Every January, Bell’s, one of Michigan’s most respected and beloved breweries, releases a seasonal double IPA called Hopslam. It’s a really good beer—perfect, some would say. A review of the beer isn’t our purpose here (it’s a hugely hoppy, yet drinkable concoction due to an addition of honey and a generous malt profile that allows the hop flavor to shine through without an overwhelming bitterness). Our purpose is more sociological, or maybe just a little case study on the idea of hype versus substance.
There are a number of beers that come out annually on “release days” with immediate sellouts such as Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout by Florida’s Cigar City and Dark Lord Imperial Stout from by Indiana’s Three Floyds, which has it’s own day, complete with fans camping out in line. California’s The Bruery has a subscription model called the Preservation Society that sells out limited production beers in advance. What makes Hopslam unique is release-day type frenzy that is spread out across the country, as Bell’s makes a lot of Hopslam compared to the extremely limited nature of other “release day” beers.
A scan of the Twitter hashtag #hopslam reveals beer stores across the country (Bell’s is in 18 states plus Washington, D.C.) alerting their customers to exactly when the delivery truck containing Hopslam will be showing up. At many stores, rationing is in place: Only one six-pack per customer is allowed. We can’t think of another widely distributed beer that causes such a ruckus.
Why is this? Perhaps it’s because within IPAs, widely understood to be the dominant style in the craft beer world, Hopslam has benefited from a brilliantly-executed slight twist on the beloved style, the addition of honey which makes the beer extremely palatable. For a 10% ABV beer with a complex recipe, the beer goes down more easily—lighter than one might expect. We have a theory that even craft-beer geeks secretly long for what one of the mega-brewers calls “drinkability.” This idea is echoed by Lee Dickson, Beer Manager at the highly-regarded Brick Store Pub in the Atlanta area: “When somebody is drinking a Hopslam at the bar, they tell other people what to order. It’s infectious. Personally, I think it’s the mouthfeel. It’s like pure velvet.”
Does Hopslam really measure up to the hype? We say yes—evidenced by the fact that fans return to the beer year after year. We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Why do you think Hopslam is in such high demand? Is it worth the hype?