Let’s clear the air upfront and ask the only question that needs asking. Why pit these popular, near mainstream craft beers against each other, especially when one is an imperial IPA and the other an imperial amber? Fair enough question, and one I ask myself every January when the pissing match among PA beer nerds over which is superior gets heated (Pro Tip: If you’re uber elite, you’ll dislike both!) I suppose it’s for that reason, and the fact that I had one of each in the fridge and already did up the graphic, that I went through the arduous task of drinking not one, but TWO beers to settle the score. My dad was also on hand to help me with this Herculean task and offer his opinion of which sweet IPA reigns supreme.
(Note: I know this whole endeavor is a subjective exercise. What follows are preference and palate based conclusions and not hard science. Let’s begin!)
Nugget Nectar: Retentive, craggy moonscape of a thick head, with the glass painted in white bubbles like a fence in Tom Sawyer. Fat, webby ropes of Spiderman-like lacing are left behind as the head bubbles down. It emanates a deep copper red hue that makes for a good looking, malty beer.
Hopslam: A pencil thin mustache of a head sits on top of crystal clear, liquid gold. While a few tiny bubble clusters spot the sides, there is an air of tidy refinement. This is a beer brewed to be as neat and controlled as the people that drink it.
Comparison: Nugget nectar has that deep crimson/amber and Hopslam the color of golden grain. Both are crystal clear lookers in their respective styles and seem to glow with an inner light. The tiebreaker here is Nugget Nectar’s fantastic, lumpy head that is one for the record books. For me and my dad, it’s Nugget Nectar (by a head).
Nugget Nectar: 2
Nugget Nectar: Citrus/grapefruit hop with a hint of berry, sweet, syrupy malt and a grain undertone. There is a mild air of freshly opened pellet packet that excites the homebrewer in me. The thick, plug of a head really bubbles off some nice IPA type aromatics, especially for an amber.
Hopslam: Apricot, honey, some form of stone fruits and a tangy, nasal-poking astringency (minor, not harsh, but it’s there). A bitter and bready quality makes for a slightly dank, slightly musty grain next to the sweet smells. A greater emphasis on the honey means the hop oils take a backseat.
Comparison: Nugget Nectar has a very light hop pellet, spicy citrus and mild berry quality that works in harmony with the malt. The malt is what helps balance Nectar out in ways that Hopslam lacks. That said, Hopslam does have a dank, bitter quality that lets you know you are about to drink an IPA with a healthy dollop of honey sweet. It’s those very qualities of Hopslam that make it the victor for my dad. He enjoys the bitterness that pops, while Nugget Nectar has a bit too much malt sweet emphasis. I may turn my dad into a hop head yet. I give the nod to Nugget Nectar for the balance of aromas.
Nugget Nectar: 3
Nugget Nectar: Creamy, drinkable mouth feel that gives a tongue hug of sweet malt and juicy, fruity hops. The bitter is rolling and pleasant as it moves around the mouth with a hit of grapefruit tang on the back of the throat. The finish leaves a soapy bitterness that hints at floral. This is a simplified hop experience, but it emphasizes balance between malt, hops and a mouth feel on the fluffy side of heavy.
Hopslam: The mouth feel is a touch slick, but avoids becoming too oily. A light body with a syrupy sweetness from the honey, but doesn’t mess with the overall mouth feel. An acidic, citrus front borders against the nation state of sugared Pine-Sol. The finish is long and wet, with a cherry/stone fruit quality and tingly, warming booze. The alcohol and bitterness hit a peak on the finish. Sweet, citrusy, honey booze and bitter hops are the stars here.
Comparison: When comparing Hopslam and Nugget Nectar, it’s important to remember that, while similar, they are technically different styles and have slightly different criteria for success. In a way, I prefer the creamy mouth feel and balanced core of Nugget for a regular drinker, but I can appreciate the honey sweet and counterbalancing bitterness that Hopslam goes for. The real disconnect for me is that the flavors and subtleties of the hop are just not featured enough in a beer called Hopslam. The boozy tang is a bit large as well and lingers on the finish with a kick of heat and simple bitterness. I find Nugget Nectar a better experience, but my dad thinks that Hopslam has “more character.” Another split vote, but the results are in.
Nugget Nectar: 4
Overall Winner: Nugget Nectar
I’m not turning down either if offered, but ultimately it comes down to which one I’d rather drink. For my dad, Hopslam won out in the important categories, only falling to Nugget Nectar due to that scrumtrulescent head. For me, I prefer Nugget Nectar across the board in a clean sweep.
One of the most telling indicators for me is that I will get a case of Nugget Nectar as a brew day drinker, while I’ve had opportunities to acquire more Hopslam and passed. I will still get a 4 pack of ‘slam every year, but in 2015, my heart belongs to the Nectar. I should also note that on tap, both are VASTLY superior to their bottled and canned brethren. I doubt I’ll have the chance to compare the draft versions this year, but both are worth seeking out at your local beer drinkeries. Prost!