I think that everyone would agree that tastes change, but is this physical change or is it a reinterpretation of fashion?
The only time I ever add salt to my food is alongside the vinegar when I have takeaway fish and chips but I have a friend who piles it on to everything that she eats, be it a cheese sandwich or a slap-up dinner.
I think that all the kilos of the stuff she has consumed have desensitised her taste buds and she needs more and more to experience that salty sensation. So too with hops.
I spent several of my formative drinking years in Hull, which, thanks to planning restrictions had pubs tied to Bass, Tetley and Hull brewery with a Camerons pub and a couple owned by Darleys. Each one of these would sell a mild and bitter giving a choice of about 10 beers available in the whole city. On my trips back home to Lancashire I used to seek out Boddingtons and Holts, both of which produced extremely bitter straw-coloured beers which had a cult following and were just about unique at that time. My memory tells me that they were, as one Good Beer Guide described Holts ‘bitingly acerbic’, but I think that was just the contrast with what I was used to.
These days any free house is likely to have the choice of several beers with far more bitterness than those of the fondly remembered past. Indeed, it seems that there is between some craft and micro brewers to produce the bitterest beer possible.
This is aided by the wider availability of exotic hops from the USA and New Zealand such as Citra and Cascade which impart a strong citrus aroma and intense flavour. I see nothing wrong in this, but it does seem to lead to a desensitisation of the palate to bitterness, in a similar way to Cathy with her consumption of salt. I think there are consequences. Some say that the straw-coloured beers were produced as an attempt to encourage lager drinkers to change, as a kind of halfway. However if an unsuspecting lager drinker, or even a beer drinker used to the more malty styles tried one of these extreme hop concoctions, I think that their taste buds would be unlikely to repeat the experiment. My other concern is that these styles of beer, golden, summer, original IPA or whatever, are taking over the bars. It seems wrong to complain when I spent five years in a city with a choice of about 10 beers, but it is not unusual to go into a free house and be faced with a dozen hand pumps but still be unable to find anything I really want to drink. There maybe a couple of names everyone has heard of, such as Greene King IPA and Speckled Hen, two or three impossibly strong brews, a couple with fruit or herbs in, some novelty beers with silly names and lots of golden ales. I yearn for an old-fashioned bitter with a copper or ruby colour nice balance between the malt and hops.