommended lagers. The author, Eric Asimov, one of my favorite wine writers, enchants with his wine descriptions: a young Nebbiolo’s “rippling acidity,” the “honeysuckle, mint and chamomile” notes of an exemplary Vouvray. But he describes the lauded Great Lakes Dortmunder Lager as “pale amber, lightly bitter, with lively flavors of malt and hops.”

Flavors of malts and hops. It’s the equivalent of writing that a wine tastes of grapes, or that bourbon displays fermented grain notes. Of Ninkasi’s Venn Dortmund-style lager: “Golden, aromas of malt and hops, balanced and refreshingly bitter.” I’m left wondering if there’s any difference between the Great Lakes and Ninkasi lagers, or even what characterizes a Dortmunder lager.

This isn’t to pick on Asimov or his panel. Now is the time for mainstream, non-beer publications to write about beer with the same care, attention and seriousness that they afford food, wine and other beverages. But if beer is to earn the respect—and the place at the table—that it deserves, our collective vocabulary needs to lead that charge.


Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.


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  • I agree, you need to explore the highlights of the malts and hops and describe their flavours better though. However, I will say there is no substitute for that malt ball flavour you get in whoppers, that’s the only time where I’d say malty is a real descriptor but often no the only malt flavour wroth describing.

    It’s ok to say hoppy and malty, but you need to go much, much further as a beer writer to describe unique flavours. Just like describing a beer as “smooth” isn’t describing a flavour, but rather a texture not and that’s it. That wine writer’s example is pretty bad, I’d be embarrassed to publish that as a review, Eric might as well simply have said “it tastes like beer”because all he did was list ingredients in that review!

  • […] Let’s ban “hoppy” and “malty” from beer descriptions, by Kate Bernot @ Draft Magazine [“This isn’t about snobbery. We don’t need to write tasting […]

  • Kevin W. says:

    I like that this idea is gaining more momentum. I’ll admit that I’m still guilty of describing a beer as “hoppy”, though I usually catch myself and correct it to something more like “hop-forward”, particularly if I’m unable to really articulate the specific hops flavors (for which I still need a lot more practice).

    This is a good thing though. All beers are “hoppy” to some respect, just by the nature of using hops. Same goes for “malty”. There are so many better ways to describe what we’re drinking, without coming across with beer snobbish either.

  • sdkluber says:

    #BanHoppy, #BanMalty

    Encourage Brewers to Elaborate

  • […] Draft Magazine | Let’s ban “hoppy” and “malty” from beer descriptions […]

  • PAbeerfan says:

    I get what the movement is trying to do and, since I have a relatively refined palate, I’m ok with it. There’s a risk though.

    “Hoppy” is less intimidating to a non-craft drinker than “a delicate bouquet of pine and earthy essence balanced with citrusy notes owing to grapefruit and lemon” (read: pretentious). The context of the article is a little scattered, so I’ll attempt to draw a conclusion or two and ask for a degree of leeway to make my point.

    The nexus of the issue is the use of the terms hoppy and malty. I’d argue that audience should be considered, first and foremost. Hoppy and malty may be more aptly used on the actual bottle. In most cases, label real-estate is at a premium, given all the mandated disclaimers and warnings – not to mention that your focus is primarily on your branding. Given all the requirements, it’s almost necessary to add a neck-label these days to get two or three lines of either: the story behind the beer, the flavor profile, the branding fit, or any other items of importance. Adding a precise and potentially lengthy description of the full profile may be tough to justify. In this case, “hoppy” or “malty” is excusable.

    In the case of a beer magazine or article to beer drinkers, digital space is cheap. Give me all of the details. Leave hoppy and malty at the door.


  • WCurtis says:

    Well said! Although beer has not reached its full potential, it has already surpassed other alcoholic beverages in complexity and refinement. We must choose our words wisely as to parlay our descriptions while upholding a standard that is unpretentious.

    While we are on this subject, we must also consider the same approach to the naming of said beers by approaching with creativity, but not bordering on ridiculousness for this too will stunt the acceptance of Craft Beer as a peer.

  • HB says:

    While I agree that “aroma of malt and hops” is the descriptive equivalent of “aroma of beer”, I disagree with an overall boycott on the terms. Malty and hoppy are about balance – a beer that has ” aromas of toasted biscuit and honey” could be either malty OR hoppy, depending on the amount/strength/character of the hops used.

    It should not be the ONLY thing said about a beer, but I still feel it is a good introduction to the balance BETWEEN malt and hops.

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