I drank almost no beer throughout the ’90s and well into the new century. The reasons for this are roughly equal parts of the following: the usual boring suspects (Budweiser, Molson, etc.), the thrill of exploring the endlessly fascinating world of wine and the vain (but ultimately futile) attempt to retain my once-girlish figure. About the only times I would indulge in any malt and hops beverages were the occasional Chimay Trappist Ale at Christmas, or in the middle of March, when I would take advantage of St. Patrick’s Day promotions, grab a discounted case of Guinness Stout, gain five pounds in a matter of days and swear the suds off until the following year.
About four or five years ago, it became necessary for me to gain some knowledge of the considerable stock of beers and ales in the retail department that I managed in order to better serve my customers. My distributors were generous with samples and I got up to speed fairly quickly, in the process discovering that the hoppier the beer, the more I liked it, and India Pale Ale quickly became my preferred style. There are plenty of great American IPAs being brewed, from the likes of Dogfish Head, Stone Brewery, our own Short’s and Bell’s here in Michigan and many more. (I’ve already expressed my admiration for Bell’s Two Hearted Ale in previous blog entries here.) My Bell’s rep at the time, Todd Hill of Rave Associates in Ann Arbor told me, “If you like IPAs, you’ll LOVE Bell’s Hopslam.”
Oh my, how right he was!
Bell’s Hopslam Ale is a Double IPA, which means that it’s a souped-up version of the regular style, and it’s my favorite beer in the world, period. I’ve had people tell me that it’s just too over-the-top for their tastes and all I can say is too bad, all the more for me. I have yet to experience a beer or ale anywhere near as hugely aromatic as this. The first time I poured myself a glass, it was like putting my nose into a bag of what is commonly referred to these days as kine bud (don’t ask me how I know, just take my word for it), which shouldn’t come as a total surprise, since hops and cannabis are related. Very intense, but not as bitter as some IPAs, the hops have an almost piney character over a floral fruity quality that, for Kim and me, is utterly delicious. You do have to be careful with this however, because at 10% alcohol by volume, it can really kick your butt.
I decided that it would be fun to compare Hopslam with another high quality IPA, for purely unscientific purposes and because I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve tried from Short’s Brewery out of Elk Rapids, Michigan, I decided to include their Huma Lupa Licious IPA, another heavily hopped ale. (Has anyone besides me noticed that Short’s is Stroh’s spelled backwards?) The contrast was both marked and instructive.
The Huma Lupa Licious, while not a Double IPA, more than holds its own here, being typically bitter and intensely hoppy, with nice citrus overtones and an intriguing, albeit very subtle note of chocolate that seems to come and go throughout the drinking experience. It really delivers everything I’m looking for in a good IPA and would be interesting to compare with such other All Stars as Dogfish Head 60 Minute Ale, Stone’s Ruination IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA and the aforementioned Bell’s Two Hearted. At 6.60 alcohol by volume, it’s also a little less destructive to brain cells, depending on how much one imbibes.
What seems to set the Hopslam apart from Huma Lupa Licious and the others is the use of honey in the brewing process, which not only cuts the bitterness somewhat, but also adds a fruitier character reminiscent of something like grapefruit, and yes, there’s a note of honey as well. I’ve never tasted anything else quite like it, but unless you tuck some away, you can’t just crack one and enjoy one any old time. Hopslam is a seasonal release from Bell’s, only available from January 7th through February, so you have to get it while it’s around. If there’s one drawback to this otherwise killer libation, it’s that it’s not cheap. It sold for $14.99 a 6-pack when I first encountered it, and when it jumped to $17.99 last year, we refused to buy any. Maybe Bell’s got the message, because it’s back down in the $14.99 range, and yes, that $3 swing makes a difference to me. (For the record, Huma Lupa Licious goes for about $10.99 a 6-pack.)
Both of these are excellent ales in their respective categories and are fair values at the prices listed. Hopslam is truly exotic, however, and anyone who enjoys craft beers and hasn’t tried it yet owes themselves the experience.
Reporting from Day-twah,