Sud Savant: Bell’s Hopslam – This is a Winner of all Levels

With all the hubbub surrounding this beer, I was sure that said hubbub would result in its rarity and great difficulty in my being able to find it. Little did I know that my local grocery store Hy-Vee and their outstanding Wine & Spirits department would come through for me again (and again… and again…). I grabbed the last two sixers of Bell’s Hopslam that they had and quickly squirreled it away to be sampled in the near future.

In case any of you are wondering, yes I will be cellaring two bottles to see how it changes with age. The other bottles I’m going to drink as fresh as possible, if not use them in trade. Also, these beers were bottled on Jan. 6th, 2012 so I consider them, for me, as fresh as possible (other than the few days it took to actually review them). I’ve already had one and it was heavenly, but now it’s time to break this bad boy down and see what it’s made of. Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12: Wow! There is a mango wallop at the beginning of this aroma! It’s so sweet and tropical before it allows a grassier still-on-the-vine hop note to protrude. A bright honey adds to the sweetness, but not at the expense of a faint whiff of straw that timidly shows itself. An alcohol warmth is felt in the nose, but does not offer an aroma. As warming occurs, the hops gradually turn away from their sweet introduction and begin to become a bit more “traditional.” A good pine hop aroma comes forward, as does a bit of pineapple. Who’d of thought this much tropical fruit would be present?

Appearance 3/3: A high clarity helps this beer to absolutely shine the color of honey. A steady column of carbonation keeps the aroma going and eventually joins the rest of the average-sized head. The head’s size was nothing spectacular, but the color is a pastel version of the beer itself and in its full form has a marshmallow texture with a few lumps thrown in for good measure.

Flavor 19/20: Talk about flavors that come in waves! This story starts with a wash of bitter and a bit of pine, but quickly changes its tune when held in the mouth. The bitter fades away into a brief calm, creamy “eye of the storm,” before becoming all the sweet flavors from the aroma. Honey is abundant, mangoes add their syrupy juice, and the pineapples lend just a hint of acidic sharpness. You can almost feel the thick honey roll across the tip of your tongue. The finish is a brutal end after such a sweet treat! The tongue is immersed in an intense hop bitter through which it is difficult to ascertain any of the other flavors other than remnant of the sweet honey. Alcohol warmth is finally detectable and it seems to be making up for lost time. Especially present in an exhale, it gives flashes of being medicinal at times. This intense bitter and alcohol warmth make for a lightly lingering bitter that has a sensational drying effect in the mouth. You desperately need to take another sip to wet your mouth and this beer dares you to do so.

Mouthfeel 5/5: I’m not sure how a beer this crammed with flavor and warmth maintains as light of a mouthfeel as it does. It’s a pleasant medium body with a carbonation level that successfully balances the “requirements” of a lighter hued, sweeter beer with that of a high ABV, hop monster. The carbonation doesn’t foam in the mouth, but always remains present – keeping the beer a bit bubbly and from feeling to heavy. The warmth in the finish is strong, but far from many offerings’ aggressive alcohol presence, which can often result in a drinker feeling that they’re drinking part-spirit, part-beer. The aforementioned drying sensation is incredible. I feel like my tongue should be cracked like parched earth.

Overall Impression 10/10: What a complex, layered and satisfying beer! It truly is a “bitter sandwich” of a sweet tropical fruits smooshed between two slices of bitter, bitter hoppy goodness. The color is bright, the head is nice, the aroma is intoxicating, and the flavor is insanely robust. This is a winner of all levels. The only thing keeping from the perfect score it seems so close to, was the malt. While I appreciate the honey taking over the role of the sweetening agent, I could have appreciated a bit more of that straw malt.

Total 48/50: This rating seems a bit low for this beer or like I’m being a bit picky. I know there’s not much room to ascend, but I still “want” it to be rate higher. It’s truly a phenomenal beer; taking the drinker from a tropical fruit medley to a pine needle bed to satisfying bitters to an alcohol warmth dried mouth. Tons of sensations and tons of flavors! I still can’t believe that a beer this light in color has this much intense flavors layered within it. This beer may come off as a bit pricey, but it’s worth every penny. Cheers to the folks at Bell’s for another solid brew and helping put Michigan on the map of craft beer.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!