Martha Harbison wonders if some beer drinkers could be addicted to hops:
Modern-day hopheads–the beer drinkers who gleefully, obsessively seek out hoppier and hoppier brews–don’t usually start out that way. Most people have a natural aversion to bitter compounds–useful for avoiding eating lethal doses of poisons in the wild. No, one must work one’s way up to hops: Start off drinking beers with lower IBUs (International Bitterness Units, one measure of how bitter a beer is), be them ambers, lagers, brown ales, or stouts. Next, try a pale ale. Then try many pale ales. Then discover the IPA — and with it, become obsessed with hop varietals such as Simcoe (piney aroma) and Amarillo (fruity aroma). Be happy with that for a while. Maybe try a double IPA (twice the malt, twice the hops as a regular IPA), which may or may not be successful, depending on whose you drink. Begin to love being punched in the face with a fist of hops. Become obsessed with IBU ratings. Buy the hoppiest beers one can find, even if they don’t actually taste all that good. Despair.
But it’s not actually addictive:
You can cut hops out of your diet with no adverse physical reactions just like you can do the same for curry or bacon cheeseburgers or any number of other food items for which one occasionally develops cravings. Gustatory cravings are not the same as caffeine jags, nic fits or heroin jones.
So how does one account for the obsessiveness? Zak Stone theorizes “it’s the association of hoppiness with stronger alcohol content in beers that drives the sense of addiction”:
Beer lovers not only get used to drinking more bitter beers, they often get used to drinking ones with higher alcohol content. The hops are the bell that make Pavlov’s dogs water at the mouth: only this time it’s for booze.