Monday, February 21, 2011

What is an American Double/Imperial India Pale Ale?

Posted by: Stonecipher

Feb. 21, 2011

When I began writing this blog the goal was simply to review the Top 20 Most Reviewed Double/Imperial IPAs on Beer Advocate.  Now that we are 25% of the way through The List, it has occurred to me that I have never truly explained what a Double/Imperial IPA actually is.  Many people who read the blog will probably already know, but just in case you don’t, or if you just want a refresher, I thought it would only be appropriate for us here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights to address the issue: 

Thanks to Azurescens on Beer Advocate for the photo.
What is an American Double/Imperial IPA (DIPA or IIPA)?

Yes, technically, the style is referred to as an American Double or Imperial India Pale Ale, but you generally won’t hear anyone mention a Belgian Double IPA or an English Imperial IPA.  The double IPA was developed on the West Coast of the United States about 20 years ago.  Before diving into what the DIPA is, however, it may be worthwhile to explore what a regular IPA or India Pale Ale is. 

Legend has it that the original India Pale Ales were brewed in England to deliver to the troops serving in India.  Hops are a natural preservative and therefore, a beer with more hops had a better chance of surviving the long trip around the African Continent.  Beer Advocate tells the story of the English IPA well:

First brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA's were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped, as hops are a natural preservative. Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength. The English IPA has a lower alcohol due to taxation over the decades. The leaner the brew the less amount of malt there is and less need for a strong hop presence which would easily put the brew out of balance. Some brewers have tried to recreate the origianl IPA with strengths close to 8-9% abv.

Although the recreations of some of these original English IPAs have had a fairly high ABV, the typical English IPA now ranges from about 4.0 – 6.5% ABV.  And that brings us to the American version of the IPA – a stronger, more flavorful beer with a significantly higher range of alcohol by volume – roughly 5.5 – 7.5%.
The American IPA has been around, by some accounts since 1900 and those early IPAs were similar in style, smell and flavor to their English counterparts.  In more recent years, as microbreweries and homebrewing have become more popular the style has exploded in popularity here in the U.S.  Many Americans, sick of light lagers that lack flavor, body, aroma and intensity have turned to India Pale Ale.  Again, Beer Advocate says it better than I do: 

The American IPA is a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt backbone.

There are literally thousands of IPAs now commercially available in the United States.  Most breweries and brewpubs will have at least one example of an IPA and many have more.  Some of my favorites, in no particular order, include Ska’s Modus Hoperandi, Lagunitas IPA, Ithaca’s Flower Power IPA, Founders Centennial IPA and Two Brothers Resistance IPA

What I love about these beers is their strong flavor.  Just like my love of blue cheese, sharp cheddar, spicy foods and whiskey, I seek out flavors that push my palate to the limit, so the intense, hoppy bitterness that an IPA provides keeps me satisfied in terms of beer.

To truly push my palate to the limit, however, I have sought out some of the most hoppy and most intense IPAs out there and that is what led me to the Double IPA.

Now, I am not going to get into the controversial subject of who invented the Double IPA.  There are several different stories behind it, but it is generally agreed that it happened somewhere in California or Oregon sometime between 1990 and 1995.    

What makes it a double?   Well, in many cases 50% more malt is used than in a standard IPA and 100% more hops are used to balance the extra malt out.  This leads to a very intensely flavored and aromatic beer that has somewhere between 70 and 100 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).  100 IBUs is basically the high end of the bitterness spectrum of beer and the average, regular IPA (a bitter beer to begin with) has a range of about 40 – 60 IBUs.  Some people claim that once a beer gets above 100 it is nearly impossible to taste any difference.  That said, the extra malt used in the DIPA process often leads to a high IBU beer that tastes more sweet than bitter.  Bell’s Hopslam is a perfect example of this (I suppose the honey they put in it helps as well) and even some of the least adventurous beer drinkers can put down a full Hopslam despite the fact that it has at least 70 IBUs.

Anyhow, let’s take a look at what Beer Advocate has to say about the issue:

Take an India Pale Ale and feed it steroids, ergo the term Double IPA. Although open to the same interpretation as its sister styles, you should expect something robust, malty, alcoholic and with a hop profile that might rip your tongue out. The Imperial usage comes from Russian Imperial stout, a style of strong stout originally brewed in England for the Russian Imperial Court of the late 1700s; though Double IPA is often the preferred name.

An IPA on steroids is a fantastic description and happens to be the reason I love these beers.  The American Double India Pale Ale pushes my palate and taste buds to the limit (and sometimes even pushes them over the edge) and DIPAs just so happen to pair very well with many of my favorite foods that I mentioned above.  Strong cheeses, spicy food, barbeque and grilled meat all pair very well with Double IPAs.  I will warn you, however, the spicy food/bitter beer combo can rip your taste buds right out before you even finish your meal or your first beer.  Some good, hot Mexican food paired with a strong and bitter Double IPA may be amazing for the first few bites, but it also may end up nearly impossible to taste any of it by the end, no matter how intense the flavors are.

So, I hope that if you already knew some of this stuff that it was at least an enjoyable read and that if you didn’t already have a grasp on it, that now you do.  The Double IPA is my favorite style of beer and I truly believe that as I work my way through The List here on 20 Beers in 20 Nights I will be working my way through a collection of some of the best beers the world has to offer.  In case you want to know what my favorites within the style are, well, just keep reading and eventually I’ll get to them – even the ones that are not on The List will make guest appearances at some point. 

Thanks for stopping by, and by the way, if you’re on Twitter you can follow 20 Beers in 20 Nights at:!/20Beers20Nights

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