As you may well have gathered from my ramblings on HashtagBeer, I rather enjoy a hoppy ale. For me there’s something magical about hops, the depths and intensities of the flavours, not to mention the wide range of differences between them. You may also have heard of a wee Californian brewery called Sierra Nevada. You’ve probably tried one or two of them. Certainly in England their Pale Ale is pretty widely available, but the shop I work at stocks a fuller range. When I saw Hoptimum on the shelf I was almost frightened at the prospect – an ‘Imperial IPA’ at a mighty 10.4%. Was it possible for this to be a good beer, or was it going to be a horrific, over the top mistake? I had great fun finding out.
It’s already interesting due to the brewing process, they hop the beer as usual, dry hop it and then do what’s called ‘torpedoing’ (involving a specialised container for the hops so they can get it into the beer without introducing oxygen). Also the style itself is intriguing – we all know that an IPA is an India Pale Ale, originally made in England, but the Imperial IPA is an American invention, where brewers push the limits of alcoholic content and hoppiness. Bring it on!
- Brewed in California, USA
- Comes in 330ml bottles
- 10.4% ABV
- Hops: Magnum, Chinook, Simcoe and “a new experimental hop variety exclusive to Sierra Nevada”
Look It’s an interesting bottle with a figure on the front, dressed in archaic clothes and having a hop cone for a head. It looks like an old portrait, implying a sense of history and American identity.
In the glass it’s a light, chestnut brown. What can I say – it makes me want to drink it down! 7/10
Aroma Hop heaven! There are plenty of sweet, floral notes as opposed to the usual bitter onslaught that you tend to find with the English varieties. There are also some hints of nutmeg, giving the nose a more complex and inviting character. 8/10
Taste Wow – so intense. There’s a kind of earthiness about it, sort of nettly… It’s fresh and fruity (I get peaches) with a pleasant, long, bitter finish. There’s a lovely milky smoothness to it and hints of malt in support. This wasn’t made to be balanced, though. By the brewer’s own admission it’s an “aggressive” experience, but in a good way.
I’ll tell you what, though, you really wouldn’t think it was 10.4%. It’s quite light, actually, and not particularly warming like a barley wine style usually would be. Yum! 9/10
Value Well I spent £4.49 on a 330ml bottle. Normally I’d consider that pretty obscene, but for such a hop fan as I, it is totally worth it. The taste is long, complex and satisfying, and the alcoholic strength – which is at wine level practically – is there in spades. 8/10
The Session It’s almost a shame I have to talk about this beer in terms of the session, because that’s not what this beer’s really about. It’s more about the odd one to savour (better at the end of the night, considering how it anaesthetises the taste buds), rather than to stick with for the duration. Put it this way, I started to feel it after a couple. Plus, in terms of how the tastes fare, it got a little cloying after a while. Yes it’s great fun enjoying the gamut of different flavours for a while, but they are very intense and my tongue can’t put up with much more than one bottle at a time. 5/10
All in all, I have to recommend that you try this if you see it about. If you’re not wild on hops, share it with a few friends so that you all have the experience. I’m not saying you’ll all like it (I know the main complaint is that it’s ‘too hoppy’ (obviously) and ‘not balanced enough’ (again, that’s obvious given what the brewers set out to do)), but you’ll appreciate the effort and imagination of Sierra Nevada in creating this brew. Really the only downside is its performance in a session, but don’t hold that against it.