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Bell's Hopslam

Beer: Hopslam
Brewery: Bell's Brewery, Inc.
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 10 percent

Several times a year, a brew is released that sets the beer-buying public in a frenzy. Like a locust swarm, they'll race from store to store to pick up as much as they can, leaving barren, empty shelves in their wake. Deschutes Abyss causes this phenomenon among stout lovers, but for hopheads there's no bigger thrill than the hunt for Hopslam.

Released every year during a too-short period in the middle of winter, Hopslam comes to Arizona from Bell's, the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based brewery best known for Oberon, a refreshing wheat ale, and Two Hearted, a snappy IPA. Hopslam starts with six different hop varietals added to the brew kettle tempered with dollop of honey. A massive dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops gives the brew an aroma that's one of the most pungent of any imperial IPA in the land.

Dark tangerine in color, slightly hazy and topped with a one-finger head of frothy cream-colored foam, Hopslam's a looker that's best enjoyed in a tulip. Dip your nose close to absorb all the glory the massive hop bill provides -- stone fruit, orange peel, Juicyfruit gum and mango are all noticeable, as are honey and a mild breadiness.

With a hefty, viscous body and flavor that'll leave you feeling like the guy on the label, buried in an avalanche of hops, Hopslam is akin to a hop liqueur. Peppery carbonation prickles the tongue, exciting the complex hop blend. Fruity notes lead the flavor charge, with more Juicyfruit, mango, pineapple and honey enhanced by little bit of mint. The pale malt backbone -- like a sugar cookie in sweetness and subtlety -- is just big enough to balance the hops and no bigger, providing a base that's barely able to support the lupulin load. Grapefruit bitterness grips the sides of the tongue snugly, and alcohol is noticeable as a beefy warming in the throat.

 

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Hopslam is one of the sweeter hop bombs out there -- and I really like that about it. It's heavy, but heavy with flavor. If you consider hops to be the essence of beer, you owe it to yourself to seek this one out. You can start the search when Hopslam arrives on draft, which should be in the next week or two. Bottles will be here by early February, and once you get your hands on a six-pack (which will run you about $20, but is totally worth it), drink them quickly. The hops that make Hopslam great fade fast -- people like to joke that the beer's already not fresh enough by the time you get it home from the store.

Food pairing suggestions:
I'd recommend pairing Hopslam with another Hopslam, and then maybe a Hopslam for dessert. But if you're really in the mood for food, blue cheese is a classic partner to imperial IPAs. Try the beer alongside crumbles of a salty, sharp blue, or make a meal out of it with blue cheese-crusted filet mignon.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.

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