The craft brewing explosion of the last decade has created a thirst for beer with much more character. This has opened the door for over the top flavor profiles - from high gravity beers that are more like liquor to thick and hearty triple stouts. But one of the most popular styles right now wears an overdose of hops as a badge of honor. These intensely bitter and bracing beers feature a pronounced bite that stays in your mouth all the way to the bottom of the glass…and beyond.
These brews tend to be India Pale Ales, a traditionally hoppy-flavored beer that measures high on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale, which is used to measure hop bitterness in beer. While they're not necessarily the beer you want to down to quench a thirst worked up raking leaves or shoveling snow, they can be a great match for many rich and hearty foods that fit the season. At their best, hoppy brews work similarly to an acidic wine, clearing the palate for another taste of heavy, cold-weather grub. So cook up on something your cardiologist would disapprove of and settle in for a leisurely autumn evening with some of the hoppiest beers in the world – like the ones listed below.
Bell's Hopslam – A seasonal Imperial IPA that generally hits shelves in the dark of Winter, Hopslam can be found on some shelves and ordered online year round if you look hard enough. It's a hazy gold in the glass, with hops absolutely dominating the aroma and flavor. The flavor is bitter to the point of being brutal, but balanced out by a hint of citrus. The more you drink, the more grapefruit and pineapple notes come through, but that may have something to do with the beer being bottled at a relatively high 10 percent ABV.
Founders Devil Dancer – This triple IPA does an impressive job of skirting the edge without dropping off the cliff of good taste. It's a hop-bomb, no doubt about it. Ten hop varieties are mixed and its dry-hopped for 26 days, coming out on the other side astonishingly complex. The hops dominate the creamy mouth feel but still leave room for some citrus and a barleywine-like caramel and toffee overtone. Judicious use of malt enters the picture too, counteracting some of the bite. Even so, the brew just shouldn't hang together in a cohesive whole, but somehow Founders found the secret formula.
Moylan's Hopsickle – Another Imperial IPA, this one pours a nearly luminous orange and the hops don't cover up the characteristic citrus and spice as much as other beers in our tasting. The bitter aftertaste mixes in an almost piney resin and just a little caramel malt. Much easier drinking than many Imperial IPAs, the dry finish and more forward fruit flavors make this the standout of the tasting to pair with a meal. Those relatively easy-drinking characteristics can catch up with you though. At 9.2 percent ABV, and disguising the heat of the alcohol under the intense hops, Hopsickle will sneak up on you.
Victory Brewing Hop Wallop – Dominated by hops from aroma to flavor, even the mildly sweet fruit, citrus and creamy smooth malt forming a backdrop can't clear the lingering bitterness off the palate. It's unapologetically bitter, but with a full body and enough alcohol at 8.5 percent ABV the effect becomes muted as the bottles go by. Paired up with strongly-flavored food that can cut through the intense hops, it's a refreshing draught. On its own, it's a beer to savor, coating your mouth with a strangely addictive citrus and hops combo that could overwhelm more delicate palates.