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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Beer: The Further Pursuit of Hoppiness

By Greg Kitsock
Bells-Hopslam_opt.png Hopslam: More finesse than expected. (Image from Bell's Brewery)

I finally tracked down the long-sought-after Bell’s Hopslam...not in some package store stocked with 500-plus brands, but in a little coffee shop and deli a block from the Rosslyn Metro.

Cowering in a corner of the cooler, the six-pack offered no resistance as I toted it to the cashier and plunked down $25, which seems to be the going rate for this once-a-year release.

My Hopslam poured a brilliant orange, first releasing grapefruit on the nose followed by a subtle floral aroma wafting up through my sinuses. It displayed a remarkable finesse for a double IPA, a style that’s supposed to body-slam you with its bitterness and alcohol.

I’d like to brag, but at this point, Hopslam is so...last week.

2010_Beer_Hoptimum_opt.jpg Hoptimum: fruit cocktail in a bottle. (Image from Sierra Nevada)
The latest limited-edition brand that causing a stampede on the market is Sierra Nevada Hoptimum. It’s the first true double IPA from the hop-centric Chico, Calif. brewery, and the first recipe from Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp to reach a national audience.

Every month, Sierra Nevada invites groups of retailers, distributors and other beer professionals to formulate and brew their own special beer at the company’s ten-barrel pilot brewery. About a year ago, a group of publicans from the famous Toronado Pub and other Bay Area watering holes concocted a massive double IPA to serve during San Francisco Beer Week in February 2010. The brew drew so many raves that Sierra Nevada decided to revive and package it in 22-ounce bottles for broader distribution.

Hoptimum weighs in at 10.4 percent alcohol by volume and 100 international bitterness units. It’s an intense, liqueurish fruit cocktail of a beer, with heavy notes of grapefruit, pineapple and other citrus fruit, and an alcoholic warmth that envelopes you after you’ve taken a few swallows. It’s seasoned with six varieties of hop, including German Magnum (for bittering), Simcoe, Citra, Chinook and three experimental strains so new “they don’t even have names yet, just numbers,” says communications coordinator Bill Manley.

The ale undergoes a dry-hopping and a “torpedoing” -- that is, the beer is pumped back and forth between the fermenter and a hop-filled tank called the torpedo because of its shape. As Manley explains, this enhances the delicate aroma of the whole-cone hops. (Sierra Nevada uses no concentrated hop extracts or pellets.)

Now here’s the rub: Sierra Nevada brewed 700 barrels of Hoptimum for the entire country, which makes it a far rarer treat than the coveted Hopslam. Brad Phillips, Sierra Nevada’s local rep, says 50 cases and 18 five-gallon kegs were allocated to the metropolitan area. There’s no way of knowing how much will remain by the time this item is posted, but Phillips advised checking out the usual suspects, including Total Wine, Whole Foods, Westover Market, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits and Magruder’s.

If you miss out, Manley promised that Hoptimum will return next year, albeit with a revised recipe to take advantage of whatever new strains the hop growers are peddling.

In other local brews news, the Whole Foods in Clarendon began selling growlers to go last week. There are four taps behind the counter across from the wine department. As of Sunday, the store was dispensing Lagunitas IPA, the Austrian import Eggenberg Pils, and Kolsch and Full Nelson Pale Ale from the Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Va..

“Rare stuff and unique beers will definitely be cycling through our taps,” promises Justin Pogue on the market’s Facebook page. The store aims to have at least one tap feature regional beers from Blue Mountain, Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Md. and other mid-Atlantic breweries.

The empty growlers themselves cost $3.99, both for a 64-ounce jug and the smaller 32-ounce bottle. But if you already own a growler bearing the logo of Mad Fox or Rock Bottom or some other local brewpub, the store will be happy to fill it. Fills, for all beers, cost $8.99 for 64 ounces, $5.99 for 32 ounces, although prices are subject to change.

Like the Whole Foods in Old Town (which began filling growlers in December), the Clarendon site is offering takeout sales only.

By Greg Kitsock  | January 31, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags:  Greg Kitsock  
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The Whole Foods in Fairfax was offering growlers last summer, but this price seems a lot better.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | January 31, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

and how many of you will take some, get in a car and slam into someone, killing them?

Yeah, beer's really, really fun.

I read about it in the papers all the time - underaged sales, DUI's, ganglia and human tissue spread out like hamburger all over the roadway, yup it's the 'killer app' you've all been looking for!

So hop to it, make plans to kill someone someday!

cus you're drunk, and not funny.

Posted by: pgibson1 | January 31, 2011 8:36 PM | Report abuse

@ pgibson: Drunk driving is dumb, agreed. But not everyone lives in suburbia where you have to drive a car everywhere- drunk or not. Bottom line: drink responsibly and get a taxi or use transit when you're out hitting the pubs. The real danger are cars, period. Get out of yours and use safer transportation.

Posted by: DJMonet | January 31, 2011 9:03 PM | Report abuse

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