Intense would be one word for this beer. Insane would be another. This is an imperial IPA from the folks who are largely credited with inventing the IPA, after all. With a beer that's been brewed, dry-hopped, and torpedoed with resinous whole-cone hops, we're talking about a serious hop situation here.
Beer Details: Hoptimum Imperial IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA (Imperial IPA, 10.4% ABV, 100 IBU)
Appearance: Crystal clear and tawny gold with a crazy head of creamy off-white foam.
Aroma: All that dry-hopping and torpedoing certainly pays off here — you can practically smell this one from across the room. Sweet hop flower is predominant with a distinctly resinous, pine forest note. Warm hint of honey, too.
Taste: Before we get into it, let's talk about all these different hopping methods. Adding hops during brewing primarily adds bitterness and some hop flavors — the boiling beer wort extracts bittering resins from the hop cone, but most of the volatile hop oils evaporate. Dry-hopping means that hops were added to the beer sometime after the initial brewing. This is a terrific way to get those hop oils back in the beer and add tons of aromas. Torpedoing is similar to dry-hopping, except instead of passively throwing the hops into a tank of fermenting beer to slowly infuse, the beer itself is pumped through cylindrical containers filled with hops — it's another way of adding even more of those aromatic hop oils to the beer. The result of all these different hopping methods is a beer that has extracted every last thing a hop cone has to offer: bitterness, intense flavors, and waves of aroma.
And yes, Hoptimum has all this in spades. Flavors of pine and resin, lemon oil and citrus pith seesaw back and forth throughout the sip, but a solid backbone of clean bitterness keeps it all grounded. With the finish, there's a warm herbal astringency that sticks in the throat like a cough drop — admittedly not my favorite, but I can see other hopheads loving this.
What really impressed me about this beer was its balance. This is a massive beer with a lot of hop character going on, but there's a really nice wildflower honey sweetness that comes through in each sip. It's just enough to give the beer some structure and keep it from twisting your tongue into knots.
This is just a fantastic beer. Really well made and a perfect example of what an imperial beer can be. Sip this one slowly, both to savor all the flavors and also because it's easy for the booziness to sneak up on you.
Food Pairings: A classic cheeseburger with crunchy onion rings on the side would go mighty well with this big brew.
(Image: Emma Christensen)