Warning: If you are not fond of hops – aroma, flavor, bittering – proceed with caution. The beer that is reviewed below is made for the true American “hop head.”
Sierra Nevada is the brewery that converted me from a Michelob Light drinker to a craft beer junkie. To that point I had, like many of my fellow Americans, exclusively imbibed on the fizzy yellow stuff. When I wanted something with more “flavor” I picked up some Budweiser or Corona at the store. Then one day I found a short, squatty brown bottle with a green label marked “Pale Ale” at my local beer store. Wow! Now that was flavor!
Since that day almost 12 years ago my palate has expanded and grown more adventurous in the type of beer it seeks. I now enjoy the full range of styles, from stouts and porters to pale ales and pilsners. I even enjoy a sour beer every now and then. But perhaps that first encounter with Sierra Nevada was a precursor to what would become my favorite aspect of good beer – hop aroma, flavor, and bittering. Hops, and in particular American varieties such as Cascade and Centennial, are exactly what Sierra Nevada is known for. The brewery was a pioneer in what would eventually be referred to as the West Coast style of brewing (i.e. a heavy emphasis of the hop in all things brewing).
A recent addition to Sierra Nevada’s lineup of seasonal beers is Hoptimum Imperial IPA. At 100 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and 10.4% ABV, this is a BIG beer! Hoptimum is sold in 4-packs at around $10. This may seem like a steep price, but believe me – your $10 will go a long, long way.
I sampled a pint of Hoptimum one night after putting the kids to bed. The green label on the 12-oz. bottle depicted a whole-cone hop in coat and tie. All of Sierra Nevada’s labels are first-class, but this was a real standout. I poured the beer into a standard pint glass and marveled at the brilliant golden color. A one-inch layer of perfectly white foam rested on top, while super fine bubbles streamed from the bottom. I swirled the glass and took a sniff. The aroma was dominated by hops – grapefruit rind, lemon, tropical fruit, and pine all coalesced into a hop wallop to olfactory glands. If the smell was any indication of what lie ahead, I was in for a real treat.
Fortunately the beer did not disappoint when I took my first sip. Wow! This was a substantial beer. The mouth feel was viscous, slick, and hefty with moderate carbonation. The flavor was an explosion of hops with intense notes of grapefruit, orange, and big alcohol. Toffee and toasted malt was also there – albeit taking a backseat to the massive hop character – to round out the beer enough to make it drinkable. There was a firm bitterness on the backend that lingered well beyond the swallow. Hoptimum finished dry with a subtle menthol-like quality that added a new dimension to post-imbibe breathing.
Hoptimum is one of the best IPAs I’ve ever tried. Overall, it exemplifies what makes the American brewing scene so special. Proceed with caution, however. One is great, two is good, but any more than that might leave you with your head in your lap due to the lofty ABV. The spotlight here is definitely on the hop cone – almost like a love letter to the American hop head. Anyone who has already made the transition from the fizzy yellow stuff to quality craft beer should really enjoy this one.