Craft beer enthusiasts have a strong tendency toward what some might call stamp collecting. Constantly seeking out new beers, the harder to find the better. Making convoluted justifications for spending their weekends queuing up in nondescript industrial spaces and muddy farm fields. Violating the 10th commandment in a way that would make Robert Redford’s character in the 1993 movie Indecent Proposal blush. While I would like to think I’m above this kind of behavior, someone with a Spock-like discipline in a world full of characters prone to the over the top antics of William Shatner, deep down I’m drawn to the whales of the beer world just like the next guy.
The beer at the top of my wish list is Fat Head’s Hop JuJu. In what is the second most competitive category Hop JuJu has medaled at 3 of the last 4 Great American Beer Festivals, beating out hundreds of worthy competitors to take home the gold in 2013 and 2015, and a bronze in 2016. When you throw in a gold medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup, I think you can make a plausible argument that Hop JuJu has the most impressive accolades of any beer on planet Earth. So when my good friend Ralph Wolfe told me he was heading up to Cleveland last week, looking to land some Hop JuJu, I asked him to score some for me if possible. It’s good to have friends like Ralph.
- Brewery: Fat Head’s (North Olmstead, OH)
- Style: Imperial IPA
- ABV: 9.0%
- IBUs: 100
- Price: $13.99/4 pack
Hop JuJu features an all-American lineup of hops with Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Cascade, and Citra. Fat Head’s brewmaster Matt Cole has a soft spot for Simcoe hops, utilizing them in Hop JuJu, Headhunter, Sunshine Daydream, and Bonehead Red among others. Quoting from an article I wrote on hops last year he noted how critical the harvest timing was for the flavors/aromas of the Simcoe variety:
Early and late harvest Simcoe differ greatly. Early harvest Simcoe (late August) has an abundance of tropical fruits and less pine. Later harvest Simcoe has more pine and catty/dank like character. Later harvest Simcoe also picks up garlic and onion notes. At Fat Heads Brewery we prefer a blend of late and early harvest Simcoe.
The marketing team at Fat Head’s describes Hop JuJu in this way:
The magical hops cast their spell, the natives chant and the drums beat. Witchcraft? Maybe just a little. Hop JuJu is a supernatural beer with “a reckless use of hops” creating aromas and flavors of citrus, pine and tropical fruit with a juicy resiny hop finish. Enjoy!
Hop JuJu fills my Speigelau IPA glass with a strikingly clear golden-amber liquid topped with a good 3-4 fingers of thick, creamy off-white head. Were it not for differences in refractive indices of beer and the surrounding air I could read the newspaper through a glass of this beer. The nose is highly aromatic as I would have expected, though perhaps not as odiferous as some Imperial IPAs I’ve come across. The scent veers strongly to the dank, piney, cannabis end of the spectrum. The aroma is inviting to be sure, but I would stop short of calling it mind blowing. While the nose may not be enough to push Hop JuJu into elite beer territory, the taste is another story. While the flavors are unquestionably hop forward, it’s the exquisite balance of the beer that is most impressive. The malts are just enough to keep the 100 IBU in check, yet they don’t come across as too sweet, a weakness of some DIPAs. The citrus fruit flavors of the hops are more apparent in the taste than in the nose, while the cannabis character is dialed back. The hop flavors are elegantly complemented by a touch of caramel from the malts. The mouthfeel is a little sticky as you would expect, but at the same time surprisingly creamy. The bitterness, which is never overwhelming, dissipates at the finish like a Michael Flynn cabinet appointment.
It’s hard for a beer with a reputation this size to deliver on the hype, but Hop JuJu comes very close to meeting my lofty expectations. While the marketing, aroma and flavor are all about the hops, its the judicious use of malts that really set this beer apart from the competition in my opinion. The malt flavors are masterfully chosen to let the best attributes of the hops shine through, while at the same time rounding off their rough edges. The alcohol is well hidden, although at this point in the review I’m starting to feel the effects of ethanol crossing the blood-brain barrier. Is it the best DIPA in the world? That’s something reasonable people can debate. Is it a white whale worth seeking out? Definitely! Many thanks to Ralph for making my bucket list one beer shorter.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.