Here we are at our sweet sixteen – the 16th entry into our “Source of Styles” – and we’re at one of our favourite styles of beer – the double IPA. Sometimes referred to as an Imperial IPA, a double IPA ramps up all that is good about an IPA, with more alcohol, more hops, and more bitterness to boot. They have been known to be the precursor to a great night of drinking, but also the downfall of many a drinker, BeerTengoku included.
During the first year that the Great American Beer Festival recognised the style, there were a meagre 40 entries. In 2012, 128 double IPAs were entered, which was also the most out of any beer style at that year’s competition. Since then, the number of entries has increased, with 173 in the 2019, which goes to show that the popularity of the style has not abated, in spite of other styles growing in popularity.
A (Short) History of Double IPAs
With double IPAs having been “invented” in America, it does seem a misnomer to call them imperial IPAs, with that being reserved for beers that were once brewed in England for export to Russia – specifically the imperial court of Russia, which ruled from 1826 before being dissolved in 1918. Nowadays, any beer that includes “imperial” has the implication that it is going to be big, bold, and brash, irrespective of the style.
American homebrewers were brewing IPAs that were slowly becoming bigger and bolder, with more hops and more alcohol in them. On top of this, the domestic hop market was beginning to grow in size, with varieties such as Chinook (1985), along with Amarllio, Centennial (1990), being used in increasing amounts due to the extra bitterness from the alpha acids. The boundaries were being pushed and eventually stretched to the point where people began to wonder, are these beers actually IPAs?
The origin of the double IPA rests with Vinnie Cilurzo, who was brewing at Blind Pig in Temecula, California, which is now defunct, and brewed a beer that soon became the standard in 1994. The modern invention story goes Cilurzo accidentally added too much malt to the mash. Instead of ditching the batch, he added a ton more hops to balance things out.
There is some discontent with who actually first brewed a double IPA, though Cilurzo’s name has been forever ingrained with the style. Cilurzo later went on to become the owner and brewmaster of the Russian River Brewing Company, and his beer, Pliny The Elder, soon became the gold standard of double IPAs.
A couple of years later, Rogue Brewing, released their I2PA, in 1996, with Stone Brewing company following up in 1998 with their 2nd Anniversary IPA, with Stone going on to release the Stone Ruination in 2002, thus cementing the first all-year round double IPA in a lineup. From then on, it was a race to pack in as many hops and as much bitterness in a beer that was possible. The IBU wars had begun, with breweries proclaiming their beers to have upwards of 100 IBUs, and even one brewery proclaiming their beer to have an IBU of over 2,600. The response? Lacklustre if you believe what Untappd has to say.
Since then, the IBU wars have abated, and the IBUs have been scaled back to more manageable, and more importantly, more drinkable levels, and thankfully the IBU race didn’t enter the Japanese market. Brewers in Japan have tended to focus more on American style double IPAs, with a focus more on the hops than on the malts, though some examples of typical British double IPAs do exist.
Double IPA Appearance and Taste
Here’s the guidelines from the BJCP for what makes double IPAs such a great beer to drink.
Appearance: Color ranges from golden amber to medium reddish copper; some versions can have an orange-ish tint. Should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy. Good head with off-white color should persist.
Aroma: A prominent to intense hop aroma that can be derived from American, English and/or noble varieties, although a citrusy hop character is almost always present. Most versions are dry hopped and can have an additional resinous or grassy aroma, although this is not absolutely required. Some clean malty sweetness may be found in the background. Fruitiness, either from esters or hops, may also be detected in some versions, although a neutral fermentation character is typical. Some alcohol can usually be noted, but it should not have a “hot” character.
Flavor: Hop flavor is strong and complex, and can reflect the use of American, English and/or noble hop varieties. High to absurdly high hop bitterness, although the malt backbone will generally support the strong hop character and provide the best balance. Malt flavor should be low to medium, and is generally clean and malty although some caramel or toasty flavors are acceptable at low levels. No diacetyl. Low fruitiness is acceptable but not required. A long, lingering bitterness is usually present in the aftertaste but should not be harsh. Medium-dry to dry finish. A clean, smooth alcohol flavor is usually present. Oak is inappropriate in this style. May be slightly sulfury, but most examples do not exhibit this character.
Characteristic Ingredients: Pale ale malt; can use a complex variety of hops (English, American, noble). American yeast that can give a clean or slightly fruity profile. Generally all-malt, but mashed at lower temperatures for high attenuation. Water character varies from soft to moderately sulphate.
Japanese Double IPAs We Recommend
Noboribetsu Oni no Hanaiki W-IPA
The Bottom Line: “Let’s hope Onidensetsu start bottling some of these draft beers soon – two for two so far with this year’s efforts.”
The Full Review: Noboribetsu Oni no Hanaiki W-IPA by Onidensetsu Beer
Two Rabbits Mountain Kick DIPA
The Bottom Line: “Two Rabbits Mountain Kick DIPA is really nice but I suspect two would be too much as it’s so easy to drink.”
The Full Review: Two Rabbits Mountain Kick DIPA by Two Rabbits Brewing Company
Y Market Distortion IPA
The Bottom Line: “Y Market Distortion IPA is a nice, classic double IPA – dank and piney with some strong citrusy notes.”
The Full Review: Y Market Distortion IPA by Y Market Brewing
TDM Star Dust DIPA
The Bottom Line: “TDM Star Dust DIPA, for me, is one of the best DIPAs I’ve had in Japan. The only problem (well two!) is that it goes down to easily and there isn’t any more of it!”
The Full Review: TDM Star Dust DIPA by TDM 1874 Brewery
The Bottom Line: “I really liked Shonan W-IPA – apparently I’ve drunk it before too – and would happily recommend it to hop-heads alike.”
The Full Review: Shonan W-IPA by Kumazawa Shuzo
Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA
The Bottom Line: “If you like IPAs and haven’t tried Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA, then go do it! It’s potent so if you’re new to IPAs be warned.”
The Full Review: Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA by Baird Beer
Imported Double IPAs We Recommend
Let’s be honest – if you’re going to try a style of beer, then it’s also worth trying out some of the overseas beers. With the massive influx of American craft beer, it should be quite easy to find some of these beers on here, while others are much harder to find. Check out the label on the bottle to see when the beer was bottled, and also ask how the beer was imported. Was it in a cold chain from start to finish? Was the beer stored in a chilled environment in store? If the shop assistant can’t, or doesn’t know the answer, then give it a miss.
Pliny The Elder (USA)
Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA (USA)
Bear Republic Racer X (USA)
Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (USA)
Revision Double IPA (USA)
Pizza Port Kook (USA)