John Mallett has an interesting way of describing one of Bell’s Brewery’s most anticipated beers.
When providing a detailed recount of a sip of Bell’s annual limited-release double IPA Hopslam, the brewery’s director of operations takes a fascinating trip of twists and turns filled with hop nuance.
In a promotional video on Bell’s website, Mallett said, “Hopslam tastes like your cat ate a bag of weed and then pissed on your Christmas tree.”
First brewed 10 years ago when Bell’s founder Larry Bell wanted a beer packed with hop-forward notes, Hopslam is released annually in January and February and is often one of the most anticipated beers Bell’s releases. Mallett’s description derives from the hop flavors packed into the beer.
Hopslam sends beer fans across the United States into a tizzy. The anticipation behind the beer is understandable as it’s an incredible example of what a Double India Pale Ale can be. The instant classic pairs well with Bell’s top selling beer and perhaps the beer most synonymous with the brewery: their signature Midwest IPA, Two Hearted Ale.
Like its brethren, Hopslam is a well-balanced example of a beer, but the name is far from a misnomer. The label depiction of a man crushed by hops is exactly the sensation the brewers at Bell’s desire out of the beer.
“We’re utilizing the hops and trying to build the aroma and not a punishingly bitter palate abuser,” Mallett said. “It’s a real expression of the hops, which have just an incredible diversity of flavor and aromas and we’re trying to coax those out."
It is the most complex hopping schedule a Bell’s beer endures, with six Pacific Northwest hop varieties in the boil followed by a massive dry-hopping with Simcoe.”
It is the most complex hopping schedule a Bell’s beer endures, with six Pacific Northwest hop varieties in the boil followed by a massive dry-hopping with Simcoe.
“There’s a floral component, geraniums and rose. There’s an herbal component of dill or minty. Fruit, for us theirs is a big fruit hop note that could be light lemon or lime, or depth of an orange, cherry or strawberry.”
Mallett said Bell’s brewers try to conjure up most hop flavors in the beer, but avoid some hops with “quite sulfur-y” attributes that are reminiscent of garlic and onion.
He doesn’t mind hops with the chemical components resulting in dank and marijuana-like or cat pee-like scents and flavors.
“There’s clearly not cat pee in hops, but you get some aromas,” he said. “I even get some reminiscent of my 13-year-old son’s soccer shoes, that hormonal stickiness. In small quantities, those are powerfully positive flavors.”
Also a vitally important ingredient to Hopslam is the addition of honey, which is listed under the name on the beer’s label. The honey lightens the beer’s body, and punches in a touch of extra sweetness and floral complements to the hops, all while boosting the alcohol content.
Just as with one of Bell’s other signature beers, Bell’s drinkers often mention a year-to-year flavor variation, but Mallett said Bell’s avoids making any major, noticeable changes.
The recipe is one of intent, and the intent of that beer is to be very hop forward.”
“The recipe is one of intent, and the intent of that beer is to be very hop forward,” Mallett said. “As a brewer, I am intimately aware that we operate in a system governed by Mother Nature and the raw materials change slightly annually, but we make adjustments to get the same result.”
Bell’s only makes and releases Hopslam in the early portion of the year, ensuring freshness.
“When you see a package now, you know it’s fresh,” Mallett said. “If you saw it in April, you’d know that came out months ago and maybe it won’t get the flavors it should. Freshness is paramount in a beer like this that’s fragile, delicate and easily overhelmed by the honey and malt without the brightness of the hops.
Believable because a fresh Hopslam is a beautifully caramel brew, oozing with hop notes running the gamut, ranging from floral to piney to fruity both on the nose and in the mouth. Aside from the luscious hop complexities, the added honey coats the mouth and lingers throughout the backend along with an evident alcohol burn – which makes sense as it checks in at 10% alcohol by volume.
Be careful though, the 10% will sneak up on an unsuspecting drinker as it is deceptively quaffable. It makes sense why it’s regularly near the top in Zymurgy’s best commercial beers annually.
Bell’s says it will release multiple batches in January and February and potential drinkers can find track it at the brewery’s website.