SanTan Count Hopula

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Beer: Count Hopula Brewery: SanTan Brewing Co. Style: American Strong Ale ABV: 7.1 percent

See also: SanTan Mr. Pineapple

Beers that come out every year but don't stick around for long -- seasonals, we call them -- are an important piece of any brewery's portfolio. Drinkers will often eagerly anticipate the release of these brews, and then promptly state that the flavor is different from the previous year's batch when they get them. Usually, this is just beer geeks being goobers, and the ingredients are identical to the previous year. But if someone said this year's batch of Count Hopula tasted off, they'd be right.

Count Hopula, SanTan's "blood red IPA," rose from its coffin in September last year. At 7.5 percent ABV and 99 IBUs, the intense brew was well-received, but SanTan's brewers weren't satisfied with the result. "Last year's batch came out a little too much like an imperial red for us," says Anthony Canecchia, head brewer at SanTan. For this year, the boys toned down the caramel malt, and instead of roasted barley used a newer ingredient called Midnight Wheat -- the same malt used in SanTan's Negro Nitron. "The malt gives the beer a nice dark color without imparting a lot of that tannic roast character and polyphenols," Canecchia says.

Brewers also upped the dry-hopping regimen, stuffing the brew with even more of the increasingly-hard-to-come-by Simcoe hop. The result is what Canecchia says he was going for: a bloody-hued IPA with some bite. In SanTan's curvaceous glassware, the brew is dark yet clear and topped with a dense cap of light tan froth.

If Twilight has taught us anything, it's that vampires have not only unusual strength, but also the ability to love. Count Hopula is no different. The aroma is powerful, with sweet caramel in equal proportion with an alcohol-grass mix. Citrusy orange, toasted bread and hints of mango or papaya meld in the background. But the flavor is passionate -- a sweet, hoppy blend of caramel, brown sugar, grass, flowers, orange peel, roasted bread and booze. A flash of apricot appears at the swallow.

Also different from last year's vintage is the alcohol content -- brewers dropped the ABV from 7.5 percent to about 7.1. The thick, medium-full body makes this a beefcake of a beer, but the bright hops add a zip that keeps the brew refreshing.

"It's crisp, which is how we try to make all our beers: drinkable in the Arizona climate," Canecchia says. "I'm really happy with how it turned out."

Canecchia has another reason to be happy: He says SanTan is close to finalizing the purchase of a location for its new production facility, which will allow him to produce more of the mainstays while trying out some experimental stuff at the Chandler brewery. Until then, Count Hopula is an oddity that will be available on draft lines across the Valley until the day after Halloween, when it returns to the crypt.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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