Young and Hungry

The Lowdown On Hopslam: Searching D.C. For This Rare IPA? Good Luck!

The annual release of Hopslam, the super-rare and coveted Imperial IPA from Michigan's Bell's Brewery that often has retailers jacking up their price guns, is upon us again. And, yes, at some outlets, it's already too late to buy some. Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquors got six cases in on Monday and sold them out by Wednesday. Price: $24.99 per six pack. Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits sold out of their four cases before they even arrived on Thursday. That store was charging $21.99 per six pack. Cairo Liquors sold their five cases in a single day. Its price was slightly less: $20.99 for a sixer. D’Vines of Columbia Heights may be cashing in the most on the yearly frenzy, however, selling Hopslam by the bottle at $6.30 a pop—that works out to $37.80 per six pack. And, as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, the shop still had a few left.

What's so special about Hopslam? City Paper's former "Beerspotter" columnist Orr Shtuhl explored the brew's ambrosial qualities in this very space two years ago. For a fresh perspective on its lingering popularity, Y&H turned to—who else?—ChurchKey's walking malt-and-hops encyclopedia Greg Engert, who reminds us of the local connection between the city and its most sought-after seasonal import. Engert points out that Bell's Brewery founder Larry Bell had attended George Washington University and it was here in D.C. where the young collegian turned into a hophead. “He started drinking craft beer at the Brickskeller and it really opened his eyes and got him to start brewing himself in 1985," Engert says.

ChurchKey's brewhound-in-chief is especially fond of Bell's ultra-hoppy suds. “I think this beer is phenomenal,” he says. “I sold 24 bottles of it the first night it came in ($9 apiece), based on just one tweet. I would put it up against any Imperial I.P.A. in the country. It’s beautifully balanced, hoppy but not a fruit bomb. Not too piney, but with great tropical fruit and herb notes. It’s everything you could want out of Pacific Northwest hops.”

Sipping the stuff during our conversation at Engert's noted beer hall on 14th Street NW the other night, I had to agree. I tend to dislike hoppy beers. No, I take that back, I despise them (apologies to my beer expert uncle, Peter). Probably has something to do with how my palette was ruined by Busch Light and Natural Light in college. But Hopslam has a roundness that sets it apart from the overly bitter pales I’ve tried in the past. I enjoyed it.

Engert also explains that Hopslam is unique because Bell’s Brewery has never changed its annual, small-batch approach to allocating the beer, despite demand that has increased year after year. In fact, as the appetite for craft beer in D.C. has grown and more high quality watering holes have opened, Engert has seen his yearly allotment go down.

Yet, somehow, he still manages to get an exclusive:  “We have the only cask of Hopslam in the area, and we’re tapping it for a special event next week,” he says (details here).

But whither Hopslam? Can its appeal last forever, in D.C. or elsewhere? Despite changes in craft brew culture, which have new breweries constantly cranking out special batches and one-off beers, Engert still believes Hopslam reigns supreme. “There’s not going to be another Hopslam,” he says. “This beer comes from a different era. It has such credibility because it has been so good for so long.”

Image courtesy of Bell's Brewery

  • Adam

    Great beer but certainly not the best one out there. East Coast is deprived of too many great beers.

  • sgb

    Allegedly, Bell's did not provide any Hopslam to Whole Foods this year because they were charging 28.99 for it last year. Its a great beer for sure, but Adam is correct - there are better beers out there. There are better hoppy beers that aren't even seasonal (e.g., Pliny, Dreadnaught).

  • Kelly

    Not to be part of the kneejerk backlash, but I'm going to be part of the kneejerk backlash. Hopslam is a fine beer, for it's type, but it ain't all that.

  • Fact Checker

    Wholefoods had plenty of Hopslam this year for 22. Same price as last year.

    Even if it was possible to identify the "best" beer, it's not like people are running around claiming that Hopslam has the title. It's a great beer and great example of the style. We can leave it at that. But I think we could say that it is the best beer that is relatively fairly easy to access.

    And I'm so tired of Pliny, Pliny, Pliny. It's like code for "I'm more hip than the hipsters who like craft beer." Again, great beer among many great beers. But until RR and FFF increase their distribution, they can't hold a candle to the weight that Hopslam carries.

  • SamsGoodMeats

    Thanks for the comments, y'all. What beers do you wish you had more access to here in DC? I want to get some of the names out for discussion. My personal choice would be Boulevard Brewery from my hometown of Kansas City. My all-time favorite beer is their Wheat and I love their special batch Tank 47. I think it'll be out here soon, but can't currently find it.

  • Adam

    "And I'm so tired of Pliny, Pliny, Pliny. It's like code for "I'm more hip than the hipsters who like craft beer." Again, great beer among many great beers. But until RR and FFF increase their distribution, they can't hold a candle to the weight that Hopslam carries."

    What do you mean? You can't get RR here, but then again you can't get Bell's in CA. Pliny is no more "hipster" than any other craft beer, it just happens to have limited distribution...as most breweries do.

  • Adam

    Sam-

    Russian River and AleSmith are 1&2 on my wishlist.

  • http://www.yoursforgoodfermentables.com/ Thomas Cizauskas

    An even more direct connection between Bell's Brwery and the Washington, D.C. area is Bell's production director: John Mallett. In the early 1990s, Mallett was hired to revamp the brewing procedures at Old Dominion Brewing, then in Ashburn, Virginia. He did so with a vengeance, and the brewery rapidly grew to become a regional powerhouse. (Its demise, occurring well after Mallett departed, is a different story.)

  • Fred

    Already got Hopslam from a store not mentioned in the article! Proof: http://i.imgur.com/Ah47D.jpg . Barcode and serial removed for anonymity of the store.

  • Andrew

    Sam, if you ever find Boulevard Wheat out here, please write about it. As a native Midwesterner, I end up hiding several bottles in my suitcase when I fly back to DC after the holidays. Unfortunately, it doesn't take many bottles to start pushing the 50-lb checked bag limit, and you can't take it on carry-on.

  • pat

    Sam and Andrew, i bought some Boulevard Wheat last Thursday at Old line beer and wine in Beltsville

  • Twan Tran

    aa

  • Twan Tran

    Not true. Wholefoods will get it. The one in Fairfax is posting that it will be released Friday at noon and another one at 5 PM.

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