Hoppiness is in the mind—and on the palate—of the beholder. IBUs tell only half the story. They measure the amount of alpha acids—the primary bittering chemical in hops—but leave out the volatile oils and resins that give beers their floral, citrusy, earthy or spicy aromas.
That’s why, when beer aficionados jaw about which region makes the best beer, the liveliest discussion generally centers around IPAs and other big, hoppy brews.
After many such arguments, Dave Alexander, owner of the restaurant R.F.D. in downtown Washington, DC, decided to settle the question with the first Lupulin Slam, pitting leading East Coast hopheads against their West Coast counterparts. The event, held in January, took its name from the yellow powder on the hop cone that contains the flavoring compounds.
Upholding the honor of the Atlantic Coast were Sam Calagione of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, DE; Bill Madden, brewmaster for the Washington, DC-based Capitol City brewpub chain; and owner Jerry Bailey and brewer Kenny Allen of the Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Ashburn, VA.
The best of the West included brewmaster Tomme Arthur of the San Diego area’s Pizza Port chain; head of brewing operations Tom Nickel of Oggis, another SoCal multi-unit brewpub; and Adam Avery, president of Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO.
“Ladies and gentlemen…are you ready to rumble!!!” exclaimed hop merchant Ralph Woodall of HopUnion in Yakima, WA.
Trash talk filled the air as the waitstaff fanned out with trays of beer.
Sam (holding up a glass of ice water): “Look! They started us out with a West Coast IPA!”
Tomme: “I think that’s your 5 Minute IPA, Sam.”
Each brewery got to serve two of its beers. Afterwards, the audience was asked to list its four favorites.
Big beers were pumped up even further for the contest. Adam Avery dry-hopped his barleywine Hog Heaven with an extra pound of Columbus hops. Sam Calagione rigged up a device he dubbed “Randal the Enamel Animal”: a stainless steel pipe with a mesh tube interior that was packed with whole-flower hops. Beer flowed through the tube on its way to the tap.
Pizza Port’s Hop 15: A Profound Hop Experience (15 ounces of 15 different hops added every 15 minutes during the boil) lived up to its name. There was speculation that Tom Nickle’s Oggis IPA 271 was a sly dig at Calagione (if you add up Sam’s 60 Minute IPA plus 90 Minute IPA plus 120 Minute IPA, it only totals 270). “My checkbook is balanced, not my IPA,” remarked Tom, quoting another famous hophead—Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing.
“Fifty pounds of hops will hide 500 pounds of mistakes!” countered Old Dominion’s Kenny Allen, as he served up Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Pils, the only lager on the program.
Some of the western beers had an almost celery-like taste from an over-infusion of vegetable material. East Coast beers lacked the huge floral hop bouquet of their rivals, perhaps because of their greater distance from the hop fields. But eastern beers had better balance. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA hid its 20% ABV content remarkably well, and had a complex, nutty malt backbone.
A partisan crowd ranked the 120 Minute IPA first, followed by Capitol City Imperial IPA, with a West Coast brew—Oggis 271—capturing third place. (It was a close race: only two points separated the top three beers after the first evening.)
Awarded a pair of oversized boxing gloves, Calagione tossed one to the West Coast team in a gesture of solidarity.
“In the end we all love one another,” noted Adam Avery.