Friday, February 18, 2011

An Experiment: Aged Hopslam

Preface: I don't like Hopslam all that much. I tend to think it's overrated. My initial impression the first time I tried it was "this doesn't taste like beer". Fair warning, beer geeks.

So that brings us up to speed. Last year for my birthday, a friend gave me a bottle of Hopslam, which even though I wasn't dying for, was still appreciated being that it's fairly expensive and can be hard to find. I planned to keep in the back of the fridge (my "cellar") for a little while to let it mellow out. Weeks turned into months and I had forgotten about it until just recently. By now it's a year old and much past the prime of any normal American IPA. This isn't a normal American IPA, though. At 10.5% abv it's well within cellaring range, alcohol-wise, and over-hopped enough that the loss of hop aroma may not be a bad thing. While not intentional, this was certainly an interesting beer to try 1 year later.

 How did it stand up? Personal preferences aside, not great, but it wasn't bad either. This was only one bottle, so it would be silly to over generalize. I also can't attest to its treatment before it got to me. Excess carbonation had built up over time and it poured with a very agitated, volatile head. Bubbles raced to escape the beer creating a beverage that was initially a bit champagne like. Given the beer, it wasn't completely out of place. Fizz cut through the honey-ish alcohol and thick hops. There wasn't much of a boozey quality although, deceivingly, there isn't much in the fresh version either. Surprising was the level of hop bitterness. Even after a year it's really still out front, and almost seems more pronounced without the massive hop flavor and aroma to distract the senses. When this beer first came out there was quite a bit of speculation among home brewers as to whether the beer was hop bursted* or not, and what sort of techniques the brewers might have employed to get such a walloping hop drink/beer. Hop aroma and bitterness from late hops tends to fade very quickly in beer when compared to bitterness from early hop additions. The longer boil time more fully isomerizes hop oils which makes them more stable and less volatile. In my humble opinion, the bitterness present in aged Hopslam was much more indicative of early hopping rather than just late hopping, so I do not personally think it's a hop bursted beer. That ever fleeting hop aroma and flavor was the quality of this bottle that was noticeably, drastically reduced and the area where it most suffered. There was still undeniably a good amount of aroma, but it had a stale, metallic tinge to it. Not overwhelming, but not something that makes you to want to go back for another sip. Under the odd notes it mostly tastes and smelled like a regular strength IPA with some mellow citrusy, lemon, and grapefruit notes.

In the end, it did mellow out the beer as I had hoped, but the effects of age and (possible) mistreatment were just as present. IPAs are a delicate bunch. They're all strut and muscle-flexing on the surface, but they're  fragile under neath. Without the solid, malt foundation of something like a barley wine, they do need to be treated right to have a chance of aging well, but that almost makes them a rarer treat. A tasting with aged IPAs might be forthcoming.

* "hop bursting" is a brewing technique of by which all or most the hop bitterness comes from late kettle additions rather than from early additions, the idea being that you can get huge aroma and flavor without over-bittering the beer

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