By all accounts, the first double IPA was brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo, owner of the legendary Russian River Brewing Company, in 1994. Called Inaugural Ale (a double entendre, as it was both the world’s first double IPA and also the first beer that Cilurzo ever brewed for the now-defunct Blind Pig Brewery in Temecula, CA), the doubling came about by accident. Nervous about his first brew and hoping to mask any off-flavors, Cilurzo increased the hops and malts used in the Blind Pig IPA recipe. When the batch yielded a terrific and very potent beer, the double IPA was born.
Over the past 20 years, the way to make a double IPA (otherwise known as DIPA or “imperial IPA”) hasn’t really changed: roughly double the ingredients that would go into a normal IPA and you get a double IPA. Like their single counterparts, doubles are bright and refreshing, more fit for a summer barbecue than a winter campfire; they’re also heavier. As in, they carry more weight, and have higher ABVs — 7.5 percent or more, to be exact. If you’ve never experienced them, try imagining a square-foot piece of chocolate cake. Now imagine the same piece of cake, but with twice the amount of chocolate per square inch. The double IPA is like that second cake: rich and flavorful, and oh-so-very dense. When enjoying them, one is a treat, two is a lot and you really, really have to like cake (and have a designated driver and a hangover cure) to go for three.
As the weather changes, more and more stores begin cellaring their heavy winter stouts and replacing them with the hop- and malt-forward double IPAs. For those looking to expand their palates, doubles offer the citrus hop and bready malt flavors of regular IPAs, but amplified, and with plenty more complexity to spare. We tasted ten of our favorites.
Bell’s Hopslam Ale
Double IPA Most Likely to Convert a Nonbeliever: East Coast, meet West Coast. Bottle, meet one of the coolest labels ever drawn. Kalamazoo-based Bell’s makes a wide variety of beers, but one of their most popular (and difficult to find) is Hopslam, the Midwest brewery’s take on the West Coast IPA. Although it’s made with six different varieties of hops from the Pacific Northwest, Hopslam isn’t quite as hoppy as advertised — but that’s a good thing. Despite the ABV, and aforementioned (advertised) game-ending hoppiness, it stands out as one of the most drinkable and delicious double IPAs on the market.
Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Best Barrel-Aged Double IPA: From the makers of 120 Minute IPA — which, at 15 to 20 percent ABV, is one of the more powerful beers on the market — comes Burton Baton, a much more mellow brew that’s available year round. However, mellow doesn’t mean low ABV: at 10 percent, it still packs a punch. Made from a blend of English Style Old Ale and Double IPA, the BFG (that’s “Big Friendly Giant”) of oak-aged IPAs pours a hazy gold, with pineapple and alcohol on the nose and earthy, almost grassy hops in the mouth. The time it spends in wood adds some interesting flavor notes and gives the beer its signature full-bodied mouthfeel.
Most Reverential to its Ingredients: Maharaja, derived from the sanskrit words for great (mahat) and king (rajan), serves as both the title of ancient Indian rulers and the second installment of Avery’s Dictator Series. Why dictators? We’re not entirely sure. Regardless, Maharaja is a reddish-brown, 10.2-ABV brew that allows (or forces) every one of its ingredients to come to the forefront. Rather than smack you in the face with hops or malt, the Maharaja presents its flavors — “Here,” it says, “smell citrus and pine. And can you taste that? That’s pineapple, and caramel sweetness and a big kick of alcohol.” We’ll hang in this dictator’s court any day.
This Just In: Stone Enjoy By 04.20.14 IPA
We’re big fans of Stone’s Enjoy By series, which are generally designed to be consumed within five weeks of bottling, but their latest edition, the 9.4 percent ABV 04.20.14, wasn’t in our hands when our Double IPA roundup went live. However, we’ve since tasted it, and it’s too good not to include — the beer, brewed for a certain, er, holiday, smells of earthy citrus rind and packs a powerful, resinous hop punch that certainly lives up to the “devastatingly dank” moniker emblazoned on the bottle.
Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree
Biggest Double IPA from the Smallest Town: Before learning of the Dark Horse Brewery, we’d never heard of Marshall, MI, a small town near Kalamazoo with a population of around 7,000. But with beers like Plead the 5th and Double Crooked Tree being brewed within the town’s limits, we might be willing to make a visit. This double is Dark Horse’s popular Crooked Tree IPA, literally doubled (except for the water). That means double hops, double malt and double ABV. Because of the high ABV (12 percent), the Double Crooked can actually be aged — a process that often renders IPAs undrinkable. As it ages, the hops recede and let the malts step forward. Ours, which was relatively fresh, poured a caramel color and smelled of malt and burnt cane sugar. The Double Crooked Tree is a winey beer made for sipping, likely to appeal to those who prefer Belgian-style beers to hop-forward IPAs.
DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon
Most Bombastic Double IPA: Yeah, it comes from a can. But so does Heady Topper, Ten FIDY, several of Cigar City’s headiest creations and plenty of other bestial brews. So don’t hate. Or, rather, keep hating, and leave more OTWOA for the rest of us. First brewed for the impending 2012 Mayan Apocalypse — “basically what we would want to drink if the world imploded”, DC Brau told us — this malt-forward East Coast brew pours a dark copper with an off-white head. It smells like mature grapefruit and has a sharp lactic taste, almost like jack cheese. Although it has the characteristic double IPA hop bitterness, it lacks the juicy hops of some of the West Coast brews. It’s definitely one of the boldest and most complex double IPAs we’ve ever tasted.
Make Your Own Pliny the Elder
According to Beer Advocate, a double IPA called Pliny the Elder is the fourth best beer in the world, narrowly edged by its nephew, Pliny the Younger (another double), as well as Goose Island Bourbon Brand Coffee Stout and our personal favorite, Heady Topper (yet another double). Want to make your own modern version of a liquid natural philosopher? Here’s how.
Recipe provided by Vinnie Cilurzo to the Homebrewer’s Association
For 6.0 gallons (22.7 L) [Net: 5 gallons (18.9 L) after hop loss]
13.25 lb (6.01 kg) Two-Row pale malt
0.6 lb (272 g) Crystal 45 malt
0.6 lb (272 g) Carapils (Dextrin) Malt
0.75 lb (340 g) Dextrose (corn) sugar
3.50 oz (99 g) Columbus* 13.90% A.A. 90 min.
0.75 oz (21 g) Columbus* 13.90% A.A. 45 min.
1.00 oz (28 g) Simcoe 12.30% A.A. 30 min.
1.00 oz (28 g) Centennial 8.00% A.A. 0 min.
2.50 oz (71 g) Simcoe 12.30% A.A. 0 min.
1.00 oz (28 g) Columbus* 13.90% A.A. Dry Hop (12 to 14 days total)
1.00 oz (28 g) Centennial 9.10% A.A. Dry Hop (12 to 14 days total)
1.00 oz (28 g) Simcoe 12.30% A.A. Dry Hop (12 to 14 days total)
0.25 oz (7 g) Columbus* 13.90% A.A. Dry Hop (5 days to go in dry hop)
0.25 oz (7 g) Centennial 9.10% A.A. Dry Hop (5 days to go in dry hop)
0.25 oz (7 g) Simcoe 12.30% A.A. Dry Hop (5 days to go in dry hop)
*Tomahawk/Zeus can be substituted for Columbus
White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast or 1056 American Ale Yeast
Mash grains at 151-152° F (66-67° C) for an hour or until starch conversion is complete. Mash out at 170° F (77° C) and sparge. Collect 8 gallons (30 L) of runoff, stir in dextrose, and bring to a boil. Add hops as indicated in the recipe. After a 90 minute boil, chill wort to 67° F (19° C) and transfer to fermenter. Pitch two packages of yeast or a yeast starter and aerate well. Ferment at 67° F (19° C) until fermentation activity subsides, then rack to secondary. Add first set of dry hops on top of the racked beer and age 7-9 days, then add the second set. Age five more days then bottle or keg the beer.
Southern Tier Unearthly
Easiest Drinking Double IPA: “In my opinion, the malt bill for a Double IPA should be simple”, says Vinnie Cilurzo, maker of the first double IPA, and Southern Tier took his advice to heart. Unearthly contains only two malts as well as ale yeast and four hop varietals. With its sweet nose, malt backbone in the mouth and an oily, resinous texture that coats the tongue, Unearthly is characteristic of an East Coast double; rightly so for the Lakewood, New York brewery. This is the perfect beer for those that prefer sweet hops to bitter ones. And, for those who like a little bit more vanilla, Southern Tier also makes a popular barrel-aged Unearthly.
Firestone Walker Double Jack
Editor’s Choice: Here on the East Coast, we’re starting to see more and more Firestone Walker beers. They’re fantastic. From the chewy bourbon-barrel aged Parabola stout to the flagship Double Barrel Ale, the Paso Robles, CA-based brewery makes all their beers with simple, quality ingredients and proprietary house yeast. Smelling their popular Double Jack is like sticking your nose in a grapefruit, but without the stinging citric acid. It’s easy drinking, refreshing and refined, the kind of beer you want to nurse at a classy summer barbecue. Just watch out — the 9.5-ABV brew goes down deceptively smooth.
Green Flash Palate Wrecker
Double IPA Most Likely to Wreck Your Palate: Green Flash’s website boasts that this beer has 100+ International Bitterness Units (IBUs). We’re not going to get into IBUs, because they’re confusing and technical, but we will say that the ability to taste differences between them peaks at around 100. In other words, this is about as hoppy as a beer can get. It smells like dried fruit and has plenty of bready alcohol pungency. For those looking for a hop-punch, Palate Wrecker is bitter to the extreme.
Weyerbacher Double Simcoe
Best Double IPA for a Cold Winter Night Beside the Fire: Ah, Simcoe hops: high alpha acid content, lots of aromatic oils and low cohumulone levels. For those of you who don’t speak brewer, that translates to sweaty citrus on the nose, a caramel malt backbone and a dank finish. This is a polarizing double IPA for sure — one for those who enjoy hipper, funkier, earthier beers. For an alternative flavor profile, the Double Simcoe makes a unique choice.
Ballast Point Dorado
Best Tribute to the Western-Style IPA: San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewery gives their beers nautical names — dorado, which means “golden” in Spanish, is another name for a mahi-mahi. But even before we knew what it meant, we wrote that the beer was “the definition of golden”. It’s got a juicy grapefruit nose and a well-balanced, piney taste that steadily increases as the beer remains in the mouth before finishing with a bitter bite. To us, it tastes a lot like another of Ballast Point’s beers, Sculpin, but they’re both phenomenal, so who cares?