A few months ago, I was at the gym, working with a trainer when a few minutes into a session she remarked on how much I must love artichokes. I was momentarily confused by this perceived non sequitur until she pointed at my T-shirt, a "true royal" blue-colored item with a prominent hops cone on the chest. I had to explain what the drawing was actually depicting, and she almost immediately lost interest.
I was reminded of this odd little interaction last week when Planet Dog, a Maine-based company reached out with news of a chew toy, the Orbee-Tuff Artichoke, that they were trying to rebrand as a "Hopichoke" because customers were apparently confusing the vegetable with a hops cone.
This is a fairly common occurrence as a recent freewheeling online conversation among beer-minded people revealed. From shirts, signs, jewelry, and tattoos, hops cones have been confused with everything from artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and pine cones to acorns and porcupines.
"I once had a wannabee Twitter personality block me because I pointed out her hops cone tattoo was a pine cone," says Steve Parkes, the owner and lead instructor of the American Brewers Guild in Vermont.
What is particularly odd about the dog toy is that it's a series of contradictions. Hops, like chocolate and raisins, are harmful to dogs. Canines can be seriously injured or killed by hops if they ingest them. (For more about hops-and yeast-and dogs, see "Ask the Experts: Are Hops Harmful to Dogs?" and "Attention Brewers: Keep Your Dog Safe on Brew Day.") Artichokes are okay for your four-legged pal. The toy, which is called an artichoke on the packaging, is dosed with a minty smell, designed to promote better breath for Fido. Artichokes, by and large, don't have that flavor or aroma, but the Polaris hops and others do.
The confusion between the two is like some kind of Rorschach test. Are you a hophead or a veghead depending on what you see first? And it leads to deeper questions, such as why do we need to call one thing something completely different? Is it just marketing, or is it our human need to question our very nature?
For the record, my 10-year-old mutt, Pepper, has been having some serious fun chasing the durable rubber Orbee-Tuff Artichoke around the apartment for the past several days. She doesn't care what it is. She can't even see the color green.
"I feel artichokes aren't as well loved as hops," says Don Tse of Sudsy Style, who designed the T-shirt I wore to the gym. "Then again, I've never worn my shirt to a vegetarian restaurant."
That's an opinion likely held by many beer lovers who haven't given the vegetable much thought beyond scooping a chip through an artichoke dip at a party or at a brewpub. If you're in that camp, you might be surprised.
Artichokes are the official state vegetable of California, where almost all of the U.S. crop is grown. A message left with the California Artichoke Advisory Board to see if their preferred crop is ever confused with hops was not immediately returned.
For now, it seems like there is more confusion than collaboration. A scroll through online databases doesn't reveal too many artichoke beers. However, you can find recipes for beer-steamed artichokes (steaming is a good way to loosen up the vegetable for consumption.)
While hops and artichokes, a member of the thistle family, don't have a lot in common, the passion behind each from humans is real. In the same way that you'll see folks wearing hops cone helmets at a beer festival, you'll see artichoke items at the annual Castroville (California) Artichoke Food and Wine Festival. There are artichoke costumes, shirts with funny artichoke sayings, and fans lining up to taste dishes made with their favorite vegetable and to meet the growers.
When it comes to confusing the two, some on the beer side experience frustration. Others use it as a teachable moment. Brian Scherer, owner of Stosh's beer bar in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, has a hops cone logo that's been confused with other things.
"Most people who come in know this is a hops cone, but I've been asked why there is an artichoke, pine cone, and-my favorite-a porcupine," he says. "What I love about my logo is that there are still a lot of people who have never seen a hops cone, and I get to teach them on what goes into beer."