Hopslam in Chicago

Tim wrote about his impressions of this year’s Hopslam when it was actually contemporary. He saw Ashley’s tweet about the tapping, and I saw that Sheffield’s was having a tapping party on Facebook. Hooray for beer and social networking!

I won’t give a full review of Hopslam, since Tim took care of that, but I wanted mention a few things about the beer and the bar.

Beer Release Events Are Awesome

Tim attended one at Ashley’s and my Hopslam release was hosted at Sheffield’s. There’s something about the feeling of a crowd together, all excited about the same thing. It’s the reason I like going to movies at midnight the day they open or going to live sports. There’s something about the crowd and shared emotion that makes the event or product itself much more enjoyable.

Beyond the crowd, I enjoyed having a theme for my drinking. Back in Sheffield’s “Beer School” bar they had, in addition to Hopslam, Hell Hath No Fury, Winter White and Two Hearted from Bell’s. It was like being back in Michigan for a night. When I was there for the tapping of Vrienden, a collaboration between New Belgium and Allagash, they also had a New Belgium Trippel and IPA along with Allagash Black and White. While aimlessly exploring an extensive tap list is fun (and usually the way ago), sometimes a more limited, focused and curated experience is awesome as a change of pace.

Sheffield’s Is Awesome

Sheffield's in Chicago

Sheffield's front bar. Photo by Media Fury

This isn’t news or an original thought. Sheffield’s is on Draft Magazine’s top 100 beer bars in the US and comes in at an A- on Beer Advocate. Still, sometimes things just need to be said. The beer list is constantly changing, especially the Beer School Bar. The bar tenders all know and, more importantly, truly enjoy beer.

They also have beer focused events fairly often. To kick off my beer-a-palooza weekend,  I’m going to a five course Texas BBQ dinner paired with beers from Founders. They do a fair amount beer tappings and even road trips, including annual pilgrimages to Two Brothers and to Three Floyds for Dark Lord Day. Throw in the awesome barbecue food, you’ve got my favorite bar in Chicago.

I Don’t Appreciate Bell’s As Much As I Should

I lived the first 24 years of my life in Michigan. Bell’s has been relevant and even top dog in the craft beer scene since I started thinking, “maybe there’s something better than Bud Light…” I’ve never harbored any ill-will toward Bell’s, but when I saw it in the stores next to Arcadia, Founders, New Holland or Shorts, I would almost invariably pick one of the smaller guys.

Being out in Chicago, it’s amazing how excited people get about Bell’s releases. The Chicago Beer Society Listserv I subscribed to was flooded with messages about where you could go to get Hopslam on draft or pick up a case or two. This was totally shocking to me. Back in Michigan, an average party store still has a couple six packs of Batch 9000 and Hell Hath No Fury, etc. Here in Chicago, it’s a mad dash to grab it before it’s gone.

Bell's Beer

A selection of beers made by Bell's

Moving away from Michigan has definitely helped me appreciate Bell’s more. They have tons of different beers (and an incredibly impressive selection of stouts) and almost all of them are anywhere between Very Good and I Could Die Right Now And Be Happy.

I’ll credit it to a mixture of expatriate nostalgia and appreciation borne from seperation, but now when I see Bell’s on draft, I’ll snag a pint (especially Two Hearted). I usually have at least on variety of Bell’s in the fridge at any given time. In getting excited to try new breweries, I let Bell’s fall by the wayside, but that’s not fair to them or, more importantly, to me.

Bell’s Hopslam Release

When Ashey’s Ann Arbor tweeted (@a2ashleys) Monday afternoon that they’d be releasing Bell’s Hopslam Double IPA at 4pm, I had no choice but to venture over there for a taste, right?

Bell's Hopslam

Bell's Hopslam

The description included with the pint (pictured) stated that the hops were chosen on the basis of being very aromatic, though I didn’t think there was a very strong hop aroma. The taste, on the other hand, was out of control. Tons of grapefruit and other citrus flavors from the hops, along with a decent taste of honey, with just enough malt to balance it all out. There wasn’t a strong bitterness either, this was a beer that is primarily hopped for flavor and little else.

I didn’t even realize when I started drinking that it was a 10% ABV beer, because there was no real heat from the alcohol, but it made itself apparent pretty quickly, as I was feeling it halfway through the pint. I typically associate strong honey flavors with high ABV in my mind, so that makes sense. One thing that I really liked about this beer was great color for a DIPA – it’s a little darker than many, but that’s because it had a nice malty body.

In all, this was a very good – though not quite great – beer, although it’s not my preferred style (more on the porter/stout end of the spectrum).