Sud Savant: Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (2012) – This Beer Blitzkriegs the Tongue!

I started writing this review a while ago. So far, I’ve had two bottles of my Sierra Nevada Hoptimum and each bottle has been completely different. They were each good in their own right; the first seemed like a resinous wallop and the second was a fruit smorgasbord. Needless to say, the hops are mellowing and their different characteristics are really coming through as of late, making this beer much more than a hop bomb. That was around 2 weeks ago, so I’m really anxious to see what condition these hops are in now. But first, I have a question… It says on the label that it is a “Whole cone Imperial IPA” and I don’t know what that means. I assume, it’s when they add the “whole cone” or hop blossom to the boil (or thereafter if dry hopping). However, what I don’t know is if this is not standard practice already. Or is this just to differentiate between brewers that might instead use hop pellets, just the petals, or extracts? If any of your homebrewing experts wish to speak up in the comments, I’m all ears. Time to get this party started. Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12: When I first poured this beer, it was too cold and I was worried that I had waited too long to review it and that as a consequence the hops had lost the potency of their delicious fruity, nectar-saturated aromas. It began with a hint of wet hey, but rapidly showed the standard pine/grapefruit. The fruits seemed diminished and mixed with a grassy note. At this point, I was mostly getting apple and white grape-type fruits. Sweet, but not particularly strong. Then the beer began to warm and things really started going. The pine aromas took off like a shot and tried to hide an apricot scent behind them. Wait another few minutes and that apricot aroma seems to have found its own voice and morphed into a more tropical version of itself. This pine/tropical apricot (nectarine?) combination carries the majority of the aroma the rest of the way through the beer. There is a subtle spice that loiters in the background and a much less subtle alcohol burn that has been detectable the entire time. Halfway through the bottle the beer’s sugary malts become less bashful and give the drinker the impression that this beer is going to be a sticky one.

Appearance 3/3: The beer produces a fairly low amount of head even after an aggressive pour. What head does result is an attractive rusty pastel color, creamy in appearance, and light in texture. The brew’s color is any of those shades found in a cooked squash with some darker coppers and ambers thrown in for good measure. There’s some good lacing left on my glass and this pleases me because I don’t remember the last time that happened in a review. Good Karma points are also awarded for having some great bottle art.

Flavor 17/20: This beer blitzkriegs the tongue! Before you’ve barely had a chance to recognize the thick caramel and almost brown sugar sweetness, the beer shifts into high gear and puts a medicinal bitter on the back of your palate. Seriously. As in, “I think a tiny, vengeful gnome is gleefully dissolving an aspirin on my tongue” type of bitter. It is sharp and unrelenting. The earlier sweetness could be considered balancing if it remained in the mouth after the hops spread their tremendous, terrible wings. It does become a little easier to imagine a bit of balance toward the middle of the bottle once the bitter has lost a bit of its sting, but make no mistake about it – this beer is called Hoptimum, not Maltimum, for a reason. Wow! What a big, bitter bastard. The finish is, of course, more bitter but on quicker swallows does allow the sugary malts to timidly make direct eye contact with you from time to time. If it asks nicely. This is also where most of the warmth can be found. It’s far from a burn, but it’s not a secret either. The aftertaste is remarkably clean considering how potent the earlier flavors were. The only lingering flavor is that of the aspirin. I blame the gnome.

Mouthfeel 5/5: From the very first sip, this beer is thick and threatens to coat your tongue with each flavor it possesses. The carbonation is all but absent. However, a light swish in the mouth reveals that not only is it present, but it helps add a silky smooth texture. A large body to match a large flavor and in a good way. As mentioned earlier the alcohol is allowed to present itself at a few points in the brew and each time it is a compliment to the existing powerhouse on display. This is how big beers should be made.

Overall Impression 8/10: Big body. Big flavor. Almost constantly changing aroma. This beer is definitely a sipper and perhaps not one you’d want to have every day. Hop heads will love it, balance-seekers… not so much. If one of your friends is talking about really getting into hoppy beers, you could test their mettle with this brew. Even experienced IBU imbibers know that this beer is not to be trifled with.

Total 44/50: With Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum, you get what you see. A beer for Hopheads that never promises to be anything else. I mean, literally! Look at the label art! I myself would normally like to see more balance in a brew, but much like Green Flash’s Palate Wrecker, every once in a while you need something unapologetically bitter and strong. This definitely fits the bill. Because it knows what it wants to be, I can’t and won’t deduct points for lack of balance. However, I have gotten two different experiences out of the three bottles that I’ve had. Two were very much like the beer found in this review: big, hoppy, and bitter. The odd bottle in the middle seemed much more content to let the thick tropical fruit smells waft forward, provide a more complex sweetness (from said fruits), and be much more of a beer than the “resinous challenge” that I labeled the first beer in my tasting notes! I’ll look forward to the last bottle, though I anticipate it will be more of the “hop bomb” experience and less of the nuanced powerhouse that I’m hoping for. In fairness, it’s probably easier for brewers to make (and mass-produce) the former instead of the latter, but the former earns total scores like this and the latter earns, or at least deserves, national acclaim.

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!