Day six of the California beers brings me back to Chico and the always prolific line of beers brewed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. with Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA. Touted as being Sierra Nevada's biggest, hoppiest ale ever by way of five different hop varietals, a combination of three hopping methods, and a three digit IBU, this ale seemed like a challenge any IPA lover would have to take on.
Poured in the glass, Hoptimum was a golden caramel color; see-through but slightly hazy with a somewhat cloudy head, slightly thick and little to no carbonation. The smell was surprisingly sweet and orange-scented for all the mention of hops, citrus and sugar with some alcohol burn to it.
The first few sips of Hoptimum were surprising, with a dominant sweet honey and woody front competing with the floral and citrus notes of the hops. The ale was sticky in the mouth as the opening faded and a grapefruit rind and alcohol fumes lingered. Oddly, a couple of minutes being opened seemed to round out the ale, with the hops taking lead with a sweet strawberry (rhubarb?) flavor and the finish cleaning up quite a bit. Even for a double-digit ABV, Hoptimum was surprisingly warm in my belly; both physically pleasant and complimentary to the earthy undertones.
If I hadn't had Crystal drinking with me and reporting a similar experience, I would have assumed my mind had been playing tricks on me. I'm unsure if the transformation was the result of the beer truly "opening up" or a little palette conditioning being needed to bring out what Hoptimum is all about, but I'm happy to say what started as a somewhat confusing and disappointing taste quickly became very enjoyable. 22oz of the ale, however, is about as much as I could see enjoying in an evening, so I'll be moving on to a lighter ale for the rest of the evening and keep that second bottle to kick off another evening...