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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 03/26/2012

Which beer is the true monster of hops?


Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum is scheduled to hit D.C. area shelves next month. (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.)
When we assembled for Beer Madness back on March 5, I noticed that Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) was sipping on a brew prior to our tasting.

“Aren’t 32 beers enough for you?” I asked.

The Congressman answered that he was drinking Hopslam from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. No further explanation was necessary. Although brewed far from the hop fields of DeFazio’s home state of Oregon, this winter seasonal double IPA has a pungent grapefruit and tropical fruit aroma that sends lupulin addicts into a state of bliss. My local Whole Foods blew through 40 cases of it in two days. And while there might be some strays remaining on the market, you’ll pay a price: Last Wednesday, I noticed one Dupont Circle liquor store offering a few 12-ounce singles for $9.99 a bottle.

Does Hopslam really stand head and shoulders above the pack of double IPAs or is this a case of perceived scarcity whipping the market into a frenzy?

The March 10 Hop Monster tasting at Westover Market in Arlington presented an opportunity to find out.

Fellow beer writer Larry Jackson and Westover manager Devin Hicks organized the event. (I might have thrown out a few suggestions, but they did all the legwork.) About 20 local hop junkies paid the $40 admittance fee to sample 12 ultra-hoppy double IPAs (all 7.5 percent alcohol by volume or higher, and all 65 international bitterness units or higher).

We were given sheets to grade these uber-IPAs on a scale of 1-50, taking into account color, aroma, flavor, carbonation, mouthfeel, aftertaste and hop intensity. The tasting was conducted blind — no colorful labels or preconceived notions to throw us off.

And, sure enough, the winner was Bell’s Hopslam, with a composite score of 42.58.

Oddly, second place fell to Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, a wheat IPA, with a 39.92 rating.

The rest of the pack, and their average scores, were:

3. Firestone Walker Double Jack (38.11)

4. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (36.3)

5. Stone Ruination IPA (36.05)

6. Starr Hill Double Platinum (35.73)

7. Founders Double Trouble (35.52)

8. Southern Tier Gemini Imperial Blended Ale (34.86)

9. Troegs Nugget Nectar (34.82)

10. Victory Hop Wallop (33.83)

11. Green Flash Imperial India Pale Ale (33.42)

12. Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA (32.43)

Interestingly, when asked to guess what beer they were tasting, only two people correctly picked Hopslam.

My personal favorite: Stone Ruination IPA (which I guessed correctly). The brewery Web site calls this 7.7 percent alcohol, 100-plus bitterness unit beer “a liquid poem to the glory of the hop.” It’s available year-around in 12- and 22-ounce bottles and draft.

The roster of hop monsters was impressive, but still far from complete. The event was staged a little too early for Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, which (according to local brewery rep Brad Phillips) was scheduled to ship from California today and reach local shelves the first week in April. Look for it in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles and the occasional keg.

“It’s got the most hop oil of any variety we’ve made ever,” says Sierra Nevada communications director Bill Manley. The recipe includes Simcoe, Citra and Chinook hops as well as an experimental strain (“no name, just a string of numbers”) that adds a “minty, herbal” note to the mix, adds Manley.

Meanwhile, Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego has supplemented its preexisting imperial IPA with Palate Wrecker, which a brewery press release characterizes as “the most complicated West Coast IPA we have ever brewed.” The unusual brewing regimen calls for hop additions at every step of the process, from the mash onwards.

Also worth checking out are two new double IPAs in cans: Deviant Dale’s India Pale Ale from Oskar Blues in Colorado and the aptly named Resin from Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn.

And if you want to stage your own hop challenge, the Rustico in Ballston is promising to tap a few lingering kegs of hop superstars on Tuesday, March 27, including Hopslam, Troegs Nugget Nectar and Sculpin from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego.

The pursuit of hoppiness goes ever onward.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 03/26/2012

Categories:  Beer | Tags:  Greg Kitsock

 
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