Archive for February, 2012

Tasting Notes: Bell’s Hopslam

Bell's Hopslam

Supposedly the “holy grail” for hop heads… Bell’s Brewery’s Hopslam is consistently rated as one of the top beers in the United States (and the world)… FINALLY got a chance to thump my palate and give it a go.

The beer poured a wonderful orangey-copper.  Hazy. What little head that developed in the glass dissipated very quickly… high ABV beer will do that. A thin white ring of bubbles lingered on the perimeter of the glass. I chose a red wine glass to mimic the “tulip” glass that this should be served in… but, alas, no tulip glasses in stock at this house.

Aroma is very fruity…tropical fruit… like mangoes and grapefruit. I picked up a little bit of earthy notes, too… like the rinds of fruit skins. A little resiny, too… maybe a touch of “feet”… like stinky cheese? But, not in a displeasing way. The fruit notes of the hops sure dominate.

Taste was unbelievable… like grapefruit juice. Very acidic up front, like orange juice. Not overwhelmingly bitter like I though it would be… I hate hop bitterness, so I was leery it would be too much for me. It wasn’t… the hops are all in the flavor and aroma, that’s for sure. The middle of the taste was sweet… there’s honey in the recipe and I think it cam through. As it warms up, a little more pine resin taste comes out. Very slight malt sweetness, too… like bread. The finish of the taste is resiny, and the 10%ABV cuts through at the end of the taste with a little “hot alcohol” bite. Lingering taste is fruity hop flavor, hop resin, and fruity sweetness.

Overall, I can see why this beer is one of the top beers in the U.S… very pleasing… very unique… huge “novelty factor” since it releases once a year. The hop isn’t overly bitter, like I though it might be. Very big punch of flavor… huge fruit aroma. My first reaction was “man, this tastes like pink grapefruit juice”… and it does.

Glad this only comes out once a year… at $17(ish) per six pack, I could see this blowing through my beer budget in a hurry. Definitely schwacked my taste buds… I’ll sit her in the hop coma and enjoy the feeling.

By the way, tasting beer isn’t that hard… you just describe the tastes in detail and compare it to what you know… bready malt tastes, like saltine crackers or whole wheat bread. Fruity aromas like grapefruit. Sweet… alcohol bite… carbonic bite like when your nose tingles after burping up soda… all descriptors of the experience of savoring and enjoying the flavors of the beer your tasting. Start with what the beer looks like when it’s poured… then, sniff it… bury your nose in the glass and take in a big whiff… what does it smell like? Then, take a sip. Let the beer sit in your mouth for a second, then swallow. Take another sip. Smell it again. More sips. You’ll get the hang of it… some people are so intense about their tadting notes, they take a little notebook with them to jot down their experience. You don’t have to be that intense… sure, you can geek out on it, but just describing the beer to others you’re sitting with can be enough to get the beer convo rolling… and that’s what beer is: it’s social. It’s an experience. It’s something more than swilling it down your gullet while you grind on hotties. It’s beer… sit down, talk to a friend. Talk about what your tasting. Catch up on life. That’s what it’s all about. You can watch two experienced home brewers taste some beers to get an idea (se below)… or go out and try a craft beer and actually take a second to let the flavors and experience process in your brain and some tastings for yourself…

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DIY Hop Spider

This is what the end product will look like... use it as a reference, or to scare small children into doing your bidding because you've convinced them it is some sort of medieval torture device.

A few weeks ago, I whipped up a hop spider… just troll the plastic plumbing fixtures at Lowe’s and found a 3 or 4 inch PVC coupler for three or four bucks. Next, head on over to the decorative wood-working aisle and find the dowel rods… the only trick to picking out a dowel rod is finding one sturdy enough to not bend or flex while choosing one that’ll match the diameter of a drill bit you have at home. Another fun thing about dowel rods is they make great fencing foils when you’re slightly-annoyed wife starts complaining that you’re dragging her from one end of Lowe’s to the other.

After you’ve got the PVC coupler and dowel rod, head over to the plumbing section and find a stainless steel worm clamp big enough to fit on the bottom diameter of the PVC coupler. Got it? Good. Now, walk over to the paint section. In amongst all the painting accessories is a blue plastic pack of two five gallon mesh paint strainer bags. They’re basically big white mesh bags… get the five gallon size. After you’ve picked up the strainer bags, you should be close to the cash registers… because every Lowe’s is designed damn near identical.

Find the drill bit that matches the diameter of the dowel rod you bought, and drill a hole through the PVC coupler about one inch from the top. Directly opposite that hole, drill another hole, so the dowel rod will bisect the coupler. Now, 90 degrees from that second hole, drill another hole in the coupler. Opposite that hole, drill the fourth and final hole for the other piece of dowel rod. You’re basically making a big ‘X’ with the dowel rods… just make sure to offset the holes so the two pieces of dowel rod don’t intersect and bump into each other in the middle. Break (or saw) the dowel rod in half. Use a hammer to pound the rod through one hole across to the other, and the same for the other set of holes. Use the worm clamp to secure one of the five gallon strainer bags to the coupler. Bingo.

So now that you have this dubious-looking device, you might be asking yourself, “soooo…. what’s it for?” Well, have no fear… the answer is quite simple. You set the hop spider over your brew pot with the strainer bag sitting in the boiling wort. You add the hop pellets (you’ll probably need a bigger couple to fit whole leaf) through the coupler so they’re contained int he bag, but still in the boiling wort. This will allow you to easily remove the hops from the wort when the hop schedule is done… and will also eliminate the hop particles from finding their way into the fermenter when you transfer wort. This way they’ll not plug up autsiphons or racking canes and no particles will be waiting for you int he trub to have to worry about washing out when you harvest yeast. Plus, they look cool…. so there’s that. Until next time, folks.

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