BEST IMPERIAL IPA IN AMERICA

Doc wrote up an epic Top 10 American IPAs list yesterday and I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be fun to keep the trend going. Today we’re taking a peek at the Top 10 American Imperial IPAs.

Imperial (sometimes called Double or even Triple IPAs) are simply IPAs on steroids. Higher alcohol content, higher malt content, and most importantly…gargantuan hop profiles. It’s the style that hop-heads drool over and hop-haters shun like untouchables in India.*

*Off-topic, but as a kid, I assumed that the “untouchable” caste was the most prestigious in India. Blame Brian de Palma.

A quick glance on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer reveals a truth both maddening and alluring…namely, that I haven’t had very many of the “world’s best” Imperial IPAs. Maddening because I want them and they are so far away…alluring because there are so many beers out there I can’t wait to try! Some of them are impossibly rare (like Pliny the Younger). Some aren’t sold anywhere near a city where I currently or have previously inhabited (like Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught). And some I apparently just missed (like Bell’s The Oracle). Nevertheless, I’ve had plenty o’ Imperials in my day and I’m happy to toss off a Top 10 list despite my woefully incomplete history with the style. As with Doc’s IPA list and my Best Breweries list, these are just personal selections. I make no claims that these are actually the best representations of the style. They’re just ones I personally love and would recommend to anyone interested in a hop-bomb of the highest magnitude. I look forward to seeing this list shredded in the Comments section.

10. Avery Maharaja: For the last slot on the list, I vacillated between the Maharaja and the Great Divide Hercules. Both are exceptional beers from Colorado-based brewing rivals. But as is often the case, Avery squeaked out just ahead. The Maharaja is a bold Imperial with a big malt profile and excellent hop usage. I rarely venture to my local taproom without snagging one of these beauties on draft.
9. Southern Tier Iniquity: I made the choice to limit myself to a single offering from any one brewery. That turned out to be a key decision when it came to Southern Tier since their Gemini and Unearthly are both excellent Imperial IPAs in their own right. But the Iniquity, an Imperial “Black” Ale, is their finest Double in my mind. Big roasted malt flavors and a ridiculously well-incorporated hop profile make this unusual beer one of my favorites of the style.
8. Founder’s Devil Dancer: I could just as easily have put their Double Trouble in this spot, but the Devil Dancer has the edge for me because it somehow manages to tame 112 IBUs into something highly drinkable and smooth. Awesome beer.
7. Ninkasi Tricerahops: I literally JUST sampled my first Tricerahops last week thanks to faithful reader, Beerford McBrewin’. There’s no turning back now. I’m hooked on this phenomenal beer. Can’t wait to plan a trip to Oregon to crush more of these brews. The Tricerahops gets the edge over a rival brewery’s beer, the Deschutes Hop Henge. While I loved the latter, the former is on a whole ‘nother level.
6. Moylan’s Hopsickle: Probably the hoppiest session beer I’ve ever had. Face-meltingly bitter and yet strangely drinkable. Moylan’s Moylander gets huge praise from me as well (especially the few times I’ve had it on cask), but the Hopsickle is their clear winner. I haven’t had one in a month and I can still taste it on the back of my tongue.
5. Bear Republic Racer X: One of Sudsy’s favorites. Their Racer 5 is one of the best IPAs and their Racer X (or Ten) is one of the best Imperials. I would say that Bear Republic has a pretty good handle on this whole “hop” thing.
4. Oskar Blues Gordon: Kind of a cheat here since it’s more of an Imperial Red Ale, but it’s my list, so screw it. The Gordon is sticky, luscious, sweet, bitter, and oh-so drinkable. If a four-pack of cans lasts me more than an hour, I’m either dead or in a coma.
3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: I’m willing to bet this is the beer most Aleheads think of when they hear the phrase “Imperial IPA”. The pure embodiment of an American Double. One of DFH’s finest.
2. Russian River Pliny the Elder: To many folks, it’s the best beer on Earth. I’ve only had it once, but that was enough. It will make a believer out of anyone who doubts in the awe-inspiring power of the humble humulus lupulus. The only reason it’s number 2 on my list is because of my sadly limited relationship with the beer.
1. Bell’s HopSlam: Founders may win the battle against their fierce Michigan rival in most beer styles, but when it comes to Imperial IPAs, Bell’s bows to no one. Their HopSlam is a perfect example of the style. A robust, massive malt body. A wonderfully incorporated boozy finish. A touch of honey to smooth everything out. And a hop profile so fresh, vibrant, and pungent it’s like you’re chewing on the plant as you drink. Until I can revisit the Pliny in San Fran next month, the HopSlam will sit pretty in first place.

Plenty of grievous omissions from the list including the Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and the Victory HopWallop (which I’m sure will raise Doc’s ire). What are your favorite Imperials? Which hop-bombs can’t you live without?

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14 comments

  1. Magnus Skullsplitter · ·

    Having not had the Iniquity, I think I would have to go with the UnEarthly on any top 10 list I did. Also, I can recommend to my fellow Aleheads the Captain Lawrence Reserve Imperial IPA. Really, really solid offering from a brewery that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

    Also, I am very much looking forward to sampling some of the Pliny come the Santa Rosa wedding in September. Between that and the Two-Hearted wedding, we’ve been stumbling upon quite the boozy nuptials.

  2. Love the Oak-Aged Unearthly. It could easily replace the Iniquity on my list, but I thought the Iniquity was just a little more interesting and it definitely stands out from the other brews in the post.

    Haven’t had the Captain Lawrence, but that’s a great brewery. Hope I can get up to Gotham soon to sample their suds.

  3. Love the top 10 lists.Don’t forget to send your required list that can covertly and safely be shipped from the Vinnin Sq warehouse.

  4. Killer list Brother Barley. Double IPA’s are way more in my wheelhouse than the regular IPA’s that I posted yesterday. While I like your selections, I’ll offer up my list for comparison’s sake.

    10. Lagunitas Sneak Release Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (Yup, that’s the full name)
    9. Rogue XS Imperial IPA
    8. Port Hop 15
    7. Flying Fish Exit 16
    6. Alesmith Yulesmith (Only had the Summer release but I’m looking forward to the winter)
    5. Avery Maharaja
    4. Dogfish 90 Minute
    3. Bell’s Hopslam
    2. Victory Hop Wallop
    1. Lagunitas Hop Stupid

    Love that my top 2 Double IPA’s are the two that you left off your list. When I’m looking for a Double I generally gravitate toward the grapefruit, citrusy tastes and that’s what the Hop Wallop and Hop Stupid present. I’m not saying those two beers are “Better” than the Bell’s Hopslam, just that I’d prefer to have them first. Lagunitas rules the world for me with Double IPA’s. I’d put their Hop Stupid, Little Sumpin’ Extra! and Undercover Investigation up against any other example of the style.

  5. sweeneyphi · ·

    I love the Shut-Down. It was on tap at the local watering hole for two weeks. I’m pretty sure that the long name scared everybody off because I drank a shitload of it.

    Here’s mine:

    10. Avery Maharaja
    9. Racer X
    8. Hopstupid
    7. Hale’s Supergoose
    6. Port Brewing Mongo (I think the 15 tastes too much like a barley wine, like it but it’s a little to sweet and vinegar for me).
    5. Deschutes Hop henge
    4. Undercover Shutdown
    3. Dogfish 90
    2. Pliny
    1. Seattle Maritime Imperial IPA

    I have not had the Bell’s or the Founder’s, but the West Coast do Imperial IPAs right. Imperial IPAs are definitely my favorite style.

  6. [...] not the only one obsessed with Top 10′s as our last two posts, Best IPA in America and Best Imperial IPA in America, generated more traffic than we’ve ever seen on Aleheads.  Always one to strike while the [...]

  7. I bought the Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown based purely off the label. Anything that tells me they created a beer to commemorate a temporary shutdown of their operations is cool in my book. Guess they got in trouble for something that they didn’t believe to be against the law (Sounds like a common theme in the industry). This excerpt is taken right off their website:

    “Our oxymoronic ‘Imperial Mild’ – A redux to remember the ’05 St. Paddy’s Day Massacre. Defiant as to style … We Can say for sure it is unforgiven and unrepentant.”

    Haven’t tried the Port Mongo yet as their distribution is spotty out here but I’ll keep an eye out. I can only imagine I’d have a quite different list if I had more access to Pacific NW brews. I did put the Rogue XS on my list because it’s a phenomenal double (From a brewery that I don’t really like), but that shouldn’t be my sole representation from this area. That said, I’m surviving quite nicely with a heady supply of Imperials from the great state of California.

  8. At the beach this week, but Slouch Sixpack and I crushed some Lagunitas Hop Stoopids in your honor, Doc. We drank them back-to-back with the DFH 90. No contest, the Hop Stoopid is light-years better.

  9. [...] lineup of very safe beers that are always good, just never great.  When I was compiling my list of Top 10 Imperial IPA’s to go along with Brother Barley’s post, I came across a Wachusett beer that I had never heard [...]

  10. [...] the blogosphere, so we’re keeping the momentum going here at Aleheads. While the Pale Ale/IPA/Imperial IPA categories were firmly ensconced in Doc’s hoppy sweet spot, today we’re looking at [...]

  11. [...] Strong Dark Ales, Triples, and Quads.   You’ll notice some names from our Best Barleywine, Best Imperial IPA, and Best Imperial Stout lists but there’s a few brews that are first-timers.  The reason [...]

  12. [...] wrong with a typical, everyday IPA, but I ordered a double IPA. Think Pliny the Edler! Think Bell’s Hopslam! Think Avery Maharaja! I’m expecting more, damnit! Just mentioning those other beers in the [...]

  13. …anyone ever give Ska’s Modus Hoperandi some love?
    i can’t live without those green cans of goodness…

  14. [...] the style of this beer is an imperial IPA, and it has an ABV around 10%.  We’ve featured some of the best of that style this site in the past, 8 of the 10 best of which the undersigned aleheads have tried [...]

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