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Redux Review 0024: Founders Doom Imperial IPA

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What happens when you age a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial IPA in the best way possible? Today, we’re here to find out.

Without question, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Backstage Series brews are the hardest beers for me to obtain. Demand and hype are through the roof. Most shops only get one case, which in terms of the 750 ml servings these beers are doled out it, equals just twelve bottles per store. To make matters worse, these beers typically see release on a Monday, during what would traditionally be considered normal working hours. Last April, when Doom was released, I managed to snag two bottles. I immediately reviewed one while it was fresh, and scored it 94 points, one of the better Backstage Series beers that I’ve had.

I decided to squirrel one away, just to see what happens — and I aged it the best way possible; for one solid year, this bottle has remained in my fridge at a constant 38°F. With one year (and probably a few days), we’re going to crack the crown and see what we’ve got.

For those new to this beer, Doom is a bourbon-barrel aged version of Founders Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). It was previously known as “Hand of Doom” when served exclusively in their taproom; it was selected in 2013 to see a wide release in the Backstage Series.

My initial review went like this:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

So, what’s happened to this beer over the span of a year while stored in optimal conditions? Let’s see…

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The pour produced an average size, soapy head that diminished fairly quickly. There were lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top of the drink; the beer was golden in color and was brilliantly clear, with not even a hint of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving weepy sheets of thin foam.

On the nose, not too much has changed since our initial visit — bourbon barrel collides with tropical fruit hops. We’ve got coconut, vanilla, and pineapple up front, with touches of grapefruit and orange peel. It’s almost like the barrel contributes some sweetness; there is a definite caramel malt backing, but the vanilla and somewhat woodsy/spicy barrel amplify the sweet level. As it warms, the vanilla and coconut notes show more, along with a dry twist of lemon peel.

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The age of this beer shows up on the taste; it’s not wholesale radically different but Doom is now drinking more like an American Barleywine instead of an Imperial IPA — up front, grapefruit, coconut, and pineapple. It’s initially sweet but turns moderately bitter after the first couple of swishes in the mouth; the bitterness is balanced by a solid note of caramel. The once-juicy fruits have turned dry, leaving only hints of faded pineapple, grapefruit, and spicy vanilla. The finish is warm, with a hit of the 10% alcohol, a nice layer of bitterness thanks to grapefruit rind and pine, and a layer of hot bourbon. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This is still a very nice beer, and easily one of the better barrel-aged IPAs around… (barrels and IPA tend to rarely go together, in my opinion…) but as you might have expected, Doom was better fresh. I do think if you have a bottle of this and it hasn’t aged in a fridge, you will probably be in for worse results. While quite drinkable (and enjoyable!) you’ll find this is now more like a Barleywine than an IPA.

Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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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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Beer Review 0562: Victory Hop Ranch Imperial IPA

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There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the two newest releases from Victory Brewing Company — both are Imperial IPAs, and both seem to be taking beer drinkers by storm. I’ve already reviewed one of them, DirtWolf, and scored it a whopping 97 points, classic on my rating scale. DirtWolf is a delicious beer that I described as tasting like hop candy, and it certainly took me by surprise, as it did to most drinkers. Today’s review, Hop Ranch, also seems to also have the same hype.

The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.

Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.

Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.

On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.

Hop Ranch is an Imperial IPA coming in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made with a nod to hop ranchers, who cultivate and grow hops. The beer uses just two hops, Mosaic and Azacca.

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Pouring brought on an average size, initially creamy head that turns soapy as it diminishes, which is a slow process. The yellow-golden beer is nicely capped by the bright white head; body is clear but contains heavy particles and sediment, reminding me of orange juice with pulp. The brew is translucent despite the heavy sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thin but even sheets of suds as I sip.

On the nose, the hop presence is bold and pungent, offering up notes of grass, oranges, garlic, and onion. It’s almost abrasive; as it warms, undertones of pine and grapefruit begin to come out. There’s virtually no malt backing to be had; perhaps just a touch of graininess. Hop Ranch certainly smells like it will be a hoppy powerhouse.

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And it is, but in a very good way — unlike the aroma, these hops are smooth and gentle. The beginning of the sip warms your taste buds up nicely with orange and grapefruit before going in with a blast of exceedingly ripe oranges, lemons, and peaches. It’s like hop candy in liquid form, and it’s delicious. The finish curbs nearly all of the sweetness, delving into moderate bitterness with continued peaches, oranges, and adding some dank pine. Hop Ranch is light-bodied (believe it or not) with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Two new IPAs from Victory so far in 2014, and two smash hits. Wow! This brew is dangerously — I repeat — DANGEROUSLY drinkable. The 9% alcohol vanishes without so much as a trace, and not only is the beer refreshing, it’s smooth and like drinking hoppy candy. Watch out. Very impressive, Victory. I advise you to pick this up if you see it.

Victory Hop Ranch Imperial IPA, 94 points. Price: $8.99 US for a four-pack.

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Beer Review 0560: Omnipollo Fatamorgana Imperial IPA

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While I certainly don’t recommend you do this, sometimes a bottle is worth purchasing just because you like the looks of it. Every now and then, you should definitely treat yourself, even if you don’t know what you’ll get when you open said bottle.

Not much information is known about Omnipollo, other than they are an award winning brewery founded in 2010 by Henok Fentie and Karl Grandin. They’re gypsy brewers from Sweden, and they travel the world brewing their beers at various breweries. When we say award winning, they’re the 2013 Best Brewer in Sweden, as per the website RateBeer.

Describing the bottle which contains Fatamorgana, an Imperial IPA, Mr. Fentie says, “My parents came from Ethiopia to Sweden in the ’70’s and got two kids. Me and my brother. Over the years I have gone down to Ethiopia many times, partly to seek my roots but also to experience the wild nature that this incredible country has to offer. A memory that is particularly vivid to me was a time when I – in the middle of the dry savannah landscape – suddenly stumble into a patch of palm tree jungle within which an oasis was hidden. This is the place where the work with Omnipollo Fatamorgana takes off.”

Drawing inspiration from a Saison, Fatamorgana is brewed using oats and wheat; it is also dry-hopped twice with Columbus, Centennial, and Citra. The beer comes in at 8% ABV (alcohol by volume), and it was brewed at DOG Brewing Co., which is located in Westminster, Maryland. DOG Brewing creates beers for restaurants and select stores around the state of Maryland.

Here’s to a shot in the dark…

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This one pours out what would typically be considered a strange looking brew, for certain. The head is average in size, super foamy and fizzy, and it dissipates quickly. The beer itself looks a lot like orange juice, extremely hazy and murky in body, and colored yellow golden, two or three shades lighter than actual OJ. Despite its lighter color, Fatamorgana is opaque, as you can’t see through all of the haze. Lacing is very sparse and almost non-existent, only leaving a speck or two of foam here and there on the glass.

Talk about hops…the nose is a brisk punch of all things hoppy, with big notes of tropical fruits and grapefruit. It’s like Hawaiian Punch, fleshy with loads of papaya and mango, and we’ve got some oranges thrown in there, too. There’s a significant grassy kick as well, along with a light musty funk that lends credence to the Saison inspiration. There’s very little malt here, maybe a little grain or bread, but if you like citrus/tropical hops, this is for you. It’s delightful.

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On the palate, there’s a large push of grapefruit with a tropical backing up front. Grapefruit rind and the fruit itself are represented, with mangoes and papaya in tow. Juicy oranges transition the middle of the taste into more of a dry grassiness, and there’s a brisk Saison crispness/bitterness that opens the finish, which lingers with dry grapefruit, pine, and subtle mango. The beer is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel and heavily bitter finish.

Final verdict — an extremely interesting beer, you’ll be shocked at the hop content this contains. No way would I have ever thought two Swedish brewers would make a beer like this. And like the description says, it is indeed like an oasis. Unfortunately, I think the beer somewhat falls apart when it tries to tap into the Saison inspiration. But this bottle is worth it for the hop profile alone, and this is a good one-time splurge. I would love to get my hands on more of Omnipollo’s brews, consider my interest piqued…

Omnipollo Fatamorgana Imperial IPA, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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Beer Review 0552: Victory DirtWolf Imperial IPA

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The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.

Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.

Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.

On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.

Introduced in late 2013, DirtWolf is a new year-round Imperial IPA named after “untamed vines (hops) which rise from the earth with the voracity of a ‘wolf among sheep.’” This brew is made with whole flower Citra, Chinook, Simcoe, and Mosaic hops, all American grown. DirtWolf is 8.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are unspecified. DirtWolf replaces Victory’s Hop Wallop in the permanent lineup.

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The pour delivered a beautiful beer topped with a large, bright white head that was frothy and lasted several minutes. The liquid itself was perfectly golden, with a filtered clear body, and no particles or sediment. Lacing was top-notch, leaving behind a thick coating of foam all the way down my glass. Picture perfect for the style.

If you’re nose isn’t prepared for a metric ton of hops, get it ready. Kaboom! Layers of citrus — grapefruit, orange and lemon peel, even hints of lime smash together with dry, dank pine. This is a very hemp-like beer, super fresh and almost skunky it’s so hoppy. There’s a light malt presence here with some sweet caramel, but you’ll have to dig for it. DirtWolf is a brilliant showcase for hops in its aroma — super impressive!

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The taste starts out auspiciously enough with a bit of faint grassiness, but hang on: middle of the mouth blasts every taste bud with dry grapefruit and orange peel. There’s a touch of caramel sweetness, which kind of calms down the hops in the early going, but the alpha acids win out in a huge way — this is a brutal, tongue scraper of a beer, and I loved every second of it. Deep pine and grapefruit, orange peel, lemon peel, suggestions of lime — and the finish. OH. THE. FINISH. Like Juicy Fruit bubblegum, this thing is a citrus haven with a shot of ripe, juicy, fleshy tropical fruits. Couple that with a dry bitterness and you’ve got a sublime yin/yang situation going on. After a few sips, the menthol hoppy mouth is in full effect — click your tongue to the roof of your mouth and it’s like a fruity menthol blast. Exactly how much hops are in this little bottle? And where can I obtain more, with great frequency?! DirtWolf is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel. The alcohol is lightly present on the taste, but it adds to the flavor.

AMAZING beer — DirtWolf is like candy to me. Hoppy candy. So fresh, so dank, so fruity…an instant classic on my rating scale, and you can sign me up for a case a month since this is year-round. This is exciting and I’m happy such a good brew came from Victory. Expect this to be a mainstay in my fridge. BUY WITHOUT HESITATION (if you’re into extreme hoppy beers).

Victory DirtWolf Imperial IPA, 97 points. Price: $7.99 US for a four-pack. (A steal!)

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