Bell's Hopslam Ale: Too much of a good thing
It's been a long time since I've been so eager to find a particular beer. I've been getting suggestions to try Bell's Hopslam from all sorts of people. From people whose opinions I trust, value and seek out, down to complete strangers I habitually avoid. Many claim Hopslam is the best beer they've ever had. The others mostly have said it wasn't for them, but it would be perfect for me. On the face of it, they'd be right. I've enjoyed a couple of other Bell's beers. Well made and simple, I thought they were exactly what a craft brew should be. Mostly, I love hops, and this beer is loaded with them. Could this be the Holy Grail of beers? The one beer that I could definitively call the best I've ever had and the only one I ever want again?
Not that I'd ever want to tie myself to one single beer for the rest of my days anyway, Bell's Hopslam isn't even a beer I'd particularly want again. I have no time for those craft beers that try to jam everything they can into a bottle, taste be damned. I want a proper, well-made beer. It must have plenty of flavor, but still remain true. Hopslam is a freak. A Frankenstein.
When I was very young, I thought bigger, hotter and faster was always better. The best wings were the ones so spicy they would bring tears to the eyes before they even made it to the table. I wanted tacos that would eat their own way down to, and through, my stomach. As I grew up, I realized the importance of subtlety. How the loud and garish things usually covered a lack of depth. Hopslam is about as subtle as whacking your tongue with a meat tenderizer.
It starts out extremely well, though. It looks and smells a treat. Orange and cloudy with a small, creamy head, and an aroma that is complex, but not overpowering. The smell gives a little indication of the battle going on in the glass, but the effect is pleasantly piney. The hops bring some fruit and flowers and the malt knocks it back with some sweetness. It doesn't get much better than that in a double IPA.
Unfortunately, the battle is much more pronounced in the flavor. Here, it becomes an absolute war. Bell's tried to cram as many hops as they could get into this beer. It's like sucking on a big gob of fresh, soggy hops right off the vine. It's as bitter and biting as that sounds. Obviously, they couldn't leave it that way. Like an inept cook trying to balance out an over-spiced chili by tossing in even more of something else, they attempt to compensate by pouring on the malt and honey in an attempt to even it out enough to drink. The problem is, the flavors don't work in concert. There's just too much of both. The overpowering sharpness of the hops is always there, but so is the very distinct sweetness. They aren't really combined, though. The sensation is similar to putting two straws into two very different types of beer and letting them mix in your mouth. Sometimes, two great tastes don't go together. In this case, the combination results in a thick and syrupy grapefruit flavor, that still doesn't quite hide all of the alcohol.
The only thing you could possibly eat with this beer is something extremely hot and spicy. This beer is going to pound your tongue into submission anyway, so you'll need something ridiculously hot or you won't taste anything. I've heard several people claim these are sessionable beers and that they'd love to drink them all night. Well, good luck with that. It's just not feasible. Hopslam is so over the top, the flavor begins to grate before the first bottle is finished. The almost chewy viscosity isn't going to help in the long run, either. But it's the hefty 10 percent alcohol level that will clinch things. This beer is not one for a long night of drinking. It's brutal. The hops will hammer the tongue, the alcohol will hammer the brain, and the cost will hammer the wallet. The final insult is that this will easily be among the most expensive 6-packs you'll find.
I think there's probably a good reason almost all of the double IPAs made today are from American craft brewers. They're the ones who want to experiment with all the craziness instead of concentrating on simple quality. They are more interested in being different, than just making a great beer. They're missing the point. Good beer seems boring to them. These monsters they come up with just aren't good beers. They're novelties, at best. Yes, they have a substantial amount of flavor. They have a substantial amount of everything. They may be for the sort of person who still likes to brag about how much they enjoy taste bud-annihilating hot sauce. The ones for which too much is never enough. And, there are many. People are stumbling over themselves in a rush to gloat over how much they like this beer, in the way only the most odious of beer snobs can. It's all yours then silly, silly people. Leave the good stuff for the rest of us. Your scarred tongue won't be able to taste it anyway.