Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Hopslam Imperial IPA
It’s that time again.
If you’re reading this, congratulations! You’ve likely survived the release of the 2013 batch of Bell’s Hopslam. And you likely know the story about the much-desired brew from the boys in Michigan. Every year about this time, people go apeshit for what is widely considered one of the best beers on the planet, with local stores resembling something out of “Jingle All the Way” as beer geeks scramble over one another to get their hands on a six pack of the delectable double IPA.
Last year, I happened to be off work on Hopslam Day. No such luck this week, but I still got my hands on more than enough to top off my hop gauge for the year. (Not to mention the upcoming festivals which will feature casks of the stuff.)
Anyway, last year I dubbed Hopslam my favorite beer. And then I gave myself a year to calm down, mature my palate and come back to it with a new outlook and appreciation for other beers. The result? Yup, still my favorite beer.
There really is no comparing the nose on Hopslam. It still remains one of the best-smelling beers I’ve ever encountered. The hops just ooze a bouquet of juicy flavors, from mango to peach to tangerine to grapefruit to melon to pineapple to lemon, and it just goes on and on. It’s really akin to sticking your nose in freshly sliced tropical fruit. Behind that is the bite of a dank, wet pine, and everything is smothered in that deliciously sweet note from the honey.
When it comes to the taste, there are always naysayers decrying how this year’s batch isn’t as good as last year, or how quickly the flavors have fallen off. But to me, Hopslam is like pizza: Even if it’s not at its best, it’s still great, and I’ll still enjoy it no matter what. While I have heard earlier batches of this year’s Hopslam were really poor, this batch – bottle 1/15/13 – is just as good as I ever remember it being.
On the front of the tongue, it’s like piney honey. There’s that pop of bitterness mellowed quite beautifully by the honey. Middle of the mouth, all those flavors from the nose blend into a perfectly delicious concoction. Juicy fruits, piney hops and smooth sweetness just permeate everything. There’s a great citrus flavor in the middle as it warms, like fresh grapefruit. On the finish is a dry piney bitterness that lingers beautifully.
What makes Hopslam stand out to me is its drinkability. I generally go for IPAs or DIPAs given the chance, and the bigger and hoppier, the better. But there’s a point where the hops just wreck your palate, which is fine for a while, but can be tiresome when sustained for too long. Aside from downing a pint and feeling a little funny upon standing up, I’d have no idea this was a 10% beer. The honey makes it go down so smoothly and helps to cut the hop bitterness without diluting it.
Are there better and less expensive comparable DIPAs on the shelves right now? Absolutely. Lagunitas Sucks, Oskar Blues Deviant Dales and Nugget Nectar come to mind as just a few out there at the moment, and all are absolutely phenomenal beers. But for me, nothing has ever beaten Hopslam. I agree the hype surrounding it – people crowding and stalking stores just to get a six-pack, etc. – gets out of hand. But for me, it still remains everything I’d want in a DIPA: pungent, juicy, brutally hoppy yet incredibly drinkable.