Bell's Hopslam has made its glorious return to Chicago. As many of you know, this beer is Bell's limited production, highly acclaimed, complex-flavored imperial IPA. The beauty of this beer is that it still manages to distinguish itself.
It's getting hard to make an imperial IPA anymore that can stand out amongst the crowded field. Everybody's got one. Some are wet-hopped and juicy, such as Avery's Maharaja. Some are divinely creamy as are Russian River's Pilny the Elder and Smuttynose's Big A. Some are piney such as Dogfish Head's legendary 90 Minute, which I have strangely never written about. Hopslam differs based on its unique mix of harshness and sweetness. I became reacquainted with it at the Twisted Spoke recently. It was a beauty of a pour, into this curvey goblet that gently narrowed near the top like a hot model's waistline. A large foamy white head elegantly sat atop the beer, never emerging past the top rim of the glass. Multiple types of aromas draw you in, including pine hops, citrus fruits, melon and honey. You get a fine nip of carbonation on the sip, then the honey and the hops kick in; the hops are powerful, robust and grainy but always seemingly encased in the honey on your palate as the silky beer slides toward your esophagus. The flavor of Hopslam - the hops, that is - never gets overwhelming. The honey is there to police the hops' brutality, and the hops are big.
What's really overwhelming about this beer is the amount of danged alcohol in it. It's listed at 10%. It's probably more, and all kinds of evidence on the web suggests that Bell's has a habit of understating this beer's gravity. This is straight up barleywine, folks, that just happens to be heavily hopped. This is mead on steroids considering the honey quotient. There's no way this is a 10% beer. I love it but after one I felt uncomfortably deluged, as if I had drunk 3 standard IPAs. Hopslam does not love you back, it blindsides you with a possessive relationship. That's this beer's only problem.
Yet you want to revisit Hopslam again and again. I know I will. I was drinking at Sheffield's the other day with a buddy of mine who's moving to Texas. He ordered a Hopslam - I wanted to stay clear-headed and opted for a "light" 7% brew - and he was talking about how he just bought two sixers of it at Whole Foods. He lamented moving to Texas because the beers he loved would not be there. He stated that, "I'm setting up a Fed Ex account that you can use for all of your beer shipments to me." The things we do for love.
4.9 of 5 stars for Hopslam.