Sunday, August 7, 2011

Beer style of the week; Imperial IPA's (The HOP Monsters)

Week 27

In keeping with our theme style for the past two weeks (English and American-style IPA’s) we’re ramping up the IBU’s (International Bittering Units) and throwing out all preconceived notions about what style of beer is most hoppy and bitter. The Imperial IPA is for now, the hoppiest beer style in the world. Many American Barley Wines and some Imperial Stouts drift into Hop Monster land, but they are both a story unto themselves, better saved for cold New England winter evenings.

Double the lip smacking, jowl clenching, teeth grinding, face scrunching pleasure, the Hop Monsters are coming to steal your palette!

English IPA’s register between around 40 - 60 IBU’s, American IPA’s are rated at 40 – 70 IBU’s, the Imperials are rated between a whopping, palette ripping 80 – 120 IBU’s. In addition to their screeching hoppiness, these beers are big in the alcohol department as well (8%-18% ABV)…the mad brew scientists at Brewdog in Scotland created a 41% ABV monster called ‘Sink the Bismarck’. Mercy!

If the English created the IPA style to withstand the long ocean voyages to India while they were colonizing that land, they could have sailed on to China, New Zealand and Borneo, and back had they carried Imperial IPA’s on board. The captain would have been able to tell which sailors got into the Imperial stash by the permanent puckers etched upon their mouths.

So who really prefers beers with such a high degree of alpha hop acids? Just take a peek at’s Top Beers. 3 of the Top 10, 16 of the Top 100 are Imperial IPA’s. Add the American Barley Wines and Imperial Stouts on that list and you’ll find that perhaps 50% just LOVE the hoppy side of beer.

Food pairing: Sharp and/or peppered cheeses, Spicy BBQ, wild salmon or game meat. I have also found it to go well with 4 cheese Mac & Cheese with chorizo. Try a splash on vanilla ice cream!

Note of advice: When sampling an assortment of beers for the evening, save the Imperial IPA for last!

Pliny the Younger – Russian River Brewing – Santa Rosa, California – 11% ABV

This beer sometimes lands in the #1 spot for the Best Beer in the World!

One 1/2 pint wasn't enough, so I had a second.

It pours an amazing orange-hued amber with a medium-sized off-white head and a smattering of patchy lacing.

The aroma is certainly the high point of this brew, though the rest ain't bad either! A smell reminiscent of a fresh cut blue spruce comes to mind. Smells of citrusy grapefruit, orange and lemon zest is direct and potent. A sweet malty smell lingers through. A light perfumy rum alcohol aroma rises from the depths.

A solid, slightly sweet, almost oily doughy malt body lies a firm foundation for all the varied hop tastes to dance and frolic about. Bitter orange, pink grapefruit, essence of pink and floral hop flavors abound. A taste of over-ripe pears and hint of cherries in cream is noticed.

A rich golden rum fuminess releases in the exhale.

This is a really decadent and flavorful brew!

New England Imperial IPA

Heady Topper – The Alchemist Pub & Brewery – Waterbury, Vermont – 8% ABV

Shared a 22oz bottle with a very generous friend.
Served in Delirium goblets.
Pours a hazy pale orange color with a fluffy, but fading white head. Lots of sticky and patchy lacing rims the glass.
A big whiff of pine and wild flowers blast out of the gate. A resinous hop aroma rises and pulls a dry malty smell, along with some perfumy citrus and a little mellow rum.
The tastes follow the aromas very closely. Very hoppy, yet held in check by a solid caramel malt with some honey sweetness.
So flavorful, yet so drinkable!

Smuttynose Big A IPA – Portsmouth, New Hampshire – 9.6 ABV

22oz brown bottle.

It pours a very hazy, orange-hued amber color. The off-white head is smallish, but it lasts a good time. Patchy lace hangs around throughout.

The some citrus and piney ester smells dominate the aroma department, but they are subdued and not as strong as expected. A light smell of dried hay and grass hang around in the background.

The malt is mostly caramel sweet with a mild fruity taste.

This brew is of course all about the hops. White grapefruit, orange zest, and potent pine flavors abound. A slight metallic tang is noticed in the back of the throat. A raw and somewhat harsh vodka-like alcohol kick can't be missed.

Others to try:

Hop Monster – Paper City Brewing – Holyoke, Massachusetts – 9.5% ABV

Otter Creek Imperial India Pale Ale – Middlebury, Vermont – 11% ABV

Galaxy Imperial Single Hop IPA – Hill Farmstead Brewery – 8% ABV

Is there an Imperial IPA lurking innocently on a shelf at your local packie?


Quote: There can’t be good living where there is not good drinking” – Benjamin Franklin

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