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?