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Bell’s Hopslam described (catty alert)

Bell's Hopslam

Bell’s Hopslam is in the house, meaning our house. This is a good thing. It’s 10% alcohol by volume and plenty of hops were used to make this beer. We will drink some this evening, but there will be no taking or posting of notes.

Instead, the arrival of Hopslam in St. Louis — 50 cases at The Wine and Cheese Place that may already be gone (or spoken for) — is an excuse to post the perfect description of the beer. From John Mallett, who is the production manager at Bell’s.

Mallett1 is also president of the Hop Quality Group, a non-profit organization of brewers who recognize the need to communicate their interest in hop aroma to hop farmers. The tagline on the the HQG logo reads “oils over alpha,” although any particular member is as likely to say “aroma over alpha” when talking about the short history of the group.

At the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Mallett and other members of the group explained just why the group was formed and described their goals. Mallett talked about the importance of communicating to growers that brewers’ needs have changed because drinkers’ tastes have changed. Aromas considered undesirable, literally for centuries, are now desirable. He used a Bell’s beer, rather obviously Hopslam, as an example.

Twenty years ago — a time, by the way, that hops such as Simcoe and Citra were already being developed, but weren’t about to find immediate popularity — there wasn’t a brewer on earth who would have gone to the annual Hop Growers of American convention and said, as he did, “I’m going to have a beer that we make 4,000 barrels of, one time a year. It flies off the shelf at damn near $20 a six-pack, and you know what it smells like? It smells like your cat ate your weed and then pissed in the Christmas tree.”


1 Mallett is also the author of what will be the fourth book in Brewers Publications ingredients series, this one containing everything you could want to know about malt.

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16 Responses to Bell’s Hopslam described (catty alert)

  1. SteveH January 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Jeeze — no comments on a Hopslam story?

    My 2 cents — I’ve only ever had this beer on tap and found it pretty smooth, considering its weightiness.

    To Mallet’s opinion on the aroma — can’t say I ever got that. Mostly pininess, yes, but not the pungency he’s talking about (probably would have turned me off).

    • Bill January 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      I also don’t remember either cat piss nor dankness in the aroma, and I’ve had it a number of times. To be sure, memory is a tricky thing, and what sticks out is how malty sweet the beer is for the style, so maybe since that’s what stands out for me, the aromas fade. I do remember enjoying the aromas after popping the cap and in the glass.

      • Stan Hieronymus January 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

        Bill – Vintage 2013 seems leaner than last year. Which makes it pretty dangerous.

        I get some cattiness, but I’m also inclined to be looking for that any more. Kinds of like sulfur notes from pils malt and lager yeasts. But the cattiness doesn’t persist, and there’s a ton of luscious fruity aromas underneath.

        • Bill January 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

          The great thing about sulfur smells in booze is that they dissipate quickly. One of my favorite wines is a kabinet riesling from Joh. Jos. Prum — whenever I open a bottle I wonder whether something bad has happened. and after a couple of minutes that goes away, and every taste is wonderful.

  2. Spencer January 24, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Some people smell cat piss in Simcoe and some don’t. Those of us who don’t, enjoy the hop. Those of us who do, hate it.

    • SteveH January 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      I wondered if it might have been an “acquired” aroma.

      Maybe since I’ve never had cats as pets?

      • Stan Hieronymus January 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

        Interesting thought. Certainly, those who sit on tasting panels can be trained to look for it. But my experience is first hand, and when I compare a beer to a litter box it is an honest comparison.

  3. Jason January 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    Cat piss is a common description used when describing Sauvignon Blanc(esp. NZ). Yes, believe it or not, it is a positive thing.

  4. Gary Gillman January 25, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    Very interesting as is the divergence of views of readers as to what they find in the beer. Unquestionably (IMO) the cat’s pee or gooseberry taste is a feature of numerous U.S. hops, I think it must come from “the soil” since commentary going back 100 years and more notes the same thing of other varieties (probably Cluster and its derivatives). I think the term dank is trying to get at the same thing,a slightly degraded vegetal taste, like in a tropical forest perhaps. It’s not my preferred taste in hops, but as an expression of terrior it is perfectly legitimate to showcase it. The analogy with Sauvignon Blanc is close.

    One thing I would note about comments that the taste seems to disappear from the glass: I don’t think it does but I think the palate accustoms to it and even seeks it avidly after the first few tastes. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I think what may occur is a “deadening” of the palate due to alcohol and then a stronger taste is wanted to make it still taste like good beer. This is why people accustom to Rauch Bier I think, or Islay Scotch, or indeed Sauvignon Blanc wine. If the beer is too bland, then the succeeding sips have no taste.


    • Stan Hieronymus January 25, 2013 at 6:47 am #

      Gary – The soil does play a factor, but so does the genetic makeup of the hops. American hops include compounds you don’t find in hops native to Europe, and this can create both catty aromas, but also all those crazy tropical fruit flavors.

  5. Gary Gillman January 25, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    I am learning this indeed via your excellent book, and found the circle charts on page 76 especially useful. It must be the partially wild American lineage that explains it, but surely that in tun was conditioned and formed by North American growing conditions? Or putting it another way, why does an English hop, say, taste different when grown in U.S. soils? Or does it?


    • Stan Hieronymus January 25, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Growing conditions (soil, latitude, temps, day length) definitely a factor. Golding in the US is a different hop in the UK. But for that matter, consider Cascade or Centennial grown in the Willamette Valley versus in the Yakima Valley, let alone the differences when grown in the UK (as Cascade is now).

      • Gary Gillman January 25, 2013 at 8:25 am #

        Thanks Stan. What do they find with Cascade in England, does it taste more English than American?


        • Stan Hieronymus January 25, 2013 at 8:54 am #

          Not that much so far. I would say it is “less brash,” so I guess that means more English.

          • Gary Gillman January 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

            Well, I hope to try it someday. Always admired Sierra Nevada Pale, but English hops are still matchless IMO. It isn’t so much a more subtle taste as a different one, more flowery and refined. But a lot depends too how much you use and in what specific way and whether dry-hopping is used. Some APAs are being hopped at rates comparable to English pale ales in the 1800’s whereas modern English bitters use way less than those historic amounts. Still, maybe the “ideal” North American hop is still to emerge, we shall see!


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