Hoptimum has not (officially) hit Europe yet as far as I know, though maybe it has just got to Britain, my local awesome beer shop owner assures me he’s going to have some soon. In the meantime though, I sent a friend of mine who was just trying to have a quiet San Franciscan holiday halfway across the town so he could bring me back a bottle, which he did God bless him, so here I am, ahead of the game. Feels odd. Since this was a special occasion I sat down and took some notes.
Hoptimum clocks in at 10.4% abv. It’s clearly trying to get in on the hop-head-and-proud trend that seems prevalent in the US. Essentially this is unashamed ‘geek-beer’, of the geeks, by the geeks, for the geeks. It comes out of Sierra Nevada’s
Geek Beer Camp, and as their blurb says,
A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing. The result is this: a 100 IBU, whole-cone hurricane of flavor. Simply put —Hoptimum: the biggest whole-cone IPA we have ever produced. Aggressively hopped, dry-hopped, AND torpedoed with our exclusive new hop varieties for ultra-intense flavors and aromas.
I had seen this before tasting it and I was expecting something like a beefeed up Torpedo, but that’s not what this is. I didn’t find it nearly as aggressive (despite the spiel) as I expected. What I had expected was a big aroma to greet me out of the glass, but no, I struggled to get that familiar SN waft. Instead the body was to the fore. The colour was unremarkable, it was indistinguishable from Torpedo or the like. As I said, there was a big body, similar perhaps to SN Bigfoot, certainly the extra alcohol was noticeable; SN are right that this is their biggest IPA. In many ways the body was something bock-ish, with a saccharine character, and little of the caramel toffee flavour possessed by many American IPAs that I have become obsessed by lately. But what about the hops? A very resiny hop character dominates the middle taste, I guessed something like Simcoe, which was subsequently confirmed by the website, Simcoe features as an aroma and a dry hop, along with a “new proprietary variety” whatever that is. There was little of the citrus I had expected. The real bittering came with the aftertaste. I wondered was Magnum (hop) playing any role here, and frankly I wasn’t sure what to make of the beer, so in the interests of having something to compare it to I opened a Torpedo
My initial thoughts about the aroma made a lot more sense after that. Torpedo has quite a rough aroma. Swirl the glass and it jumps out at your face. That just wasn’t happening with Hoptimum. But there was something going on I though, it was a faint delicate but quite pleasant tangerine aroma, nowhere near as intense as Torpedo. This was strange, because as I found out later they both use SN’s torpedo device, whereby the finished beer is pumped through a cannister containing whole cone hops. repeatedly, untill all the flavour has been stripped. Both use the new hop ‘Citra’ for this process, but Torpedo pairs it with magnum, while Hoptimum couples it with Chinook. Who knows what accounts for the aroma difference, it could be the differing bodies, of the companion hop, or the level of hopping. The comparison also shed light on the body, Hoptimum is very sweet, the extra 3.2% makes a big difference, when you drink them side by side Hoptimum makes Torpedo seem dull and thin. Hoptimum coats the tongue, leaving an almost spicy hop flavour which is entirely missing in Torpedo.
Geekery aside, I think this is a lovely beer, though I think for true hop-heads 10.4% might be pushing abv a little too high. I think beers with the body that goes with the sort of 7.5% range showcase hop character better as fas as I can see than something this strong, the bock-like body just takes over. These geeks need some more moderation to ranch them in a little it seems. It’s probably like letting a bunch of six-year-olds take over a sweet factory.