It’s January and I was expecting the hype machine surrounding Bell’s Hopslam to piss me off (again) this year, but didn’t really anticipate it aggravating me in the manner that it did.
I was expecting the general, stupid hype of this particular beer to annoy me – and it did – and I was expecting the ‘how long before it goes downhill’ comments to piss me off – and they did – but this year brought a new irritation. Hopslam on cask.
Let’s get a couple of things absolutely clear;
1. I think Hopslam is better in a cask than a keg. This is really only part of the greater truism that virtually all beer is better in a cask than a keg, so no surprises there, and
2. Hopslam is a nice beer that I enjoy a few bottles of, once a year.
Those points (for me) are not in dispute, so why the annoyance? It’s simple. The cask presentation is only properly showcased by subtle, lower ABV beer, i.e., beers that are the antithesis of Hopslam. The point of cask beer is that the subtle, gentle complexity and nuance is brought out over the course of 2 or 3 days, and that tiny changes in the beer are not overshadowed by huge hop presence, big ABV’s and large, overpowering flavor profiles! Hopslam cannot overcome those fundamental flaws.
The fact that this beer does not show off cask is painful to me on two levels. Firstly from a selfish point of view it fails to satisfy my craving for great cask beer. When people that know me, excitedly tell me there is a cask of Hopslam available at some Atlanta venue, they are surprised by my complete indifference. You see, I know better, this is not what cask means to me and nor is it what cask means in the greater scheme of things and nor is it a vehicle for showcasing the presentation.
Secondly I feel that Americans are being sold a ‘bill of goods’. Cask is being misrepresented in the USA with beers like Hopslam. Through no fault of their own, the Americans have virtually no knowledge of cask. That’s not anyone’s fault, but it does mean that ignorance and nonsense fill the vacuum and that’s troubling to me. There’s a whole swathe of American beer newbs getting completely the wrong idea about cask beer and that REALLY pains me – and I mean it REALLY pains me. I feel strongly that they are being misled and casks’ brilliance and whole point is being bludgeoned by beers like Hopslam. Hopslam is a brutal beer that is fine in certain contexts – cask is not one of those contexts.
Some of this may be lost of readers from the UK, and indeed anyone without the advantage of knowing BOTH real ale and Hopslam. These two entities that appear to be linked in some way in as much as they are both in the Venn diagram intersection labeled ‘beer’, but frankly that’s a HORRIBLY misleading suggestion that they have anything in common – they don’t. They are linked in the same way that Vince Wilfork and Linford Christie are both athletes.
In short, my heart breaks when I think of Americans ‘learning’ about cask ale via a beer like Hopslam – it’s tragic.