By Jay Brooks
Tuesday, December 21st, 2010 at 10:21 am in On Beer.
One of the first beers of the New Year will be a new Imperial IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing, whose Hoptimum will be officially released January 1, 2011. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Chico, it was released there locally on Monday, but the rest of us will have to wait until 2011.
The Hoptimum was created during on of Sierra Nevada’s “Beer Camps,” a new program where people — usually beer distributors, retailers and others — spend two days at the brewery’s pilot brewhouse learning about the brewery and making their own small batch of beer. I was fortunate enough to attend Beer Camp last week, but more about that later.
After the success of the single batch, beer camp Hoptimum, Sierra Nevada tweaked the formula for a commercial release, which they describe as follows:
Hops, hops, and more hops are the stars of this big, whole-cone Imperial IPA. Resinous “new-school” and exclusive hop varieties carry the bold and aromatic nose. The flavor follows the aroma with layers of aggressive hoppiness, featuring notes of grapefruit rind, rose, lilac, cedar, and tropical fruit — all culminating in a dry and lasting finish.
And the label is one of the coolest I’ve seen from any brewery, featuring a true “hop head” in fancy clothes. According to the label, it’s a “Whole-Cone Imperial IPA” for “the Ultimate Whole-Cone Hop Experience.” That’s a nod to Sierra Nevada’s philosophy of using whole-cone hops rather than pellets, which are common for breweries to use since pellets last far longer and are easier to ship, too. Most hop producers also pelletize their hops because of their ease of use.
And here’s how the original “beer camp” beer — made for last year’s SF Beer Week — was described:
A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing. The result is this: a 100 IBU, whole-cone hurricane of flavor. Simply put- Hoptimum: the biggest whole-cone IPA we have ever produced. Aggressively hopped, dry-hopped and torpedoed with our exclusive new hop varieties for ultra-intense flavors and aromas.
And here are few of the particulars for the commercial version:
- Alcohol-by-Volume: 10.4%
- Bitterness Units: 100 IBUs
- Bittering Hops: German Magnum
- Aroma Hops: Simcoe & New Proprietary Variety
- Dry Hops: Simcoe & New Proprietary Variety
- Topedo Hops: Citra & Chinook
- Malts: Two-row Pale, Golden Promise, Munich & Wheat
By pure happenstance, I was in Sierra Nevada’s sensory lab last Friday when random sample bottles of Hoptimum came in for analysis, in this case tasting, before being released locally on Monday, and the rest of the world on January 1.
I had the beer camp version last year, but too long ago for any meaningful comparison. The commercial version, though, is quite wonderful. Despite being a big, hoppy beer, it’s well-balanced and almost mild for an Imperial IPA. I mean that only in the sense that the hops, while enveloping and intense, are not over-powering, harsh or astringent and meld nicely with the malt character. The beer has great conditioning. It doesn’t taste like a 10.4% beer, either. It’s not hot, but warming. You could drink a lot of it. I plan to. It comes in 24 oz. bottles making it an ideal beer to share with a friend or loved one. If this is how 2011 will begin, perhaps it will be a great year. I’d certainly toast to that. But forget the champagne, give me a Hoptimum.