A while back while living in Philly some friends and I decided to embark on the challenging task of replicating Bell's Hopslam Double IPA. According to Bell's website, it is brewed with six different kinds of hops including a massive dry hop addition of Simcoe giving it an aroma of grapefruit, stone fruit and floral notes. In addition to a hefty malt bill, honey is added making this 10% ABV beer very drinkable. The only downside is its limited availability once a year in early February. The past couple of years I have been lucky enough to be back home in Michigan during its release (my wife doesn't think this is a coincidence, but I'll let you decide).
As the yeast cell biologist of the brewing group my main task was to determine what yeast to ferment with and I knew the yeast was critical in making this beer taste just like the original. A bit of research revealed that Bell's bottle conditioned Hopslam with their fermentation yeast so I proceeded to find a bottle (not an easy task in Philly where Hopslam is as hard to find as a Philadelphian who hasn't seen Rocky). To my frustration, the yeast I cultured from the bottle struggled to grow on my culture plate as well as in numerous nutrient rich solutions. After observing the yeast on the microscope I realized why. The cells looked like they spent 10 rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. The majority of the cells were dead and those that were alive were misshaped and probably headed to that big fermenter in the sky, probably due to the high alcohol content of Hopslam. Obtaining this yeast was proving to be more difficult than I originally had hoped until I found out that Bell's Brewery uses the same yeast for Hopslam as their Amber and Brown ales.
With a bottle of Bell's Brown Ale in hand, I approached the microscope as nervous as the moments leading up to the birth of my son (think excited nervousness). To my delight, the yeast looked healthy, happy, and ready to begin the fermentation process! Just to make sure, I gave them a quick pep talk to prepare them for their journey. They were ready and the path to delicious Hopslam was on its way.
The brew day went off without a hitch and for the next 30 days we waited while the yeast did its very important job. The fermentation had mostly stopped after about a week, but the extended time in the fermenter allowed the yeast to clean the beer up. When the day finally came to examine the finished product, we were pleasantly surprised. The color and aroma of our Hopslam clone was spot on while the taste was fairly close. Since this brewing experiment I have tried to replicate Hopslam numerous times by making variations to this recipe, but none has ever been as close as this first try. Beginner's luck I suppose....