Beer Gadget Alert: HopBlast

photo by Kevin Gibson
photo by Kevin Gibson

As a lover of APAs and IPAs, one of my favorite parts of enjoying a beer is the aroma. As we all know, aroma is tied to flavor, and a well-made IPA is a bounty on both the nose and the palate. Heck, part of the hopping process in brewing is about adding aroma; grab yourself a dry-hopped beer, and it’s likely to be big on the nose. That’s no accident.

But when I ran across the HopBlast, well, I was taken aback at the idea. HopBlast is a contraption designed to maximize the aroma of your beer by infusing hops into the aroma while you drink it. Basically, it’s just a little plastic chamber that clasps onto your beer glass. Inside the chamber? Hop pellets.

Yep, it’s as simple as that. When I first saw the thing and started reading about it, I was torn between thinking it was a pretty nifty idea and wondering why we couldn’t simply go to the local homebrew shop and tape a few pellets to the rims of our pint glasses. But the HopBlast folks understand how important aroma is to beer; they even quote Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, up to 90% of what is perceived as taste is actually smell.

So, in spite of my hesitation, I figured, hey, if someone went to the trouble of creating this thing, I may as well give it a try. The HopBlast company was kind enough to send me a sample of the Hop Bomb pack which contained not only the HopBlast chamber, but also four packets of hops:  Cascade, Centennial, CTZ and Chinook. I’m a big fan of American pale ales and IPAs, so these hops were natural fits for my palate (and my nostrils).

There are three different packs, including the Hop Head pack (with Sorachi Ace, Citra, Palisade and Azacca hops) and the Hoppiness pack (Simcoe, Amarillo, Summit and Crystal), so choose your destiny based on the beers you drink the most.

I decided to try out HopBlast with a Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale, which I find to be a solid pale ale, and one that is single-hopped with Cascade. I poured my beer into a 12-ounce shaker glass and quickly realized I may have been better served to only pour, say, 10 ounces in – or at least use a 16-ounce glass if you’re pouring from a bottle. Why? Because the HopBlast will extend down into the head, and you don’t want to submerge those pellets in your beer.

So, I waited a couple of minutes for the creamy white head to dissipate. Meanwhile, I tore open the tiny, resealable bag of Cascade pellets, and that aroma hit me immediately. There were only maybe six or eight standard sized pellets in there, but it doesn’t take much, and the smell was so good it made my mouth water. I poured the HopBlast vessel about halfway full and clasped the HopBlast onto the rim of the glass.

At first, it’s almost disconcerting; the aroma of the beer and the aroma of the hops are separate, so it is a bit confusing. But soon enough – say, after a drink or two – your senses connect the dots, and the aroma of the hop pellets settles into the glass. And once that happens, you start to notice that, even with your beer sitting a foot or two away, the hop aroma has a presence.

As I made my way through the beer, the effect grew until it really did seem like the hops were more prevalent in the beer’s flavor. Not by a lot, mind you, but it was there. And it was akin to pairing a red wine with a steak or a certain cheese, and letting the associative flavors become more full.

I later tried again with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is hopped with a blend of Magnum and Cascade. It was a little less definitive at first, but after a few drinks, the Cascade hops began to mingle with the beer’s natural aroma, eventually settling into the flavor just enough to add an interesting (if subtle) layer that wasn’t there before.

Overall, it’s kind of an odd sensation. Honestly, most IPAs you’re going to drink are probably going to be just fine on their own – especially a time-tested brew like Sierra Nevada – so in a way, it’s like adding A-1 to a fine steak. I always say that if the steak is a good enough cut, why mess with the flavor?

photo by Kevin Gibson
photo by Kevin Gibson

But as a fun party favor, well, HopBlast is kind of a cool idea. Think of it as a great gift idea for the hophead in your family or social circle. And it doesn’t hurt that a portion of the proceeds from HopBlast sales benefit America’s VetDogs, which serves the needs of disabled veterans and first responders who have served America by providing guide dogs to assist those in need.

Each HopBlast pack is $9.95, and that includes four hops and the vessel, plus colorfully illustrated instructions. You can also get hop pellet refills for $1.25 each.