Bell's Hopslam Returns to Chicago

January 15 2011 - 9:22 AM

Always a major event in the Chicago beer loving community, Bell's Brewing's legendary Hopslam Ale has returned to Chicago, re-emerging on tap and in bottles with the 2011 batch this week.  It arrives to great fanfare, which is justified.  Among beers that Bell's distributes, Hopslam is arguably its most accomplished, perhaps exceeding the exceptional Expedition Stout. 

Hopslam is far from an ordinary imperial IPA.  It is highly complex, unusually flavored, and has the right mixture to have appeal beyond hop lovers.  I embraced one on tap at the Twisted Spoke the other night, served in a goblet that narrowed at the top.  Burnt orange dominates the color profile.  A dense cumulus cloud head tops the beer.   On the nose hop oils leap out at you with pine, lemon, and grapefruit notes, along with honey and apricot.  Sipping it demonstrates what a bad boy this is. It arrives a bit soft with the malts hitting you up front.  You get an intense hop core which lingers through the finish, though honeyed and fruity malts temper the raging hops so you never end up with a dead palate.  You never reach a point where you are halfway through and say, this is all of this I want, as is the case with a Green Flash West Coast IPA.  The addition of honey to the mixture is all the difference with this stunning beer.

To be warned, however, you may want more of this after your first glass, but you won't be having much more.  The mystery of this beer is its ABV.  Bell's usually lists it at 10% but reports last year were that Bell's underestimated the gravity and it ended up at 12%.  That's straight up barleywine territory.  If you ever "felt it"after a Dogfish 90, imagine a beer that's a third more potent.  My experience with this year's batch tells me that there is no way on earth this beer is just 10% because it hits far harder than that. 

Danner Kline in Birmingham Weekly last year observed that based on Hopslam's honey content, you can age this beer successfully as is generally not achievable with imperial IPAs.  Their signature hop profile is the first to go, rendering the beer an impotent malty stew.  Hoplsam is different.  As he brilliantly points out, mead, after all, is a honey-based alcoholic beverage that lends itself to aging, so why not Hopslam?   I can't argue with that, but I'd like to see any of you who enjoy this beer resist drinking your entire batch and hold out on a few bottles for a year.  Availability of this beer is very limited. 

There are several kick-off events this week, including a tasting at Armanetti's Beverages on Lincoln Avenue on Friday, January 14th as the liquor store offers tastings and min-kegs for sale.  Hopslam will be available at the best taps in town and also at craft beer-oriented liquor stores for the next few weeks. 

–Mark Sheppard

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