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Have a Beer With…The Committee on Opprobriations

DC’s craft beer culture had seen a good deal of artistic crossovers recently – be it musical collaborations, culinary exploits, or all-around aesthetic hullaballoos – but we here at DC Beer still want more.

Enter the Committee on Opprobriations, the DC-based operation that “designs things with an emphasis on modernism”.   Looking to beer for inspiration, the Committee developed the Single Hop Metro Map, a limited edition (and sadly now gone) print featuring our fair city’s transit system map with local breweries and hop varietals as stops.

Now the Committee has embarked upon the Single Hop Project, in which our favorite conical flowers inspire clean, modern images festooned with educational info like country of origin and acid content.  Art and science all in one tidy, stylish package.

Recently, we grabbed a drink with MVH, who administers the Committee’s work, to chat about single-hop beers, DC’s status as a top-notch food and drink city, and the negative implications of the term ‘hophead’.

DC Beer: Why look to hops for inspiration?

MVH: The creativity of today’s craft brewers is the real inspiration. When looking at how to complement that creativity, it was clear that hops were a good platform for the sort of work done by the Committee on Opprobriations. 

One ambition of the Committee is to challenge traditional concepts through design. Hops are not just for bittering and craft brewers are now using hops in a way that destroys that outdated idea. The Single Hop Project is a way to help beer consumers update their understanding of hops to align better with the beer that is now available to them. 

What led you to put the hop stats on there?

The designs are hierarchical to help the learning process – you start with the visual impression for the hop and then soak up all the details. It also enables beer geeks to celebrate their favorite hops and consider each type’s place in the spectrum of varietals. Whether you are a novice or a Cicerone, you can revisit the information presented in each design many times and still find something interesting or at least helpful. The series is designed to be approachable and accessible to everyone.

A note on the stats for beer geeks: the available information on hops is pretty inconsistent. To deal with that, the designs focus on the minimum levels of the three primary acid types (alpha, beta, and cohumulone), not maximums or ranges. Other acids were purposefully excluded because, at least with regard to the final beer product, they appear to contribute to the hop character in a secondary way. It is admittedly debatable.  All that said, hop growers, hop marketers and hop researchers seem to be playing by different rules at times – some consistency would be nice.

How do you choose your design for a given hop? Name, provenance, character, personal interaction?

All of the above. The name is the best catalyst for a design idea, but from there provenance and character can be helpful. Sometimes the name of the varietal demands a fairly straightforward visual cue, like Horizon or Galaxy. Others, like Triskel, are more esoteric and allow broad room for interpretation. Personal interaction is very helpful for those hops, or if a color palette needs added emotion as the draft is finalized. 

Does this series mean you’re a hophead? 

“Hophead” conjures up the notion of a beer with palate wrecking bitterness – one of the outdated perceptions the Single Hop Project is designed to address. There are huge differences in flavor and aroma between hop varietals, as well as bitterness. One need not love stinging bitterness to be a hophead. Drink a Nelson Sauvin-focused or Warrior-focused IPA alongside a Super Galena IPA and you’ll get the picture. 

What work have you done with local breweries/events?

The Committee’s work has a strong connection to the food and beverage world. Despite what some may think, DC is a first-tier city for great food and drink, and it is made better by the camaraderie that exists among everybody. Collaboration is a foundational mandate of the Committee, and working with a local person doing something cool in beer, spirits or food is my favorite thing to do.

The Single Hop Project is the lead-in to other exploits that will bring good design to the world of food and drink. DC is home and people here will be seeing more of the Committee’s mark in the coming months. [Editor’s note: the Committee has partnered with DC’s own New Columbia Distillers, makers of the wonderful Green Hat Gin, to make their barrel stencils]

So what was the story with the Metro map design?

The Hop Metro Map was a fun bit of propaganda. There were a ton of great brewers here for the Craft Brewers Conference and it was awesome to see how DC bars and restaurants embraced that fact to turn the entire town into a celebration of their work. The Hop Metro Map was designed to reinforce the notion that DC is a premier beer town in a not-so-subtle way. There were only a few made, but you may see that map show up again.

Are there any plans to get involved in label art?

The visuals of the beer world are weighted toward ornate and complicated designs, although minimalism can be found, especially from some of the Nordic brewers. The Committee has not done any label art yet, but it would definitely be a great way for a brand to stand out on the shelf. Anybody that makes interesting beer and likes Massimo Vignelli should feel free to get in touch

Do you have any favorite beers or styles?

The spring and summer months demand Oberon. I grew up on Bell’s beer and always tried to maintain a decent knowledge of craft beer. But then someone gave me a Stillwater Chardonnay Barrel Aged Stateside Saison – whoa. That beer was so interesting and unexpected – I still long for more. And I always hope to have someone there with me who only drinks a big three beer. We could exorcise that demon rather quickly with one of Brian’s works. 

As the Single Hop Project indicates, I love the trend of beers that highlight a single hop. It is the best way to expand your enjoyment of drinking beer – everyone should get at least two single hop beers and compare. The guys at Flying Dog are being very thoughtful with their single hop series and it is one of my favorites. It is easy for a single hop beer to veer toward being overly sweet and I think Flying Dog has figured out how to avoid this without masking the distinct character of the specific hop.

Where might folks find you to buy you a beer?

Boundary Road always has a well-curated beer collection, often with a surprising style or two. If “research” is the order of the day, Greg at Pizzeria Paradiso provides an incredible selection worth exploring. I do not frequent Meridian Pint as much as I should, but that will change.

You can purchase any of the Single Hop Series prints at the Committee on Opprobriations’ Society6 shop and follow their work on Twitter @opprobriations.

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