Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Sierra Nevada - Hoptimum Imperial IPA Review
Brewery: Sierra Nevada (CA)
Style: Imperial IPA
When a hoppy beer passes a certain threshold, people start to toss out certain phrases to convey how insanely hoppy it is. "Insanely hoppy," for instance. "Palate-wrecking." "Enamel-eroding." "Tongue dissolving." I guess if you have a threshold for bitterness, you hit that point where only hyperbole will describe what's happening to your tongue. I don't think an IPA could ever be too bitter for my taste, but Hoptimum is the kind of beer where those descriptions are unavoidable. This is the essence of American hop flavors distilled into beer form, with a searing, syrupy bitterness that approaches the sensation of sucking the oil from a hop cone. This is intense stuff.
For me, I don't think an overly-hoppy, overly-bitter beer is necessarily enamel-eroding — bitterness doesn't have the mouth-melting effects of a super acidic sour beer, for instance — but the hoppier a beer becomes, the more it seems to approach a singularity of hop flavor. I guess what I'm trying to say is that a beer like Hoptimum never becomes hard to drink, personally, just that the flavor transforms into something essential and concentrated — thick, rich pine sap, biting sharp citrus, resin, and just... intense hoppiness. It's possible that heightened intensity translates into a lack of complexity, but that's not really a problem.
While the aroma is surprisingly subdued for what went into this beer, in the flavor you can pick out the usual hoppy nuances, grapefruit and citrus, orange, floral-spice, and big dense pine. But this not the multilayered shape-shifter some other, smaller IPAs become — it is a single, thickly-layered bulldozer. Despite the hefty ABV, sweetness isn't an issue — the only richness Hoptimum coats your tongue with is the slick, oily, hop kind. And yet, I wouldn't call Hoptimum unbalanced — whatever malts come into play are just enough, allowing the bitterness to wash off your tongue and ingratiate it to the next sip. This is a hell of an imperial, a really impressive distillation of the best in American hop flavors.
Edit - April 2013: Picked up a fresh bottle of this for the spring 2013 release; only a couple weeks old since bottling, yet it tastes almost less fresh than the original bottle I drank, from what I remember. Almost no significant aroma, although the flavor profile is basically what I remember. Solid beer, though I'm surprised and a little disappointed this fresher incarnation hasn't knocked my socks off any more.
Availability: 12 ounce bottles, four-packs. Rotating release.