Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hop-tastic fun

Last week, my friend Jason (aka RVAFoodie) and I had an interesting tasting session with one of our local beer gurus at Mekong. Jason was drinking a Nugget Nectar and I had a Golden Doom Belgian-style blond. We got to talking about hops and asked our guru An how he would compare the Nugget to the Avery Maharajah. He began to describe DIPAs as roller coasters of hop aroma, and then we asked how he would compare Bell's Hopslam next to them since that little bit of rare gold has set a certain standard for hoppy double IPAs lately. Next thing we know, An pours two glasses of Avery and then pulls a bottle of Hopslam from his secret stash. He added a glass of Nugget Nectar for me, and we each had three glasses lined up. Three hop monsters ready for comparison.

Here's what we found:

1. Bell's Hopslam — While An described most DIPAs as roller coaster rides of flavor and mouthfeel, he told us to watch the way Hopslam carried through the entire sip. And he was right, from the floral bath of aroma to the end of the sip, the Hopslam was a smooth, supple ride. Enough alcohol popped through to let you know that you were at a 10% beer, but it wasn't as overwhelming as it could have been. It was a beer you sat down with after dinner; not one you plowed through a few of in a session. It also had enough malt presence that someone who isn't a hopfiend could still enjoy.

2. Troeg's Nugget Nectar — I've had this beer at the brewery and in bottle and should throw a disclaimer out that I loved it before the tasting session. That said, tasting it after the Hopslam was an excellent hop-to-hop comparison of what different hops will add to the aroma and flavor of a beer. The Nugget hops have a more subtle, nutty flavor, and balance nicely with well-rounded malts making a beer that is smooth with enough hop presence to stay interesting from nose to last sip. Compared to the Hopslam, this is one we agreed could be a perfect everyday beer. It's still a little high on the ABV to be a true session beer, but it was easy to see having another one.

3. Avery Maharajah Double IPA — Jason's first reaction to this was "It burns!" The hop presence here is huge. It hits the nose like a sharp whiff of hop oils and characterizes An's description of a roller coaster. There are intense flavors of hops and alcohol that fall off at the end of a mouthful. I'd call it a perfect example of a double IPA — sharp, strong, big and everything you'd want in a winter beer. Placed in a line with the Bell's and Troeg's, however, this one suffered by the comparison. It's still a good beer, but given the choice, I have to say it's a little over-hopped (if that's possible), and I'd probably choose something else for my next pint.

That's my first take. Check out Jason's.