by Mark Tichenor
With low-alcohol session beers and delicate, lacey sour ales as its most recent fads, you could be forgiven for thinking the craft beer scene was mellowing out, loosing it’s cojones, taking its cues from the first half hour of ‘Rocky III.’ You’d be wrong though. Still and always, the vital core of the craft beer movement, the beating, booze-sodden heart of what makes American beer exceptional, bombastic and impossible to ignore, is double IPA. And these overdone beer behemoths still register as what many connoisseurs consider the best beers in the world.
The name of the style is a bit misleading; the creation of a memorable high-strength hop bomb involves more than grabbing the IPA recipe and adding twice as much of everything. When the hop addition increases the fermentable sugar level inches into the red, and the ABV climbs over 7%, things can go horribly wrong. The key to a great double IPA is balance.
Hops used in DIPAs are high alpha acid varieties like Cascade, Amarillo and Citra. These hops put out enormous quantities of resin and citrus flavor that spans the gamut of flavor notes, anything from mango or pineapple to, um, substances only legal in Washington and Colorado.
But all that hop flavor dissolves into so much bitter fizzwater without an enormous malt backbone to serve as a counterbalance. For one thing, it’s from the malt that a beer derives the sugar which will ferment into alcohol, and for a beer the strength of a double IPA, you need a LOT of that sugar. Just as important, the sweet, hearty, rustic nature of that malt brings out and lifts all those amazing hop flavors and aromas.
This kind of beer embodies everything American. It’s very existence as a style is owed to people dissatisfied with existing boundaries; people who couldn’t stop themselves from asking “what if?” The result of that type of curiosity turned out to be more than a strong, characterful style of beer, it was the ethos that revived and grew the comatose US brewing industry.
Although the Pacific coast is the epicenter of Double IPA, home to examples like the Russian River Brewing Company’s famous Pliny the Younger, a beer people will inexplicably wait in line for eight hours to purchase. The style, however, has taken root all over the country and many New York State breweries. produce excellent DIPAs of their own. Brooklyn Brewing, Southern Tier Brewing and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company fabricate excellent examples. Also, Three Heads Brewing just released their Too Kind, a turbocharged, amped-up version of their popular The Kind IPA.
My pick for folks in the Rochester area: OT20. Originally brewed by CB’s Brewing of Honeoye Falls for the 20th anniversary of local English pub The Old Toad, OT20 proved so popular that it’s still being brewed four years later. It’s a sweet, grapefruity, chunky assassin of a beer. It will destroy you if you let it (this is the voice of experience talking).
OT20 is also available for sale in only one place on this Earth: The taproom of The Old Toad. That makes it at least as, if not more, exclusive than the aforementioned Pliny The Younger. That’s fine, because double IPA is an affordable luxury product and, like all the good things in life, you shouldn’t have to queue up for eight hours to enjoy one of the most flavorful styles of beer in existence.
In Other Beers
Three Heads Rochestefarian Wee Heavy is now out and flowing from a tapline near you. Brewed in the Scottish ale tradition (or at least as close to any tradition as Three Heads will allow themselves to get), Rochestefarian goes down sweet and strong, with a substantial hop kick in the finish. It’s a big, warming beer that should set your palate up nicely for the spring seasonals to come. Oh and the tap handle art is awesome.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.