Friday, March 4, 2011

Bell's Hopslam

I don’t think I became a true beer drinker until I came to love hops. I still wouldn’t consider myself a “hophead” (I’m more of a malt man, if I had to pick). But I do like hops, and I don’t turn my nose up at IPAs like I used to six or seven years ago. Think of any top-notch craft brewery out there, and you can be pretty certain that one of their “signature” beers will be an IPA. Being a beer geek and not liking IPAs would be like being a Trekkie and not liking Captain Kirk. It’s possible, I suppose, but it just seems wrong. Hops are good stuff, man! Even something as tame as a Samuel Adams Boston Lager triumphs over the average beer precisely because it’s full of hops. There was a time in my life when I thought a Miller High Life tasted better than a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Oh, how far I have come! Some of my favorite beers of recent memory – like Victory’s Yakima Glory and Founders Red Rye PA – are all about the hops.

The true test for me, though, was how I’d do with a double IPA. Taking on a sixty-IBU craft ale and genuinely enjoying it is surely a step in the right direction. But in the grand scale of hop bitterness, that’s nothing! The doubles separate the men from the boys, and I knew I was not yet a Jedi until I’d conquered a certified hop monster. It doesn’t get more monstrous (or delicious!) than the Hopslam. I tried it this week for the first time, and as a beer lover I have to wonder how I survived all these years without it! Without a doubt it rates as one of the greatest beers I've ever tasted. Bell’s may sometimes take a backseat to intrastate rivals Founders – perhaps the best of all American craft breweries. But here’s a case where Bell’s has Founders beat! The very excellent Founders Double Trouble is the Deron Williams to the Hopslam’s Chris Paul – a close #2, but #2 nonetheless. What a week for me: I get to turn 40, see Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice, and find a new favorite beer!

With all due respect to the likes of Victory’s Hop Wallop and Dogfish’s 120, I’d have to call The Hopslam the gold standard of the imperial IPA style. As the name implies, it delivers a knockout punch of floral and fruity hops. It’s made with six different hops in the kettle and then gets dry-hopped with an enormous dose of Simcoe, resulting in a finished product topping 100 on the IBU scale. That’s right: I said one HUNDRED! A hefty helping of malts and a finishing dash of honey provide balance, but by no means do they tame the beast. They don’t call it Hopslam for nothing! But while this beer is a hopped-up ass-kicker of the highest order, it’s not just about the intensity. It’s just as much about flavor, and the flavor is perfect. To draw a musical comparison, imagine the steamroller power of Motorhead crossed with the delicate craftsmanship of the Beatles. It’s ferocious but divine. Grapefruit dominates, backed by a firestorm of bitter hop notes running the gamut from citrus to pine to mango to flowers. The touch of honey adds one final, crucial layer of flavor complexity. Damn! It may seem odd to refer to such an overwhelmingly bitter beer as “drinkable”, but it totally is. Because its deliciousness is so very out of control, I want to gulp this bad boy down fast. But that would be an extremely dangerous thing to do at an alcohol by volume rate topping ten percent!

Unlike some doubles, the Hopslam is not available year-round. It’s one of Bell’s winter seasonals. How ironic that my least favorite season of the year offers all the best beers! I’ve got four bottles left – will I save them for a rainy day? Are you nuts?! I’ll be all out by next week, and that will give me a good ten months to get worked up for Hopslam 2012. What’s that? The world’s supposed to end? I better get my beer first!

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