Emily Smith and Justin Lear are a food-loving couple who work for CNN and live in Atlanta.
Emily: This past Wednesday, I felt like I was in the middle of a drug deal. I nervously stood near the beer section of our local liquor store, waiting for a man wearing a green apron. When I saw him, I awkwardly confronted him and asked for what I'd come for: Hopslam. He told me to wait right there, and a wave of relief washed over me.
With my precious six-pack finally in hand, I begged for another. "You can only sell me one?"
I knew I was pressing my luck, but I had to after receiving a desperate text reading, "Come here to Greens and buy Hopslam. I can only buy one."
My boyfriend Justin's lack of the word "please" could only be excused by a life or death situation, otherwise known as running out of Hopslam.
Justin: I have to interject. Sure, I didn't say please, but I did buy her flowers to make up for it and it was well worth it. Hopslam, brewed by Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is a hot commodity. It’s a double India Pale Ale (IPA) released in limited quantity in only 18 states once a year in January.
Double IPAs are basically beers on steroids. They’re hoppy and often bitter. Hopslam is different, because at the end of the brewing process, honey is added. Hopslam weighs in at 10% alcohol, far ahead of the average beer. It's considered by some craft connoisseurs to be one of the best beers in America. Even the rabid fans on BeerAdvocate.com have gone so far to rate it 100 points out of a possible 100 with more than 5,000 ratings.
Emily: I didn’t quite understand the hype until I tasted Hopslam at Justin’s insistence last year. At the time, I wasn’t a big beer drinker, and most of the IPAs - certainly the double IPAs - that Justin had introduced me to were way too bitter for my taste. Hopslam didn’t have the finish I was expecting; it was sweet and smooth. Plus, it’s nice to get caught up in the treasure hunt.
Justin: Most liquor stores only let you purchase a six pack of Hopslam at a time, while others go the extra step and only allow the sale of single bottles. But what exactly makes this beer so highly coveted? Is it the honey, the drinkability, or is it the fact that it's so hard to find in stores?
It’s a marketing feat that a beer from Michigan with little to no advertising is in such high demand. Even the people behind it are baffled. Laura Bell, director of marketing and co-owner of Bell's Brewery, told me that they never expected Hopslam to catch on the way it did when they started brewing it in 2006. "We didn't have any intentions that it would be this way," she said.
Bell added that the brewery does no promotion for the beer besides announcing its release online, along with social media and launch parties where it’s sold. Beer stores use social media to let fans know when and where new and rare beers like Hopslam are available. I know that saved me a lot of time and trouble, but the search isn’t easy for everyone.
Kevin Spaulding of Stafford, Virginia spent two weeks anxiously on the phone calling local beer stores trying to score some Hopslam. He was told the same thing over and over again, “I think we are [getting some in]” or “I hope so.” This wasn't very encouraging.
It took a phone call to a Virginia beer distributor to find out when the beer was arriving at stores. Spaulding was told to sit tight and be patient, which is tough when you’re after something that’s so rare. He made a lunchtime drive to a beer store 25 miles away to finally get his hands on what he was searching for all along: a measly six pack of Hopslam.
It may sound crazy, but to Spaulding, the effort was well worth it. So much so that he continues to search for more Hopslam, the beer he calls “dangerously smooth.”
Emily: Why not just make more? Surely if they’re making money from it and people love it so much it’d be easy to increase production. Bell's believes that doing so would take away from some of their other beers and they’re not prepared to do that, at least for now. However, Bell's, recognizing the beer’s popularity increased production of Hopslam this year.
We decided to ask our friend Andy Gonzales, chef and general manager of Steinbecks Ale House in Oakhurst, Atlanta, whether any other beers lived up to the hypeslam.
“This is a really great beer, it’s delicious, but I’m not sure why it’s got such a good following,” he told us over a pint. “It’s not just the popularity, it’s the limited quantity.”
Gonzales gets both a keg and bottles of Hopslam and finds himself fielding calls about when they’ll be available. “People who don’t drink beer, know this beer,” he said.
He noticed an increase in the Hopslam fervor about four years ago. But he’s puzzled that other double IPAs don’t get the same love. Since Hopslam tends to sell out quickly, we asked Gonzales for five other IPAs worth trying out.
Hoptimum Imperial IPA by Sierra Nevada
Palate Wrecker by Green Flash
471 Small Batch IPA by Breckenridge Brewery
90 Minute IPA by Dogfish Head
Ruination IPA by Stone
As for Gonzales' keg, he’s saving it for an IPA dinner in March.
“I like to wait for everyone to pour their stuff off and then I have the only one left in Atlanta,” he said with a grin.
So is Bell's Hopslam really this good or is it all hype? You'll have to decide for yourself. Next time you are walking into a liquor store and some stranger runs by you, don’t be offended, they are probably just searching for that last six-pack of Hopslam.
Unfortunately for them, they are probably too late.
Try to find The Oracle in September from Bells. Just as good and harder to find.
I like when amateurs chime in with utter nonsense.
2013 Hopslam was not good at all – two hearted also sucked this year
Hoping next year is better, I blame the hops.
The best IPA I have had this year was Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail
Every year it changes
And you drink IPAs ASAP – Enjoy By has got it right. Even though it's all hop up front with minimal body, the fresher the better.
You're in IDIOT if you think BELL's just slaps on a label hyping up the bitterness of this beer. You either don't know beer or don't know the reputation BELL's has. $12 a 6-pack for a DIPA at this ABV is totally acceptable. DOUBLE the ingredients to make it, so the price is slightly higher than a 6-pack of a standard IPA.
oscar blues does not deserve any comparing to hop slam or maharaja or pliny the elder or any quality beer
oscar f*cking blues sucks they where good when they just had tap room but they suck balls now sense the opened the brewery their beer is crap
Hopslam is excellent! I was able to score six 6-packs this year and I will make that last the whole year. I don't know that it is the best beer I have ever had, but it's certainly near the top. I admit that speeding across town to buy some before it is sold out is part of the fun and mystique about it. If it was available year round and in ample supply, I wonder if I would still be so geeked up about it. Imperial Hatter is in the same league as Hopslam. I've had Ruination (great), DFH 90 Min IPA (very good), Pallate Wrecker (very good, somewhat similar to Ruination). For me it's all about balance and Hopslam is perfectly balanced. 90 Minute IPA is a little "maltier" thank I perfer, but it's very good. Ruination just punches you in the mouth with hops (which I like). Different strokes, I guess.
You are wasting good beer if you make it last the entire year. This style doesn't age well.
I just drank the last one from last year and it was fine. I have home brews that are 3+ years old. When the hops age they tend to take on a raisin-like flavor, so it's easy to tell when a beer is too old.
i hate all of you i couldnt even get one six pack the stor only had for a day and you greedy bastards like you got it all and waste it
Definitely Hypeslam. You can find lots of six packs in AZ sitting on the shelf with no buying limit. At 20 bucks a six pack it is highly over priced and at 100 on BeerAdvocate it is highly over rated in my book. It is an excellent beer don't get me wrong. But there are plenty of other beers out there at half the cost.
Here's just a few I would buy before Hopslam: Lagunitas Sucks, Stone Enjoy By, Ballast Point Sculpin, Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, Avery Maharaja, Odell Myrcenary, Oscar Blues Deviant Dales or G'Knight or Gubna take your pick.
Thank you for the recommendations. Do you know of any stores others than total wine or bevmo where I can find these brews?
World of Beers, Sprouts, Whole Foods, some supermarkets, AJs Fine Foods, and World Market.
Drink local. I'm sure that Hopslam is an excellent beer, but most areas with great craft brewers produce something similar, and probably just as good, if not better. Don't be fooled by 'super-bitter' IPA's. Any brewer can overhop a beer; there are plenty of IPA's that are all hops and nothing else. A really good IPA has enough body, malt and depth of flavor to counter the hops, and make it drinkable. And, just sayin', MIdnight Sun Brewing in Anchorage, Alaska produces (in small, infrequent batches) 'Gluttony' Triple IPA, at over 200 IBUs. And it's drinkable.
Agreed. I love IPA's but bitterness for bitterness sake is no good reason to like a beer or say it's better than another. It's gotta have more than just bitterness to make it palatable. Kinda like folks who like insanely hot sauces to the point that they can't taste the food they're killing it with. Sorry heat freaks, but hot isn't a flavor and once you get to ridiculous level you might as well be eating rocks. I'm surprised there aren't people out there who try to make their food better by eating it with nipple clams on while turning thumbscrews. "Woohoo. Now that's good sushi!"
Anyone from Michigan coming to L.A.?? I'll pay you for bringing my homestate's Hopslam!! Yes, we do get some great beers in the West Coast, but you can't find Michigan beers in Cali. I'll have to get my friends to somehow ship it.
Darn, can't make it out there, but I do have 12 six packs of Hopslam in my basement along with a case of Bells Blacknote!
Im trading HOPSLAM for Prop 215 (wink)
Little known fact for Angelenos: Ramirez Liquor in Boyle Heights has been selling Bell's and Founder's beers for over a year now. They have a fantastic selection of other brews as well. The best unknown gem in our fine city.
Gonzales' list absolutely stinks. The only one of those 4 beers that's even a standout DIPA much less an amazing one is 90 Minute.
Ruination and Hoptimum are solid IIPAs.
Hopslam had more slam a couple of years ago. Still good, but mellowed a bit. Luguntas Sucks was similar and with a bit more citrus flav.
These kind of beers are hard to keep consistant due to the quality of hops available and the difficulty in getting that same quality every year and from brewing to brewing.. Troegs Nugget Nectar is like that as well. The first year it came out, I was amazed at the huge floral aromas from it and the great flavor. It was so good you could pour a glass and set it on the table like potpourri and smell it through the room. Ever since then it has been good but not up to the original standard set for itself. This year's is better than last but still not as good as the first brewing. I'll try a Bell's when I get a chance but I know Bell's has a lot of fans that will buy any of their products and place it on a pedestal simply because they make it, so I'm not going to judge it simply because they make it. Also remember, I believe these critics gave the Sam Adams Infinium a great review and quite honestly, I think it's one of the worst beers I've ever tasted and have yet to know anyone who can finish a glass willingly.
I tried Hopslam four or five years ago before I became a hophead. I didn't appreciate it back then but I might have to try it again. I don't see it on the list for most IBU's so I don't think it's loaded with that much hops. I'm on the east coast so my recommended IPA's include Starr HIll Double Platinum, Heavy Seas Loose Cannon and Troegs Perpetual IPA.
Hopslam is excellent, but I think the Green Flash Palate Wrecker is a personal fav. I also love Great Lakes – Lake Erie Monster... such a great brewery, but one of their lesser known beers.
I didn't read all the posts, but Myrcenary by Odell Brewers is one of my favorite Double IPAs. 10% but has a pretty smooth finish.
+1 Not to mention it is year round and half the price.
I got 2 cases this year – that's right... 48 glorious beers. Only paid $14/6 at local grocer. I posted a photo of them in the back of my car and got nasty comments from my peers! 48 bottles of beer on the wall...
The author clearly is not familiar with IPAs. Dogfishhead's IPA's are terrible over-rated. Even their celebrated 120 minute double IPA leaves much to be desired.
On a side note, I just started drinking Deviant Dale's IPA. Remarkable taste for a canned beer.
Deviant Dale's is a great one, but I have to differ, Dogfish Head's 60, 75, and 90 minute IPAs are all good and Beer Advocate fans strongly agree.
Cans aren't really a big deal anymore now that breweries have started coating the cans. There are actually advantages for cans over bottles as far as taste is concerned. Anderson Valley and Oskar Blues are two craft breweries that are mostly can centric.
Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids packages their brew in cans. The coating on the inside of the can protects the brew from a tinny taste and from light. Brown bottles work, but they still expose the brew to insidious UV.
Can beers are not beneath bottled. If anything they are better because the do not let any light in and more cost effective. I bet money you could not tell which beer was canned and which was bottled if you poured them both into glasses and blindly tasted.
If i wanted my beer to taste like a pine tree I would put a pine cone in it. These overly hopped brews are getting ridiculous
Brewers are creating hop forward brews in response to the consumer. Hops are critical to brewing. If no hops were added, the beer would be undrinkable. Hops offset the sweetness of the malt.
You obviously never tasted a pine cone. ;) If this is your logic, then why put coffee beans or chocolate in beer? I mean; why not just have a chocolate bar and a cup of coffee?
If I wanted to taste a pine cone, I would drink gin. You've obviously never had the opportunity to sit back and savor a craft brew. Craft beers have a plethora of flavors depending on the grain bill, hop schedule and type of yeast used in fermentation. And I have had brews with a chocolate and coffee flavor. Very unique combinations.
Pine is only one of the aromas of hops. There is also orange, grapefruit, pineapple, honey, resin, and many others. Expand your taste buds.
The tri-state area (Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan) has some of the best micro-breweries in the nation.
Hopslam is a damn fine beer, but for a real treasure hunt try to acquire 3 Floyd's Dark Lord.
And now I'm thinking about Dark Lord Day, ugh... It can't come soon enough.
I never realized how lucky I am that I can get hopslam whenever I want. Bells Bar in Kalamazoo is an awesome place to be. A few hops slams and you are set for a great night!
This is a true craft beer. It is sourced with Michigan honey and Michigan hops, local products are heavily used in its creation. It's not just that Bell's likes the scarcity for hype purposes, they also couldn't get enough of the honey and hops they use to mass produce the beer.
agreed, if they tried to produce more Hopslam, it may take away from producing more of their other great beers like Two-Hearted Ale.
Heady Topper, from Alchemist Brewery in Vermont has the same hype.
They sell so much of their double IPA that only limited stores can carry it, and every Wednesday when it comes in, it sells out.
Even the brewery runs out of samples for their visitors.
It's like a liquefied mango steeped with a pine tree and a lemon peel, crammed into a silver can. It's absolutely delicious.
While a solid DIPA, Hopslam is way overhyped. Palate Wrecker is the best one that Gonzolez lists (including Hopslam). I wasn't impressed with 90 Minute IPA or Ruination, though. Then again, I've never really been impressed with Dogfish Head or Stone beers.
Stone's Russian Stout is great. Never been impressed with either of their IPAs
Dogfish head is over-hyped.
Palate wrecker to me has zero body and an even thinner taste. It's like a beer wine cooler versus a DIPA.
I've had Palate Wrecker twice and both times felt it was lacking body and finish. I would take both 90 minute and Ruination over it and neither of those beers are near my favorites.
I still have a on-going debate with myself as to which beer is better, between Bells Hopslam and Russian River's Pliny the Elder.
I'll have to say that I was able to do a comparison side by side with the two, and the Hopslam won hands down. Hopslam just drank smoother and the fact it was brewed with honey just changes everything. Don't get me wrong, pliny the elder is an amazing beer and would never turn it down, but Hopslam wins this one.
I'll take the Hopslam, since I can get it. Pliny is overhyped. It's good but not spectacularly so.
Why no mention of Heady Topper from The Alchemist? That would be my preferred DIPA and worth a 6 1/2 hour drive a few times a year to get some. No doubt its popularity is restricted by its limited distribution in Vermont.
Aaron C and Dominic – thank you for pointing out the foolishness of letting this beer age. The distributor and the brewer should be proactive in making sure their product is served fresh. If a bar is going to sit on it, they should send the product to another bar that won't. Any bar that boasts that they are "saving" this for a special occasion is running the risk of not being allowed to buy the beer again.
Heady Topper was also in consideration, great choice.
Peg, I think that there is no mention of heady topper just because I honestly that it is actually more rare then Hopslam. I am unfortunately in a state that does not get heady topper, nor have I tried it. I would LOVE to try it, but haven't been able to make the trip to...Vermont right?
Yes in Vermont. Worth the trip someday if you can because you can also visit Hill Farmstead Brewery which is about an hour from The Alchemist.
Reblogged this on Diesel Fuel.
Hopslam is the best 2xIPA I've ever had. Others that are close:
Lagunitas – Sucks
Three Floyds – Dreadnaught
Dogfish Head – 90 Minute
Firestone Walker – Double Jack
great list Chris, all of them are on my favorites list.
+1 Lagunitas – Took my girlfriend out to a pub in Ferndale, MI for our first date. She had only drank bud light before this.... Poor girl never really had a real beer. 2 Lagunitas later and she told me to come sit and put my arm around her. We have been together ever since. THANKS LAGUNITAS LOL
I walked into Total Wine and grabbed a six pack in S. FL last week. Was simple. I was told tonight that it sold out in a little over a day, so perhaps I was lucky. The local beer guys have bee ragging on the process of buying Hopslam but are enormously hypocritical b/c they go way further to buy other beers including doubling the price by buying online or trading. Boo-hoo, you had to ask for it at customer service?
Hopslam is great. The same beer guys bitch about the price but the $20 sixer equivalent is less than a $7 bomber. A world class bomber for $7? Um yeah! At least once a year.
And I saw a comment about Hopslam and a second release. Last year there was one and I even declined to buy more. Price only consideration. Is an AWESOME beer!
I grew up with Bell's, but back when they were pretty much all porters and stouts. I do enjoy Hopslam, but I've enjoyed others more. How about some love for Moylan's Hopsickle or Left Coast Hop Juice?
For a bar manager to sit on a keg of Hopslam for a month and a half past its packaging date so he can have the "only one left in Atlanta" really says a lot about himself and his bar.
Hopslam suffers rather than benefits from aging. Every day it sits, refrigerated or not, it loses some of its signature hop aroma and flavor. Anyone could taste the difference between Hopslam a day old and a month old side-by-side, and would almost certainly prefer the fresher beer. There is a good reason why the other bars in his area empty their kegs quickly.
I hope Andy Gonzalez's patrons are shrewd enough to call him out when he finally does see fit to serve it–at a beer dinner, no less! If I were his Bell's distributor I'd take note and make sure someone else gets his allotment next time.
Reminds me of the ferver over Three Floyd's Dark Lord. One of the worst RIS, and yet the minions clamor to it.
Actually I had one worse last week. Point's Whole Hog RIS. Sad because their Six Hop IPA is very good.
Good beer, but nothing special. So many good micro brews available, I can't see getting so excited over any particular one, there is always something that is exceptional available.
And this coming from someone that lives in West Michigan and has been to Bells many times...
Jeff...I would agree. While Hopslam is a good brew, there are many breweries and brewpubs in the Grand Rapids metro area that produce unique beers. I had the Country Strong and the 84 DIPA at The Mitten on Saturday. They wouldn't sell me a growler of the 84 so I bought one of the Country Strong. The Super G IPA from White Flame in Hudsonville is also a very good IPA. Could only get it in a howler (half a growler). Drank the Super G the next day.
Some people like to jump on a label and ride it like it's their team. Bell's is really good but there are so many other very good brewers out there that it's kinda being a homer to say one's the best or better than others just because it's in your backyard, especially since I seriously doubt many of us would be able to taste even half of what's out there. There are dozens, if not hundreds of good craft beers in every state and we normally only get to try the ones that have a production high enough to make it to shelves in enough stores outside of their tiny home base market. Only a small number of craft brews are big enough to offer a national sampling on a national level.
On the West Coast, this drama plays out with Pliny the Younger from Russian River Brew Co, which is amazing.
I was thinking Hopslam is the mid-west equivalent to Pliny the Younger. But I doubt people would line up for hours for hopslam like they do for PTY.
Younger isn't bottled so you've got to stand in line outside a bar on the west coast for oh, say, an hour and a half (not like I've done that or anything).
Go on Monday. Mid-week lines are almost non existent. I'll be grabbing some during Sacramento's beer week
Hopslam is overrated and this year's batch is particularly mediocre. Demand is driven up by beer snobs and wanna-be beer snobs trying to chase it down. Lagunitas Sucks is vastly superior and much easier to obtain. Also, Andy Gonzales is a dope for sitting on it. By March, a lot of the hop flavour will have dissipated. DIPAs are drink-ASAP beers and the longer they age, the less fruity and floral they will be.
"DIPAs are drink-ASAP beers"
IPAs were developed to survive long, unrefrigerated shipment from England to India; it was often months before they were opened and drunk. Young IPAs, like young Beaujolais, share two things – irrational popularity, and tasting like complete crap.
Dominic is actually correct on this one. As someone who believed in exactly what you are saying Six, I did a taste test this past weekend with Pliny the Elder. We had an old bottle from last year and one from this year... The old one was undrinkable tasteless, bitter, and just plain bad.
That being said, I am not an IPA lover. I think overhopping beer is covering up the complexity of a well balanced malt and hop profile. As a brewer, I can (and have) made a bad beer palatable with dryhopping to death in the secondary for 2 weeks. The mistake actually won an honorable mention at a beer festival.
The IPAs of the 1800s were designed to arrive at their far-flung destinations unspoiled. The additional alcohol and bittering hops (in comparison to pale ale) inhibited the growth of bacteria.
Today's hop bomb beers are designed to showcase hop aroma and flavor rather than to travel well. They are hopped differently than historic IPAs, with fewer hops added early in the brewing process and with more hops added late in the boil or even directly into the fermenter. This sort of "late" hopping does little to preserve the beer, but can imbue the beer with intense fruity/flowery/piney/spicy/earthy aromas and flavors that simply disappear as the beer ages.
That's not to say these characteristics are enjoyed by all beer drinkers, but brewers generally intend for these beers to be drank as soon as possible after bottling/kegging.
SixDegrees: you don't know what you're talking about. IPAs in the 1800s were brewed with a completely different hop schedule than beers like Hopslam are today, and with a different and heartier grain bill to raise the alcohol content and stave off contamination. I'm quite confident that they weren't dry hopping back then either. Stick to wine.
Dominic...I would suggest reading IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale
By Mitch Steele. Mitch delves into the history and evolution of what is now know as an IPA. His contention is that IPAs evolved rather that were created for the India export market. The term India Pale Ale is more of a marketing term that evolved into a style.
I've been drinking Sucks, just after having Hopslam. Even with this years less than stellar batch Sucks isn't even remotely a match. Sucks is terribly over-hyped, and while cheaper than Hopslam...it's still too expensive.
$12 for a sixer of Sucks is incredibly reasonable. I happen to prefer the piney hop flavour of the Sucks to Hopslam, where the honey is especially apparent to my palate in this year's batch.
It's 9 a six pack where I am from and I would drink it over Hopslam all day long even if they were the same price.
Actually, Bell's usually has a second release of Hopslam in late February/ early March. It's much easier to get the second release. Not sure if it's sent to all markets, though.
damnyouautocorrect.com is funnier
To me, it really is that good. Luckily I live less than a mile from a grocery store that had plenty of 6 packs in stock for awhile after its release and a couple of local places have had it on tap. For a 10% ABV DIPA, it's really drinkable and pretty smooth. Since I live in a state where Dogfish Head is no longer distributed, their 90 Minute IPA is even more rare, but I prefer Hopslam.
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