After many months of delays, Hog’s Head Brewing finally got their flagship Hop Slayer IPA on the streets a few weeks back, and this past week I finally got my first chance to try it.
As a reminder, Hop Slayer is supposed to be pushing close to 100 IBUs, even though it remains in the single IPA alcohol zone (well, at 7.5% pushing the outer edges of it). It is said to display a distinct American IPA character. I will admit to being a bit nervous upon hearing about that bitterness level – I was concerned the hops would overpower any base beer.
I had a pint on tap at the Underground a few days back. It pours dark reddish amber, verging on chestnut brown. Darker than I would normally expect from an IPA, but not problematic. It holds a slight haze and a moderate light tan head with a bit of lacing. The aroma is soft piney and earthy hops. It also gives off a pleasant toffee and biscuit malt sweetness. I find the hop aroma a bit modest. Overall the aroma suggests a more balanced beer than I might have feared.
The flavour starts with a soft malt – caramel, some biscuit and a bit of brown sugar. It gives me the distinct impression of an amber ale at first. The middle offers a subdued hop flavour of pine and earth. Then she slowly builds, whispering at first, hinting that there are some lupulins in this beer. As the beer slides down your throat you can – for a millisecond – doubt that more is coming, but then it does. The bitterness keeps building in the linger until it reaches a rather formidable level. It is a sharp, piney bitterness with a citrus accent. Very American, with a bit of a harshness to the linger.
This is not your run of the mill IPA. If someone were to come into it expecting Imperial IPA character – they might be disappointed. See it as a bigger-end regular IPA, however, and you might find this to be a fascinating interpretation. It is both darker and maltier than most IPAs, and that might be a good thing as the extra body balances and cloaks what clearly is a sizable hop addition. The aroma is unexpectedly subdued, and some work on the harsh finish would improve the beer. But I must say I really like how the bitterness builds slowly, almost catching you off guard. That is a highlight of the beer.
As my glass neared empty, I found myself contemplating the nature of this beer. It presents almost like a mid-stop between an IPA and a Cascadian (or Dark) IPA and it, at the same time, straddles the line between single and Imperial IPA. Not sure what to make of that. God forbid we create another new style (Amber IPA?? Eeek!!), but dammit, that does seem to be the zone where this beer hits. Personally, I think it still fits in the IPA family – it is just a shade darker and a bit on the larger end of the family.
This is a artfully-conceived, skillfully-crafted beer that finds an interesting niche, at least for the Alberta market. Given this is the first batch, the small niggles can easily be forgiven as they will undoubtedly tweak and refine the beer in coming batches. I think I just might enjoy following this beer’s development over the coming months.