Beer Review 0578: Bell’s Hopslam Imperial IPA (2014)

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Indulge me here for a minute. I hardly ever re-review a beer that I’ve done before, unless it is part of my redux review series, but I decided to dedicate a fresh review to Bell’s Hopslam for a couple different reasons.

I’m no stranger when it comes to Hopslam. You probably aren’t, either, especially if you are into hoppy beers or follow limited release beers. Hopslam is released by the Kalamazoo, Michigan brewery each January, and it quickly sells out just about everywhere Bell’s ships it. And they expect you to fork over limited edition prices for it: I pay $19.99 US for a six-pack, and I imagine your price (if you can find it; it’s not nicknamed ‘Hypeslam’ for nothing) is quite similar.

A little about the beer for the uninitiated: Hopslam is an Imperial IPA, coming in at a whopping 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). The beer is brewed with honey, and six different hop varieties, all from the Pacific Northwest. Bell’s keeps the exact hops a secret, but do say they “massively” dry-hop the beer with Simcoe, a hop that contributes citrus and pine aromas.

When I previously sampled this beer back in February 2012, it became one of the first beers I reviewed to earn a perfect score of 100 points. I was floored by Hopslam, and it really opened the floodgate for hops and big IPAs for my palate. I had never tasted anything like it.

Fast-forward to 2013, when a new batch of Hopslam hit the shelf. It was overly bitter. It was overly boozy. In short, it just wasn’t what it was in 2012. But the bigger question that I thought at the time was: What if this IS the same beer; what if I’ve just had other IPAs that were as good that aren’t limited and are significantly cheaper? It was a good question — have other breweries closed the gap in the Imperial IPA category? Was the 2013 batch of Hopslam not up to snuff? Maybe my love for the beer was a fluke? I waited another year, and here we are with a fresh bottle. Let’s see what’s going on with my first true Imperial IPA love.

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The pour roused an average size, creamy (almost frothy) head that is slightly off-white in color and lasting. The beer is golden-orange in color, leaning a bit toward light amber; it’s crystal clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to and fro. There’s just a touch of hop haze. No particles or sediment to report, and lacing is superb, leaving behind thick spreads of solid foam all the way down the glass.

And, shocker here: a punch of hops on the nose. Literally every hop aroma you can think of is likely touched upon in some form. There’s dominant tropical fruits (papaya, mango, passionfruit, pineapple) and resinous pine. All of the fruits are ripe and juicy; this year’s has a significant hint of orange to it, along with small notes of grass and lime. There’s malty sweetness here but it takes a far back seat; I got caramel, wouldn’t exactly call it honey, but it has an inherent sweetness to it that is similar. Hopslam has a beautiful blend of hop aromas. At this point in my beer drinking career, its aroma is almost unmistakable.

Alright, so it looks like Hopslam, and smells like Hopslam…

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The taste? It’s Hopslam. Tame notes of grass and pine develop into big, juicy, sharp drops of pineapple, mango, tropical fruit juice concentrate. It has a ton of sweetness to balance out the high acids; this beer is like a battle on your palate between sweetness and bitterness, and all the while it gives a firework show of hops. Near the swallow, the full brunt of 10% alcohol hits; this is boozy, without a doubt, but it also serves to clean up some of the honey sweetness and set the stage for the heavy bitterness on the finish: grapefruit, pine, menthol, and bitter orange peel. Hopslam is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

This is certainly better than last year’s attempt, but to my palate, it doesn’t quite live up to the first time. The beer definitely seems much boozier than when it got the perfect score; while I do feel it maintains superhero drinkability with the 10%, the Hopslam I remember felt boozy but didn’t taste it. I also think that my palate has been treated to Imperial IPAs that are on the same level over the last couple of years…so, yes, other breweries have caught up to the mystique and allure of the much coveted Hopslam. Perhaps that should be a signal to Bell’s that it’s time for some changes with this beer — not the recipe, but perhaps the “limited” status and the price point. Because, I’m going to be bluntly honest…when it comes to picking up a six-pack of this or Lagunitas Sucks (100 points, and my 2013 beer of the year), I’m probably going to go for the Sucks and have a beer that is just as good for half the price. And I don’t have to use sophisticated radar to track it down.

Bell’s Hopslam Imperial IPA (2014), 98 points. Price: $19.99 US for a six-pack.

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