STYLE: American Double / Imperial IPA
4.5 / 5.0
Look: 4.0 | Smell: 4.75 | Taste: 4.75 | Feel: 4.5 | Overall: 4.5
Brewery at a glance: Around these parts, Bell’s is king. Walk into any bar and you will most likely find Two Hearted on draft, regardless of the bar’s clientele. Because of this, I’ve probably consumed 75 times my body weight of Two Hearted over the years and have no plans to slow my consumption of one my favorite beers by one of my favorite breweries. About six years ago, me and a friend took a brewery tour of Michigan and Bell’s was our first stop. While there, we each had a flight of quite a few offerings that were not yet available in our hometown. Up to this point, we were relatively inexperienced with beer but we both recognized that Bell’s made a solid product. Since then, Bell’s has blossomed into one of the biggest, most consistent breweries on the market. Whether it be their excellent flagship, Two Hearted, their amazing, chocolaty Porter, or the wheaty orange, Oberon, Bell’s is easily one of the best breweries in Michigan and you cannot go wrong if you see any of their offerings on the shelf.
Look: Hopslam pours a rich, copper color with lots of foamy white head that sticks to the glass. The color is reminiscent of honey and unseasonably warm early spring days. For an IPA, it pours a much more opaque, orange color than many of the other IPAs I’ve had in recent years. As you’ve probably gathered in my many Brew Reviews, I like to use proper glassware whenever possible so this one was poured into a Spiegalau IPA Glass. As you can probably tell based on the pictures, I accidentally poured it a smidge too fast and got an unreasonable amount of head. But I can assure that this didn’t make it taste any less amazing and really helped bring out the aroma. This was the first year that Bell’s decided that they would be ditching the bottles in favor of putting Hopslam in cans. Recently, the brewery has been putting a lot of their big staples in cans and I’m really digging the look. However, for all of the cans already on the market, Hopslam’s can seems a little too run of the mill and is not nearly as attractive as say, their Two Hearted can.
Smell: Strong hints of grapefruit, bitter orange, pine, honey sweetness, apples, and hops. It smells like a big, sweet IPA and gives you a great preview of what follows in its taste. I’ve had a lot IPAs over the years and so frequently I feel like there is something missing in the nose of those bigger beers. On the nose, they are either simply hop dominate or you can smell the overwhelming bitter taste. If there is one area where Hopslam truly outshines its Imperial peers, it is in its smell. There’s subtlety here and doesn’t wreck your olfactory bulbs like so many other of its brothers tend to do.
Taste: The moment you’ve all been waiting for. A beer’s taste so sought after that, here in Fort Wayne, liquor stores sold out the first day it was available. So is it worth it? The time? The cost? The wait? Short answer: yes. Hopslam is a really tasty beer. Where most Imperial IPAs tend to completely destroy the palate masking any and all subtleties of the complex, citrusy taste that IPAs should have, Hopslam is definitely a fresh a breath air. There’s a balance here that makes it so highly sought after and something that I continue to get excited about each year. It hits with you with it strong honey sweetness that progresses into the hoppy bitterness complemented by its juicy, fruit flavors. When it finishes, there’s strong flavors of grapefruit, pear, orange, and piney citrus that gradually progress into bitter hop flavor. It is hard to remember a beer from a year ago when I didn’t take as extensive notes as I do now but I seem to recall Hopslam having a stronger honey characteristic in its flavor. When I first tried it, I remember thinking how overly sweet it is but am not getting that sweetness as I remembered it this time around. I first thought it may be that the can was affecting its flavor so I went out and tracked down a place that had it on draft. The two sources tasted remarkably similar so I’ve chalked up the sweetness in the brew to a poor, drunken memory.
Feel: Hopslam is juicy. It has a very rich mouthfeel that fills the mouth full of juicy fruit flavor. The first sip whets the palate before providing juicy flavor that finishes dry. Given its high ABV, there is relatively no boozy finish until long after the beer has left your mouth. The addition of the honey gives it a very viscous feel that really sticks to your entire mouth with each sip. Long after the beer is finished, I still felt it in my mouth and it almost had a chewy consistency. While this may sound like a bad thing, it reminded me of its great taste long after the brew was finished.
Overall: There’s a lot I have to say about Hopslam. But before I say anything about the beer, I need to point out that there was this unbelievable amount of criticism surrounding the beer this year. Whether it be about its exclusivity, its blind, rabid fandom, its price, or it being no longer unique among the large body of Imperial IPAs on the market, I heard a lot of grumbling about this year’s offering. There is always a point where something incredibly popular undergoes vicious attacks based solely on the fact that it has gained notable attention. This is especially true in the indie music scene when your favorite band gains legions of new fans and you feel yourself growing almost bitter towards the new found success. Rather than continue to support them, you are quick to criticize their later output, their growing popularity, and the new appeal the band suddenly has. You are quick to point out their flaws while also almost secretly enjoying them more than you ever have. Deep down, you know your criticism is rooted in the feeling that you found them first.
It is interesting how much Hopslam in this scenario could be replaced with the hypothetical band I describe above. When the craft beer market was still relatively new and hadn’t yet reached this almost over-saturated point it is now, I was able to easily go to my local liquor store, pull a six pack of Hopslam off the shelf, and not have a second thought about it. This was in 2009. It was one of the first IPAs that sold me on the style and convinced me that there was a ton of subtle flavors that were beyond the dry, bitter hop-wallop in most other offerings. Given that I didn’t have a ton of money back then, I would often split the six pack with a friend or two and consume every bottle in one night. Fast forward seven years and I bought my six pack alone and have been limiting myself to a can a week since its release after spending an entire day driving around to seven liquor store who may have a lone six pack for me to purchase (for the record, I did get the last one available at the place I purchased it). I was even hesitant to share one with my brother after he asked to try it following a break up. Worst of all, the poor kid had never had it before. Seriously, I actually gave it a second thought!
So every bitter, old beer drinker who has become that aging fan of some band he saw perform in his cousin’s basement that is now playing sold out arenas, this beer is still for you. It is not the beer that has changed. It is you. The band and the beer is still just as good. And those punk kids around you buying only a t-shirt and drinking what used to be your favorite beer like water instead of savoring it like it should be, those kids were once you, my friend. So quit with the self-aggrandizing power trip and chug a Hopslam. It is a damn good beer that is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. It isn’t too loud. You’re just too old. Or, in this case, it isn’t too bitter. You’re too bitter.
Have you had this brew? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.