GUINNESS DRAUGHT has nitro widgets. Mezcal has worms. O’So Brewing’s Lupulin Maximus has hop cones. In that company the whole hops inserted into bottles of this imperial IPA seem less eccentric or gimmicky and rather just mouthwatering—at least for those who crave alpha acids.
Precisely what kind of hop each bottle contains may change with the vintage of this seasonal harvest ale, but reportedly it tends to be Fuggle. The choice is sensible: a dual-purpose (bittering/aroma) hop of English extraction, it’s overall more balanced than the aggressive American varieties used in the boil (Summit, Chinook, Simcoe, etc.). The resulting hop profile is indeed robust—pungent, citric, earthy, some pine and a bit of spice—though overall not as overpowering as expected. This is due to a rather hefty malt bill and generous caramel malt additions that impart a deep honey hue, dense body and sweeter fruit (especially orange) balance to the citrus. Some residual yeast also fluffs out the mouthfeel. It’s almost as if honey were drizzled over a bed of hops, dampening their leafy presence enough to make the beer palatable without drowning its resinous core or lasting bitterness in the finish. Of course, this is all before considering the barrel-aging (of indeterminate length), which adds an undertone of grainy, moderately toasted wood, and a slight bit of cocoa powder near the midpalate. A 9% ABV also helps firm up its backbone, giving a little extra prickle to its aroma and a touch of lubrication. Carbonation levels are moderate, enough to keep the pace but not high enough to make the texture brilliant or especially clarifying.
A touch more refinement and separation of flavors would be welcome, but Lupulin remains memorable and densely satisfying. An Imperial IPA for winter months, perhaps? Serving the hop in glass is drinker’s choice.
Served: 12 oz bottle (2013 vintage)