Craft beer drinkers look forward to the release of Bell’s Hopslam every year with a vigor matched only by someone who consumed 8 Fiber One bars on a road trip and is looking for a rest stop. This beer is iconic and believed by many to be the standard to which all others should be measured. Luckily, for Minnesotans, and more recently people in Chicago, Surly has a beer called Abrasive Ale, which is also a very uniquely uber-hopped Double IPA.
Surly Abrasive and Bell’s Hopslam are now both available in our market. These are probably two of the best representations of Double IPAs in this market and craft beer drinkers will naturally be having the debate about which of these beers is better. Is it even fair to compare these two beers? Maybe not, but I like to live on the edge and a comparison of these two fabulous beers cannot possibly be worse than my Fiber One Bar debacle on my way to Wichita. . .
Let’s start with the local beer, Surly Abrasive Ale. As of 2/15/15, it is ranked 51st on Beer Advocate’s list of the top 250 beers. It was released a little after mid-January and is widely available in the metro at bars, liquor stores and at the brewery. It is an American Double IPA/Imperial IPA with an ABV of 9% and 120 IBUs. It is brewed with Warrior and Citra hops and balanced out with malted oats and 2-row malt according to the Surly Brewing Company website.
Bell’s Hopslam started showing up in MN around the 9th of February and is also an American Double IPA. It ranks 66th out of 250 on Beer Advocate’s list of the top 250 beers. Hopslam has an ABV of 10% and 70 IBUs. The Bell’s website states only that is uses hop varietals from the Pacific Northwest and that it is dry-hopped with Simcoe hops. According to their website, Bell’s uses a “generous malt bill and a solid dollop of honey” to balance out the hops.
Let’s start with the things that these great beers have in common. The rich hue of vibrant marmalade orange makes this a breathtaking sight in a nice goblet. The ABV of the beers are also in the 9-10% range, so more of a sipper as opposed to something you would invite the frat boys down the street over to play beer pong with. These beers are also incredibly sought after. There might still be some available in your local craft beer liquor stores, but it might be easier to find these beers on tap.
|Head of Bell’s Hopslam|
The differences that set these beers apart are also what makes them similarly great. When I tasted them side by side, it was a very pleasant way to spend my time. I will start with aroma and tell you that they are both extremely aromatic, but in two separately distinct ways. The Hopslam has a very citrusy and sweet aroma. Whereas the Abrasive is more piney and almost woody. Both hop aromas are inviting to the nose and really stimulate the olfactory senses.
Hopslam has a little head retention where the Abrasive has almost none. The mouthfeel of the Hopslam was slightly more effervescent and eventually smoothed out. The resiny nature of the Abrasive lingers on the tongue and transitions to a pretty bitter bite in the aftertaste. Hopslam is a lot more balanced because of the honey as opposed to the Abrasive that is pretty hoppy the whole way through.
|Head of Surly Abrasive|
Flavor-wise, these beers are both tremendous. In the abrasive, amongst the piney and grapefruity intensity, there is also almost the bitterness of citrus pith. Obviously, diehard hop-heads love Abrasive for this quality. Hopslam is citrusy at first and then melds into a more grapefruit hop bite which is balanced out by the malt and honey, resulting in a much more balanced taste.
To say which one is better is tough. Is it possible to say which animal print pattern of Zubaz go better with a fanny pack? Can we possibly say that there is one distinct Kim Kardashian quote that proves her to be the queen of stupidity? Can we truly look at the label of a Fiber One bar and think to ourselves that 35% of your daily fiber is more of an estimation than a scientific certainty? I believe that it is not fair to say one is better than the other. They are each superb representations of a style while being drastically different in hop character. That is why they are sought after and rated highly. There is not one person who considers themselves a fan of hoppy beer who would say that either of these beers are bad.