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Hopslam – it’s an annual annoyance, but for a new reason this year

Jan 19, 2012

It’s January and I was expecting the hype machine surrounding Bell’s Hopslam to piss me off (again) this year, but didn’t really anticipate it aggravating me in the manner that it did.

I was expecting the general, stupid hype of this particular beer to annoy me – and it did – and I was expecting the ‘how long before it goes downhill’ comments to piss me off – and they did – but this year brought a new irritation. Hopslam on cask.

Let’s get a couple of things absolutely clear;

1. I think Hopslam is better in a cask than a keg. This is really only part of the greater truism that virtually all beer is better in a cask than a keg, so no surprises there, and

2. Hopslam is a nice beer that I enjoy a few bottles of, once a year.

Those points (for me) are not in dispute, so why the annoyance? It’s simple. The cask presentation is only properly showcased by subtle, lower ABV beer, i.e., beers that are the antithesis of Hopslam. The point of cask beer is that the subtle, gentle complexity and nuance is brought out over the course of 2 or 3 days, and that tiny changes in the beer are not overshadowed by huge hop presence, big ABV’s and large, overpowering flavor profiles! Hopslam cannot overcome those fundamental flaws.

The fact that this beer does not show off cask is painful to me on two levels. Firstly from a selfish point of view it fails to satisfy my craving for great cask beer. When people that know me, excitedly tell me there is a cask of Hopslam available at some Atlanta venue, they are surprised by my complete indifference. You see, I know better, this is not what cask means to me and nor is it what cask means in the greater scheme of things and nor is it a vehicle for showcasing the presentation.

Secondly I feel that Americans are being sold a ‘bill of goods’. Cask is being misrepresented in the USA with beers like Hopslam. Through no fault of their own, the Americans have virtually no knowledge of cask. That’s not anyone’s fault, but it does mean that ignorance and nonsense fill the vacuum and that’s troubling to me. There’s a whole swathe of American beer newbs getting completely the wrong idea about cask beer and that REALLY pains me – and I mean it REALLY pains me. I feel strongly that they are being misled and casks’ brilliance and whole point is being bludgeoned by beers like Hopslam. Hopslam is a brutal beer that is fine in certain contexts – cask is not one of those contexts.

Some of this may be lost of readers from the UK, and indeed anyone without the advantage of knowing BOTH real ale and Hopslam. These two entities that appear to be linked in some way in as much as they are both in the Venn diagram intersection labeled ‘beer’, but frankly that’s a HORRIBLY misleading suggestion that they have anything in common – they don’t. They are linked in the same way that Vince Wilfork and Linford Christie are both athletes.

In short, my heart breaks when I think of Americans ‘learning’ about cask ale via a beer like Hopslam – it’s tragic.


  1. Geezer

    A bit melodramatic as usual. Small steps……

    • Ding

      Well, you either feel it in your soul or you don’t. I can’t ask you to ‘get it’ like I do, it’s either part of you or it isn’t. I can see how my comments might seem melodramatic, but it IS how I (genuinely) feel.

  2. Simon Johnson

    I wonder if the boot is on the other foot on this side of the pond?

    I’ve had a fair few keg beers from nascent British brewers that don’t suit a cold, carbonic approach. But it makes the brewer look cutting edge. And they get to charge considerably more for the keg product.

  3. Zac

    I was wondering whether you would be cool with a cask of Hopslam if your real-ale-in-a-cask needs were being met. It seems that there should be room for “extreme” American-style brews served from the cask as sort of a way to update the practice. However, to really understand real ale as experienced overseas, the traditional should also be available. So, I agree and disagree with you. There’s room for cask experimentation, but there should be more room made for real ale.

    • Ding

      ‘Update the practice’?? It doesn’t need ‘updating’, and even if it did, quite how putting oafish beers into subtle environments would help, I don’t know.

  4. Steve

    I can’t figure out which beer Wilfork is supposed to be, I just look at him and see a big bowl of mashed potatoes.

  5. ericmsteen

    I enjoy cask, especially milds and 4-5% porters. I went to a Firkin Festival here in Colorado Springs last year and there were actually some good Double IPAs being served on cask and they came off nicer than I imagined. The only problem in my mind is that putting a really hoppy 2IPA on cask really seems like a waste of hops. A local brewery here removed their IPA from cask and put it on CO2 where it is a much better beer now. The recipe is no different, just that it’s kegged. The cask was hiding a lot of the PacNW hops that were used. The brewer is a new brewer and really great with cask so he realized he needed to make this shift and now they have a rotating cask. Anyway, I think my point is: I was surprised that some of the bigger IPA’s worked well on cask but it also seems like it’s not an efficient use of hops if you’re putting the bigger IPA’s on cask…

  6. KenD

    I agree with some major points here. I spent time in the UK while in college and during my first job. The gentle, fresh and delicate quality of a cool cask bitter is something that’s nearly impossible to experience here. The first time I saw a hand pull in my home state of Ohio, I excitedly ordered a pint. The bartender laughed and said it was only served in 6 ounce glasses. I shrugged and ordered one anyway. I was met with a “double porter”, warm, syrupy and sticky in the glass. The beer weighed in at a staggering 11% and I could not finish it.

    I enjoy (and make) many types of beer, but the complete vacuum when it comes to softer, natural session type beers in America frustrates and perplexes me. There is a time and place for everything, and it’s not always the time for extreme hoppiness, gravity, alcohol, etc. We should lighten up every once in a while and enjoy a light, clean 20 ounce poor of traditional conditioned ale. It really is great stuff.

    • Ding

      Thanks for the comment, Ken. Actually when you consider American beer culture, and indeed American culture in a broader sense, the lack of subtle, nuanced, understated beer is not really that ‘perplexing’ – it’s just not the American way!

  7. Commander Suds

    How did this all come about? Years past, Hopslam, like just about any other seasonal beer would simply come and go. Now, it’s a yearly race to see which can mindlessly outpace the other: the price, the demand, or the silly Hopslam threads online.

    See you Saturday?

    • KenD

      I don’t know about everywhere else, but our local “Irish Pub” (the kind with the fake turn-of-the century soap ads on every wall) was handing out invitations to a “keg tapping party” for Hopslam as early as a month ago that included free food and opportunities to win Hopslam shirts. The self-proclaimed cognoscenti who frequent the place were falling over themselves in excitement and asking if they could fill growlers or if they would be rationed limited portions.

      • Commander Suds

        I mean it’s a good beer, I’ll even plunk down some cold hard cash for it from time to time, but geez. While at a local beer store, I was quickly approached by an employee who brought up HopSlam, mentioned it quickly selling out alongside a list of grandiose accolades, and told me, if I’m lucky, if I’ve been a good boy this year, maybe, just maybe I could start regularly calling to see if they get in another shipment. There was a long, deliciously awkward pause as I waited for the “JK!” to come.

        It never came.

  8. CJ

    Glad there are at least some other people out there who feel the same way about Hopslam that I do – it’s a fine beer but not worthy of the frenzied mania that accompanies its release every year. Liking the blog so far, Ding, and looking forward to following.


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