A small mountain meets a big beer. That’s the best way to describe the pairing of Circle All Peak with a bottle of Hop Czar Imperial IPA from Bridgeport Brewing. Both the mountain and the beer have sentimental value to me. Circle All Peak is the first mountain I backcountry skied in Utah, while Hop Czar is one of my favorite beers of all time. So it was only fitting to break out the tasty, hop goodness of this brew ruler atop a peak I return to again and again.
Circle All Peak is located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, in the proximity of larger peaks like Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob. It stands at just 8,707 feet, much lower than the impressive Kessler Peak across the highway. Nonetheless, this little guy is a sweet place to summit in both winter and summer, as protected, northeast facing aspen groves hold some of the best powder skiing in the canyon, and the views at the top aren’t a bad place to enjoy a SummitBrew!
I started the day at the Butler Fork trailhead one fine summer day, for a rare ascent in the warm time of year. It was much different hiking up the trail through greenery and gurgling streams compared to the white moonscape of winter. The trail from Butler Fork goes straight up the gully after it crosses a small stream, where things then get steep.
Before long, I was making good time through the forest that begins in the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area. From here, a fork in the path with a wooden sign points to Butler Fork to the right, and Mill A Basin Trail to the left. Going left is the way to Bakers Pass where hikers go to summit Mount Raymond, Gobblers Knob and Circle All Peak. After a short distance, I began to switchback up the steep flanks of Circle All. At this elevation the aspen trees become thicker, and a carpet of wildflowers and foliage brushed by as I passed. Due to the late morning sun in July, I tell you, the knowledge that a cold, hoppy beer waiting to be enjoyed after a sloppy slog in the sun was the best motivation.
Upon reaching the apex of the pass, I turned left and traversed along the ridge, passing a gaggle of old folks out for a group hike, all of whom were heading for the same summit. Knowing that the top of Circle All isn’t very big, I double timed up the mountain to secure my place with a cross-canyon view of the mountains above Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Although the peak is small, the views of Big Cottonwood and the jagged mountains that encircle it are just as impressive as any double digit thousander peak. I took off my pack, nestled in against a flat rock behind some gnarly pines, and settled in on my familiar peak for a cold one. The Czar was ready to receive me now.
Bridgeport Hop Czar Imperial IPA
It’s always a treat to drink a Hop Czar Imperial IPA from Portland, Oregon. I first wrapped my lips around a bottle of this delicious brew while on a road trip to Oregon with my wife. We hit so many breweries and drank so much beer that we couldn’t stand the sight of it after about a week. Well, that didn’t mean we stopped drinking, so when I spied a sixer of Hop Czar at an Astoria grocery store, I had to buy it and try it. It was a revelation. Despite my tastebuds being bludgeoned by hops for the last seven days, Hop Czar jumped up on my tongue and screamed, “hey, I’m your new favorite Imperial IPA in the world!” and to this day, it still is.
There’s a reason Hope Czar’s yum factor is off the charts – it’s the hops! The bottle’s label says, “Hop Czar is brewed with an irresponsible amount of hops and balanced by a robust malt backbone.” It’s also bottle conditioned and triple hopped in the brewing process with Nugget, Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hops. Groovy.
In the glass, Hop Czar pours beautifully, with a somewhat orange/amber color that remains a bit cloudy. There isn’t much head after the pour, but despite the apparent lack of foam, the beer still oozes with hoppy smells. Upon the first sip, there’s a surprisingly fun zing on the tip of the tongue from pleasant carbonation. The beer has a very full mouthfeel that is smooth, almost refreshing (unusual for an Imperial IPA.) A hint of alcohol taste is hidden well behind the malt and massive hop profile with flavors that trend more to the pine-needle end of the flavor spectrum. Still, the citrus, floral hops also come shining through, though not as strong.
Hop Czar is 7.5% alcohol by volume and has an IBU of 87. Despite all the fine, micro-brewed beer I’ve tasted over the years, Hop Czar from Bridgeport Brewing is still one of my favorites, and it tastes even better atop a mountain peak. For more information about Bridgeport Brewing, visit them at www.bridgeportbrew.com