With fall in full swing, drinking preferences often trend towards more robust and full-flavored selections than those we typically enjoy during the summer. The holidays are also just around the corner, and family and friends will be gathering, so it’s best to be prepared with a fridge stocked full of chilly weather’s best friend: Imperial IPAs.
Imperial IPAs are basically India pale ales kicked up to 11—more malts, more alcohol, and most importantly, more hops. The result is a complex, strong sipping beer with IBUs, or international bittering units, climbing above 60 and, in some cases, well beyond at upwards of 100.
Imperial IPAs are perfect for the season. They lend themselves wonderfully to Thanksgiving fare, especially sweet potatoes, savory stuffing and even turkey—they offer assertive earthy flavors of rich hops and resiny or piney spice, all of which boost the often one-dimensional or bland flavors of the bird. Compared to regular IPAs, the higher alcohol content, richer mouthfeel and amped-up flavor profiles found in Imperial or Double IPAs all complement the traditional American Thanksgiving fare, as well as promising a lively dinner table conversation.
For those who might not be pronounced hopheads, non–Imperial IPAs offer the same, albeit dialed-down, earthy spice and moderate astringency, so be sure to have both on hand to satisfy all of your guest’s lupulin preferences.
Port Brewing Hop-15 Ale (American Double/Imperial IPA; Port Brewing Company, CA); $11/22 oz, 95 points. This is a world-class brew that’s sure to please and excite any true IPA lover. It’s brewed with a blend of 15 different domestic and imported varieties of hops that are added to the beer every 15 minutes. The result is a complex and flavorful selection, with layers of varying degrees of hop influence, from juicy orange, apricot and tropical fruit notes to floral hop aromas and even slightly sticky resinous flavors on the palate. The mouthfeel is robust and full, with a solid sweet-malt core that grounds all of the hoppy characteristics and ample carbonation that keeps the palate from feeling too heavy or cloying. A pleasant astringency holds on long through the finish.
The Hop Concept Hop Freshener Series Lemon & Grassy (American Double/Imperial IPA; The Hop Concept, CA); $7/22 oz, 93 points. From the team behind Port Brewing, The Hop Concept releases feature labels that are reminiscent of car air fresheners, identified with different hop-influenced characteristics. In this case, their late-summer release, it’s lemon and grassy. Brewed with lemon zest, it opens with a pronounced tart citrus aroma, followed by secondary hints of fresh cut grass and white florals. The medium-weight mouthfeel, showing a solid caramel-malt backbone, is lifted by medium-plus carbonation and a refreshing lemon and grapefruit peel finish. It’s a balanced and refreshing selection, especially for a DIPA, and the alcohol is well hidden.
Alaskan Hopothermia Double IPA (American Double/Imperial IPA; Alaskan Brewing Co., AK); $11/12 oz 4 pack, 92 points. This is a deliciously dank yet well-balanced brew, the assertive hop notes framed against a lightly sweet, malty core. It’s smooth and surprisingly easy-drinking from start to finish, with attractive aromas and flavors of fresh grass, pine needle, tangerine, grapefruit peel and firm mango. Glimmers of caramel, biscuit and yeast provide weight and richness to the full-bodied mouthfeel, while the slightly slick, oily texture is lifted on the subtly warm, dry finish.
Tallgrass Brewing Ethos IPA (American IPA; Tallgrass Brewing Co., KS); $9/16 oz 4 pack, 92 points. Despite clocking in at over 100 IBUs, this is definitely a hop-forward yet well-balanced and enjoyable IPA. A sunset-inspired orange-amber color in the glass, the bouquet opens with surprisingly bright aromas of citrus supremes, sweet grass, caramel malt and hop oil. The oily, round mouthfeel offers more bitter flavors of orange oil, grapefruit pith, pine resin and preserved lemon, packing an astringent punch that carries through to the spicy, drying finish. Ample carbonation keeps the palate from feeling too dank and heavy, while the alcohol leaves a slight warming sensation on the close.
Samuel Smith India Ale (English India Pale Ale; Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster), England); $4/550 ml, 91 points. This is a traditional European IPA, featuring prominent but not over-the-top hop characteristics balanced against a rich core of roasty, caramel-like malt. The mouthfeel boasts a slightly viscous texture, with flavors of dried stone fruit, pine resin and baking spice that dance on the palate. The finish is dry and offers softly astringent notes of black tea and pepper alongside a pleasant orange-rind accent. Merchant du Vin.
Deschutes Pinedrops IPA (American IPA; Deschutes Brewery, OR); $12/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. Brewed with Chinook, Centennial and Equinox hops, this is, as the name suggests, a piney and citrusy IPA. Orange oil, pine resin, pressed hop flower and honeyed nectarine dance on the nose and mouth of this golden-colored brew. At 70 IBUs, the bitterness is pronounced and the finish is dry, with ample biscuit-like malt at the center to counter the astringency and flesh out the smooth, medium-weight body. The evolving finish transitions from ripe stone-fruit flavors to notes of fresh-cut grass, pinecone and peppery spice.
Samuel Adams Rebel Rouser Double IPA (American Double/Imperial IPA; The Boston Beer Co., MA); $11/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. Brewed with more than five pounds of hops per barrel and dry-hopped with five American hop varieties from the Pacific Northwest—Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe and Zeus—this bold DIPA is not short on personality. In fact, it’s abundant in hop-derived characteristics, including aromas and flavors of ripe tropical fruit, honeyed melon, sweet citrus, fresh grass, hop resin and earthy spice. In true Sam Adams fashion, the malty backbone is at the forefront of the palate, grounding the mélange of hop flavors in lightly sweet, toasted-grain goodness. At 85 IBUs, it’s a hoppy beer, but it’s also a harmonious and well-balanced one.