City Paper is not for tourists
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