Featured Contributor: Don Manfredi @
March is a great time of year. There is the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the start of spring, and the release of Hopslam from Bell’s Brewery. Now if you follow Sommbeer at all you know that many of us are not fans of tricked out beers and a few of us have strict rules about what should and should not be in beer. Honey is one that I used to think had no place in beer until I tried Hopslam a few years ago. On the label, Hopslam is described as an ale brewed with honey. It is a well hopped double IPA (DIPA) and it is an excellent beer fresh and aged (I know, a lot of people say not to age IPA’s but the higher ABV ones like Hopslam, a 10%er, will age quite nicely. I recommend aging a bottle if you have never tried it, the taste changes significantly).
The release of Hopslam is one of those beer events that defies logic with people waiting in line to buy a six-pack that is in the $15.00 – $17.00 range. Absurd until you taste it. The interesting thing is that there is an even better option out there that gets even less hype. That beer is Brother Benjamin by Greenbush Brewing. I would never have purchased a Brother Benjamin if I had never tasted Hopslam. After all, the label reads “Imperial pale ale brewed with Honey” which would normally be verboten on my palate. I had passed by Brother Benjamin so many times because of the honey, then one day I thought, “Wait a minute, Hopslam has honey in it, and I like Hopslam”. So it was settled, I had to try Brother Benjamin immediately.
Here is a little something quirky about me and beer (o.k. maybe me and a few things); as soon as I see a beer or think of a beer that I want to try or is about to be released, or I have a taste for, I immediately go on the hunt for it. I had seen Brother Benjamin everywhere I looked until I wanted to buy some. Even though it is listed as a “mainstay” on GreenbushBrewing.com I had to go to three stores to find a 4-pack. I immediately went home and put one in the refrigerator to cool it off. About an hour later I was drinking an amazing and complex beer. I finished my Brother Benjamin and realized that in the interest of science I had to do a Brother Benjamin versus Hopslam tasting.
The stage was set, it was Labor Day Weekend and I got an extra drinking day. Sunday would be the day for the epic showdown of honey and hop goodness. I went with Hopslam first because they won the toss and elected to receive. I even poured it into a Bell’s tulip glass to give it home field advantage. Immediately when you pour a Hopslam you smell hops from the blend of 6 plus a Simcoe dry hopping. This beer is bitter. Never really paid attention to the head on a Hopslam but I got to tell you it was not very impressive, about 1/4 inch and it dissipated almost immediately. The color was a medium amber with some nice lacing. The taste is what is really unique about Hopslam, because it is really bitter up front then the honey kicks in and lingers at the back-end. It is a very good flavor but the beer tastes slightly imbalanced. The alcohol content makes for a nice warming feeling with a mouthfeel that is slightly oily. Overall a great beer but is it the best honey-flavored DIPA in Michigan?
Then the visiting team got a shot. I did a quick rinse of the home team’s glass and poured a Brother Benjamin. Right away I smelled a strong aroma of honey with some slight hoppiness. The color was deep, deep amber and there was a 1/2 inch thick head that lingered longer than the Hopslam head did. The lacing was not as nice as Hopslam’s but the mouthfeel of Brother Benjamin was really silky with a little bit of alcohol warmth (Brother Benjamin clocks in at 10.1%) and less carbonation. The biggest difference between Brother Benjamin and Hopslam is the taste; Brother Benjamin is sweeter and much more balanced. The beer tastes like the honey had a purpose as opposed to just being a “non-bittering agent”. Brother Benjamin is exceptionally smooth and incredibly balanced with way less bitterness than Hopslam. I declare Brother Benjamin the best honey flavored DIPA in Michigan!
So there were really no losers here, even though I preferred Brother Benjamin over Hopslam I will still be hunting down a six-pack in the Spring. I had a nice start to a Sunday with 24 ounces of 10% goodness to share with the late summer sunshine. I was just buzzed enough to consider what else I might be missing. Maybe it was time to move on to a nice asparagus beer or something with nice hot peppers in it…can’t be that bad, right?
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