How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hop Bomb
I’ve always lived by the idea that if a little of a good thing is, well, good then a LOT of a good thing must be great. Whether we’re talking about pie, music, or Bill and Ted movies…more is almost always better.
Applying my idea to the beer world is pretty easy, too. If some alcohol and hops in a beer are good, then a lot of both must be great! Like any other opinion there are many very strong opinions on this topic but thankfully there’s only one person writing this so I get to share mine. The beers in question are big, rich, hoppy, bitter, and higher in ABV than your average beer. These “Hop Bombs” as they’ve become known are the opposite of a calm, well-balanced beer. These are designed to be big and in your face from the first sip. They’re not meant to be lawnmower beers as much as a fine wine isn’t meant for tailgating. In short, they’re great.
So what makes a hop bomb rise above the rest? To start with they’re almost always classified as IPAs or some sub-genre of such. More likely than not you’ll see the word “Imperial” or “Double” tagged on to the front of the style, making the majority of hop bombs Imperial IPAs. This isn’t to say that all Imperial IPAs are hop bombs, or vice versa. The truth is a little more nuanced than that.
Almost always American IPAs, hop bombs stand out due to their ultra-high bitterness and hop profile. To back this up and make the beer enjoyable these are often higher ABV to balance out the bitterness just enough. Measured in IBUs, or International Bittering Units, these beers often top the scales for what the human tongue is able to taste, which taps out at around 100 IBU.
Done correctly these beers are complex, bitter, and just balanced enough. When done incorrectly, a hop bomb beer can do exactly what its name implies and bomb.
Thankfully along with Vecenie Distributing I’ve collected some of the best winter release hop bombs to let you know what to expect and hopefully remove some trepidation you might have with picking some up on your next beer run.
Bell’s Brewery Hopslam
Every winter around the beginning of January Bell’s Brewery releases what has become the gold standard of hop bombs with their Hopslam Double IPA. Available in the winter months for a short period of time, this hop bomb packs a killer hop punch without being too over the top.
With demand for this beer growing every year, there were some years where Hopslam was fairly difficult to find. Fresh, aromatic beers like this rule the market for a brief period, with some hop heads even learning when delivery trucks show up at the distributor so they are the first to get it. In years past many distributors and bottle shops that received Hopslam got 5 or less cases, making it a very hot commodity. Thankfully Bell’s has upped production on this popular beer so it’s a little easier to get, but it will likely never be as available as we would like.
Hopslam comes in at 10% ABV with a respectable 70 IBUs. Originally sold in bottles, Bell’s made the great choice of canning Hopslam as its sole non-draft package. This protects the fragile compounds that are imparted into the beer via the abundance of hops used while making it cool quicker, transport more easily, and be infinitely recyclable.
Hopslam pours amber with a slight cloudiness that fades into surprising clarity. Once poured expect abundant white foamy head with a lasting ring. On the nose there’s strong citrus hop aromas with a hint of malt in the background. As long as it’s not too cold you should also get aromas of pine and resin as well.
As for the taste, hoppy citrus flavors dominate the initial taste with malty sweetness in the middle leading to a finish that’s bitter and piney. Hopslam has a full mouthfeel with just the right amount of carbonation. It’s rare I have nothing bad to say about a beer but Hopslam is one of those that I just simply love.
Tröegs Independent Brewing Nugget Nectar
If only we could just squeeze hops to get their delicious, complex flavors out but sadly that isn’t how brewing beer works. Don’t tell that to the folks at Tröegs Independent Brewery though, as that’s just what the label for their Nugget Nectar Imperial Amber Ale suggests.
Don’t let the beer name fool you, while this beer is “officially” an Imperial Amber Ale, one taste and you’ll call it a hop bomb for sure. Released around the same time as Hopslam, Nugget Nectar is another one of those beers that fans wait for all year and purchase en masse once on the shelf.
Tröegs uses ultra-fresh hops to give this beer huge aroma and flavor that’s hard to beat. Which is why this 7.5% ABV beer with 93 IBUs. Speaking of hops, Tröegs uses Palisade, Simcoe, Tomahawk, Warrior, and its namesake Nugget to give this beer complexity that is hard to find in a beer this high in bitterness.
Nugget Nectar pours a deep amber fading to orange with a solid white, foamy head that leaves amazing lacing inside the glass as you drink. The aroma is all-in on the citrus with an earthy sidecar that’s also found in the taste. Here, you’ll get grapefruit upfront with hoppy bitterness throughout. Even with all this bitterness and hop flavor, the finish is slightly bready with just a hint of lingering bitterness and citrus.
This means that Nugget Nectar is a surprisingly easy to drink hop bomb, especially when it’s as fresh as possible.
Victory Brewing Hop Wallop
Another Pennsylvania brewery making a big IPA for the winter season is Victory Brewing Company with their Hop Wallop IPA. This 7.5% ABV Imperial IPA gets its color and malt character from the pilsner malt, while the giant hop flavor is all thanks to the mix of Citra and Simcoe hops. Together these give Hop Wallop both earthy and fruity notes that help to balance the bitterness of this beer to make it a hop bomb without being so bitter it isn’t fun to drink.
Hop Wallop pours a clear golden color that’s topped by a soft bright white head. On the nose for this beer you’ll get lemon peel, orange zest, and a big dose of resinous hops. On first taste you should get some light toasted malt that’s backed up immediately with dank resinous hop character that leans towards the pine end of the scale. The finish brings in the citrus in the hops and the full dose of bitterness this beer has to offer.
One More Thing….
Before I send you off running to pick up these killer winter IPAs, I wanted to mention a new brewery in Kane, PA by the name of Logyard Brewing. Logyard is worth mentioning thanks to their intense focus on quality that is only matched with their ethos of being hyper local, sustainable, and of course great at making beer.
Their dedication to using the most local ingredients possible is one that, in my opinion, should be mimicked by nearly every small brewery. By doing this they not only give us great beer, but invest in their own local community and economy.
So, if you find yourself a little bit past Titusville and Tionesta, PA check out Logyard Brewing and until then, you should start seeing their beer locally thanks to Vecenie Distributing.