Hopped Up: The 12 Best Double IPAs
INFood BY Casey McLain
In recent years a trend has emerged in which craft brewers – who once put out a standard of “something light, something dark, and something hoppy” – are challenging the idea that the human tongue can only conceive up to 100 IBU on the hop bitterness scale. Pushing the boundaries on hopped-up brews, Russian River Brewing Company founder Vinnie Cilurzo introduced the world’s first Double IPA nearly 20 years ago.
Double IPAs (also known as Imperial IPA, IIPA and XIPA) are heavily-hopped, heavily-malted, and precisely fermented batches of flavor so explosive they can make even the most seasoned beer drinker blush. At its heart, it’s basically just a standard IPA cranked up to eleven. These beers normally include IBU rating (hop bitterness rating) and alcohol content that will be much higher than a brewery’s standard IPA – not that we’re complaining. Unfortunately the downfall of new, popular brewing methods means high demand and frustratingly-limited supply caused by small batch sizes. If you like your beer hoppy, it will definitely be worth the search to get your hands on one the 12 of the best Double IPAs from this collection below.
Russian River Pliny the Elder
On the West Coast, Pliny the Elder is something of the gold standard for Double IPAs. Die-hards may invoke the name of Pliny’s alter ego, Pliny the Younger, as the greater IPA. The chances of getting your hands on the Younger are severely limited. As such, in this post, I’ve chosen to respect our elders. Pliny achieves a near-perfect balance between hops and malt, with a sweet malt beginning, and just enough hops to reset your palate for the next delicious swig.
There’s a reason why, despite technology that allows people access to entertainment almost completely on demand, we still enjoy experiencing things in real time. TV shows and movies are communal experiences. Sporting events, though warmer, less expensive, and better-presented at home, are more fun amid thousands of fans. Stone has captured this same feeling with the Enjoy By IPA Series. Each batch of this beer display when you should drink them to experience maximum hop flavor. This leaves the drinker craving the next proverbial episode/movie/game. If you come across one of these beers after the Enjoy By date (unlikely, these fly off the shelves), don’t worry, they aren’t expired. Just drink the next version in the series more quickly.
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Much like the Pliny the Elder and Younger, it is hard to separate Dogfish Head’s several IPAs in terms of quality. The quality of each IPA version is among the best in its respective class. Dogfish Head’s main IPAs are brewed by boiling the mash for 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and 120 minutes. This is why Dogfish Head’s IPAs are named after a number of minutes. During those boils, hops are added continuously. This is different than the normal brewing process, which includes a couple of bulk additions to the brew kettle. All three offerings are very good, but we chose the 120 minute version because its the only one I’ve had in its barrel-aged form. It was one of the best, though one of the most expensive pints I’ve ever had.
Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA
The first time we had a Tricerahops was during a visit with family members back in college. It was the only Double IPA the bar we were attending had on the menu. Being hopheads, we fully expected to enjoy it. What we didn’t expect was for the sister and dad to enjoy it also, seeing that neither of them are hopheads. The big, citrusy nose and hop flavor in the Tricerahops is a great intro to Double IPAs for even the biggest skeptics. Fun fact: Ninkasi certainly isn’t the simplest name for branding purposes. The brewery was named after the Sumerian beer goddess who went by the same name.
Moylans Hopsickle Imperial India Pale Ale
One day while walking into our local bottle shop, we kindly asked the man behind the counter “give us the hoppiest beer you have.” After several disclaimers, and warnings that we’d be ruining our present favorite IPA, we took the plunge. That beer was Hopsickle. Hopsickle’s hop flavor is the most intense I’ve ever tasted. Much like an imperial stout, but for very different reasons, a pint of Hopsickle may be the only beer you drink that night. That’s not to say that Hopsickle is simply a hop bomb without nuance. Big citrus and pine hop flavors leave the tongue thirsty for malt. Fun fact: Hopsickle isn’t pasteurized. That means it has live yeast in it and is constantly conditioning. This also means that you’re not going to get the highest clarity beer you’ve ever had to drink. Don’t be scared, everything will be fine.
Fat Head’s Hop JuJu Imperial IPA
The beer scene in the Midwest has been growing a ton in recent years. The reputations of craft breweries is out-pacing the reputations of the big macro breweries that have years of tradition in the area. In my experience, many East Coast and Midwest IPAs are brewed with a flavor profile akin to British-style IPAs. In these IPAs the malt profile is the star of the show. Hop JuJu breaks that mold. Big pine, resin, and citrus flavors stand up well to Hop JuJu’s caramel malt.
The Alchemist Heady Topper
Heady Topper carries a reputation much like Pliny the Elder as one of the greatest IPAs in the world. However, being unfiltered like Hopsickle, this beer may not look the prettiest in the glass. In fact, in addition to yeast particles, you may not be able to see your own hand while looking through the very beer you are drinking. Fun fact: The Alchemist was damaged in Hurricane Irene in 2011. After Irene, Stone Brewing and Ninkasi Brewing collaborated with The Alchemist to make a one-off More Brown than Black IPA. The beer was made to benefit victims of Hurricane Irene, and is one of the best Black IPAs ever made.
New Belgium Rampant Imperial IPA
As admitted beer snobs, we will say that we probably unknowingly deduct cool points from any beer made by a brewery as big as New Belgium. That said, Rampant is a damn good Double IPA, and something that you should be able to find at many grocery stores. With big hop flavors and a substantial malt backbone, Rampant is well balanced and has quality flavor, albeit not the most complex of the bunch. Rampant is a good go-to Double IPA for anyone.
Firestone Walker Double Jack Imperial IPA
What’s amazing is that Double Jack probably isn’t even Firestone Walker’s best beer. Yet, it is still one of the best Double IPAs in country. With flavor of citrus zest and a malt nose that threatens of high alcohol flavor, Double Jack drinks smooth. Double Jack is more balanced that one would expect from first impressions. If you like Double Jack, keep your eye out for Wookey Jack, Firestone Walker’s Black Rye IPA, which is also sensational.
Sound Brewery Humulo Nimbus
One of Washington State’s foremost Double IPAs, the name Humulo Nimbus is a mash-up of sorts. Combining the Latin name for hops (humulus lupulin) and cumulonimbus clouds. These are the rain clouds responsible for Washington’s famous rainfall. Humulo Nimbus doesn’t bury the drinker’s palate in hops. It provides pleasant balance with delicate nuance that could be paired well with a variety of foods. This trait is fairly rare among Double IPAs.
Boneyard Hop Venom
Any West Coast brewery will have to compete in a sea of quite literally hundreds of breweries. Boneyard is beginning to separate itself from the rest with some tremendous beer of several styles. Complex fruit flavors and malt that acts as an accent make a beer that doesn’t stray from its West Coast roots, but that also doesn’t destroy the drinker’s palate.
Deschutes Hop Henge Experimental IPA
From another big brewery, another quality Double IPA that isn’t void of soul. Hop Henge is Deschutes’ annual foray into the ultra-high IBU range. Deschutes changes Hop Henge every year, and it is only available at the beginning of the year. In my experience, however, Deschutes has made Hop Henge worth the wait with each year’s version.