Reviewed: Bell’s Hopslam Ale
Product description: Starting with six different hop varietals added to the brew kettle & culminating with a massive dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops, Bell’s Hopslam Ale possesses the most complex hopping schedule in the Bell’s repertoire.
Selected specifically because of their aromatic qualities, these Pacific Northwest varieties contribute a pungent blend of grapefruit, stone fruit and floral notes. A generous malt bill and a solid dollop of honey provide just enough body to keep the balance in check, resulting in a remarkably drinkable rendition of the Double India Pale Ale style.
Bell’s Brewery – Bell’s Hopslam Ale – 12 oz. can poured into a tulip – 10% abv.
Hopslam is one of the most famous Double IPAs in the world with a die-hard, loyal fanbase. This is an annual release in January/February hitting retail distribution now in 6-packs of 12 oz cans. (Mini-kegs are also available like what you find with Bell’s Oberon.) Since it debuted in 2004, the recipe I don’t believe has changed too much. But in the past 14 years, the craft beer landscape has changed drastically, and the availability of good Double IPAs has ballooned. Does Hopslam still live up to its name? Let’s find out.
Sampled from a 12 oz can from 1/18/18, Hopslam is crystal clear deep orange to light amber in color with thick, off-white foam that has a rocky, whipped texture on top. The aroma starts with zesty orange peel and glides around Mandarin orange perpetually. As it warms, you get a much sweeter nose like glazed orange rum cake. It’s outstanding.
The flavor begins with some hefty white alcohol up front so that 10% is immediately made known. In the mid-palate, you get some spicy alcohol and aggressive bitterness focused on orange peel. All by itself, I found this beer to be a bit rough around the edges and fairly boozy with bitterness at an 8 out of 10 and sweetness, even though this beer is usually criticized for being too sweet and malty, I found was much lower around a 5 out of 10. It fared much better paired with food. I tried this with some aged cheddar and it worked wonders. You can really appreciate the backbone here with a rich and sweet but not syrupy balance to the onslaught of citrus peel bitterness. The mouthfeel becomes the highlight with a silky smooth texture that allows you to enjoy the intense citrus oils almost tree sap bitterness. It’s a beer that excels in the details. I like this even better as it warms as you get more of a dessert character culminating into that amazing glazed orange rum cake I mentioned earlier.
My main criticism is that the beer is too one note: Mandarin orange citrus in the nose, and orange peel in the flavor and palate. It’s a familiar flavor profile and relatively uninteresting in today’s landscape of passion fruit and pineapple forward Double IPAs. What Hopslam does have that sets it apart from the competition is a tremendous malt base and great mouthfeel.
Overall, I think Double IPAs are tough to master. Even today’s “best” Double IPAs in my mind are just barely over 8% and seem to be slightly higher gravity versions of a brewery’s successful hazy IPA recipe. In terms of a clear, old-school, high ABV approach to this style, there are very few beers out there that are as drinkable and enjoyable as Hopslam.