Hop Vivant, Vine Street's championship beer, will put you in a hoppy daze

There is no shortage of hop bombs when it comes to Colorado beers.

Whether it's Oskar Blues G'Knight, Dry Dock Double IPA, Odell Myrcenary, Great Divide Hercules, Avery Maharaja, or Ska Modus Hoperendi, hop heads can get their fill of beers brewed with huge quantites of that magical, sweetly bitter flower.

But only one Colorado beer has ever been crowned the Alpha King: Hop Vivant from Mountain Sun -- and it's back on tap this weekend at all three Mountain Sun locations.

The Alpha King Challenge is a cult-like competition held in the basement of the Falling Rock Taphouse every year during the Great American Beer Festival. Sponsored by Hopunion, the Brewing News, and Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana, the only guideline for entry is that the beer have a bitterness of at least 60 IBUs and be available for sale in bottles, cans or on draft (oh, and no barley wines!).

"The history of Alpha King winners has been trending more towards double IPAs in recent years," says David Edgar of Mountain West Brewery Supply in Louisville, which helps organize the event. "The beers truly do need to have a huge hop character -- but the key that separates them from the rest of the pack has always been balance."

"Most of the Alpha King winners have also medaled at GABF in either Double IPA or Imperial Red categories, over the years," he adds. "Having judged Double IPA at GABF a couple times, I can say that the judges for that usually pick beers that have a certain degree of dryness or better attenuation -- rather than the sweeter or sometimes cloyingly sweet ones -- which is sometimes what happens when you have as much malt as a barley wine trying to work in balance with all those hops."

Named for Alpha King Pale Ale, brewed by Three Floyds, the contest began in 1999 and attracted 93 of the hoppiest beers in 2010. But only four non-California brews have ever won -- including Hop Vivant.

"It was a big honor for us to win the Alpha King," says Brian "Hutch" Hutchinson, head brewer for the Mountain Sun group, which includes the Mountain Sun and Southern Sun pubs in Boulder and the Vine Street Pub in Denver. "We have always prided ourselves in our use of hops, so it was nice to get recognized for that. We were also the first Colorado brewery to win, which added to the honor."

Hop Vivant is made with four kinds of hops -- Simcoe, Amarillo, Chinook, and Cascade - and dry hopped twice "to ensure a massive citrus hop aroma," Hutchinson says. It weights in at 9.5 percent ABV and 100 IBUs, which puts it up there with the some of the hoppiest beers commercially produced in the U.S.

Although Hop Vivant was unseated in 2010 by California's Pizza Port (a repeat winner) and its Poor Man Double IPA, Hutchinson says he'll probably enter his beer into the contest again in 2011, as well as some other new creation.

Hop Vivant should be on tap right now at Southern Sun and tomorrow at Vine Street Pub, he adds.

Follow Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan.

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