American Double IPA

by: BeerAdvocate on 07-21-2004
Is bigger really better? Yes and no. Americans are obsessed with super-sizing their lives, from buying Hummer trucks to make up for lack of male confidence, to the extra-fries-and-jumbo-Coke illusion of value, to 55-packs of Molson to ensure optimal blackout scenarios at tailgaters. Ironically, with the fast food nation under fire and the low-carb diet craze sweeping the sheep herds, many mega beer manufacturers are trying to sell consumers on the opposite premise, by brewing watery, fizzy, bland beers that suggest weight loss, in an attempt to appeal to the mass laziness that's plagued our nation. Less is better? Not where beer is concerned.

Thankfully, American craft brewers have continued to defy this trend of dumbing down beers for the masses by sticking to their guns and crafting flavorful beers that keep on getting bigger and, yes, better. Enter the age of the “American Double.” In the world of Double, beers can be at least twice the character and potency of a normal beer, often garnering the alcoholic strength of a wine (usually 7-14 percent alcohol by volume). The first, and one of the most noteworthy Double styles, is the American Double IPA (India Pale Ale). Basically, take the often already hoppy India Pale Ale style and feed it steroids. Although the Double is open to the same brewer interpretation as its sister IPA style, you should expect a pale ale that could be viewed as “over the top” or absurdly hopped, and most will often have a somewhat-balanced, robust, malty and alcoholic character, though they are typically less malty than, say, a barley wine. The hop profile is full of complexities that can range from resiny, skunky or piney to insanely citric and floral. This hophead wet dream is sometimes called an “Imperial IPA,” the “Imperial” usage coming from Russian Imperial Stout - a style of strong stout originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court of the late 1700s. But its application to an unrelated style makes little sense to many, so Double IPA is quickly becoming the preferred name. Plus, it's an American style, dammit.

So where did the Double IPA come form? You can thank West Coast brewers for this style. Through a marriage of geek-like experimentation and hophead demand, these visionaries began to aggressively hop their beers using hops from the Northwest region of the US. Many of this region's hop varieties are high in alpha acids, which we've discussed in past articles as being the precursors to bitterness in beer. Brewers from the region also tend to use yeast strains that also offer a semi-neutral character that allows the hops and malty flavors to shine through. Craft brewers are not just merely doubling a recipe to make a Double IPA. They are using the hops for the main attraction and trying to pummel your palate into submission during the show.

How to serve an American Double IPA? Many bars will just serve it in a typical pint glass, but to get the full effect of the hop assault and massive head associated with this style, we recommend using a tulip, snifter or even an oversized wine glass. These beers are also great to pair with cheese. Look to sharp blue cheeses, aged cheddar, pungent Gorgonzola or spicy, laced pepperjack. The Double IPA is also big enough to pair with spicy BBQ; dry-rubbed, grilled game; or even some smoked salmon.

Here are some of the more obtainable American Double IPAs in the Boston area:

90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery): Continuously hopped for 90 minutes for the full effect of the hops, not just pure bitterness. Enjoy this one sparingly, as it boasts a 9 percent ABV hammer.

Big A IPA (Smuttynose Brewing Co.): Hops, hops and more hops! Slick, piney and critic grapefruit mess, Smuttynose went over the top on this brew. 8 percent ABV.

Blonde Hop Monster (Paper City Brewing): Raw and erratic. Very sweet and fruity, with a scathing, underlying hop bitterness. Quite strong at 8.5 percent ABV.

Demon DPA (John Harvard's Brew House): Very deceiving for 8 percent ABV, with a good balance of hops and malt. And the hops hold a strong bitterness from start to finish.

Green Monsta (Wachusett Brewing Co.): Good blend of malt and hops; not too crazy with the hops, but they're certainly there. Very quaffable to say the least, at 7.3 percent ABV.

Hop Rod Rye (Bear Republic Brewing): West Coast-style all the way. Enough hops to balance and complement the rye as well as destroy your palate. 8 percent ABV.

Hop Wallop (Victory Brewing Co.): Victory never ceases to amaze. This blonde beauty reels you in and kicks you right in the teeth with hops. The taste buds hit a wall of piney and citrusy hops. Game over. Look for this beer in the Boston area Fall 2004. 8.5 percent ABV.

Imperial India Pale Ale - I2PA (Rogue Ales): Ah, yes. This is the original Double IPA. A little rough around the edges but brings a full clip of hop ammo to decimate your tongue. Tips the scale at 10.5 percent ABV.

Mad Hops (Beer Works): On par with the Double IPA style. Thankfully, they didn't brew a low-carb version. 8 percent ABV.

Mojo IPA (Rockies Brewing): Sick amount of stank-ass hop aroma flavor and bitterness. Just on the cusp at 7 percent ABV, which still packs a punch.

Red God IPA (Cambridge Brewing): Bow down and meet you maker. The alcohol stays hidden until the second pint. A brush of caramel malt is all that's tasted with the onslaught of hops. 7.9 percent ABV.

Stone Ruination IPA (Stone Brewing Co.): Some people just name beers for naming's sake, but Stone Ruination IPA says it all. It's one of the hoppiest Double IPAs for its size. Your taste buds won't be the same after this one. 7.7 percent ABV.

Respect beer.
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