Through winter-time we call on spring
So who the hell decided that winter-time has to be all dark beers and the like? Did the people that green lighted another season of ‘Two Broke Girls‘ posit that, come late summer, Octoberfest marzens and beers brewed with canned pumpkin should start arriving on the shelves? That by Halloween, ‘Christmas’ ales must be filling shelves, long before astronomical winter has begun? Did some neo-hippie beard-O from the west coast brewmaster declare that the current trend in seasonal cuisine should be mimicked in brewing, despite the fact that hops are primarily delivered as dried pellets? Must we rage, rage against the dying of the hops? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Dogfish Head 90 Minute is brewed all year long, so keep your man hammock on. In fact, there are scores of hugely hopped beers that can be had fresh throughout the morose months in which we ponder the cruel sky god that abandoned us to the dark chill.
Other Imperial IPAs available year-round include notables such as:
Southern Tier Unearthly
Harpoon’s Leviathan Imperial IPA
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Three Floyds Drednaught and Arctic Panzer Wolf
The Alchemist Heady Topper
The Hypeslam Challenge
With all these options, why does it seem like frost alerts signal stout season? First of all, stouts and porters are delicious, full bodied brews that really do fit with cold days and dark nights. Knowing this, brewers release their seasonal dark beers during this time, to match craft beer drinker’s tastes. So Barrel Aged Blackout Stout or BA Plead the the Fifth just make more sense in winter. But that doesn’t mean craft beer fans have nothing hoppy to look forward to after National S’mores Day. For this review we will sample three limited release double IPAs that come out between December-January.
Inspired by our friend Bobby‘s tweet:
Take the Hypeslam challenge. Put it side by side w/ any other premier DIPA & realize what an unbalanced boozy mess it is
When I asked for suggested DIPAs that are similarly fresh, he mentioned Abrasive Ale from Surly Brewing. Taking that advice, I paired it with a beer getting a ton of buzz since it came out last winter, Lagunitas Sucks: Brown Shuggah Substitute Ale. The Abrasive is released in December, and the Hopslam and Sucks, in January.
BELL’S HOPSLAM ALE
TASTING NOTES: The smell is subtle, reminding me of Fresca or Squirt (grapefruit soda). Expected a bigger nose from this translucent gold brew. Carbonation is low. Taste starts our hugely sweet keeping with the soda pop nose. Then come the hops. More pine than citrus, but both are present. Finish has a nice hop bite, battling that honey/malt sweetness. Bitterness builds up as you drink hoppy beers. With a ton of sweetness, the bitter bite remains (somewhat) under control, making this imperial IPA quite approachable. But the label is a man being crushed by hops not honey: Give us more hops!
TASTING NOTES: A darker gold than Hopslam, Sucks has a mouth wateringly bolder nose of massive tropical fruits (mango, pineapple) with citrus and some bread-y malts and some alcohol. Mouthfeel is light, with a bit more carbonation than Hopslam. The flavors from Sucks are a drone strike of hops. This is what a DIPA should be! Resinous, citrus hop filled, with a sweet malt backbone to balance the finish. Hop lovers will be adding a new Lagunitas brew to the stable of wants.
IBUs: “120ish” (from their website)
TASTING NOTES: Oh Yeah (Kool-Aid Man voice)!!!! What an explosive wafting of resinous esters, with pine and citrus. Easily the most potent nose of the three, or of almost any beer. Color is darker than the others as well, pouring a cloudy yellow/orange. Grapefruit, tangerine and pine open up the taste, along with some serious bitterness, although the malt backbone keeps it just balanced enough.
Double IPAs can be too bitter, or too sweet. DIPAs are an attempt to crank up the hop-level on a style of beer some already think is too hop dominant. The challenge is to give hop heads a beer that lets the flowery esters shine, while not brewing a bitter or malty mess. As we tasted for the best double IPAs in winter, the three beers each took a different approach to the style.
Bell’s Hopslam Ale was the onus for this tasting, and it does have quite a bit of hype behind it. While not finding it as unbalanced or boozy as Bobby does, this beer is sweet from start to finish. If you are looking for your first double IPA to try, or a dangerously easy way to put down 12 ounces of 10% ABV beer, this is the one for you. Bell’s use of honey is a better cover for booze and bitterness than what other breweries accomplish with malts alone. However, at 18$ a six-pack plus tax, this is an expensive price to pay for your sweet tooth. Finally, I noted, along with a number of others, that the 2013 batch has much more honey and less hop presence than in previous years.
Lagunitas Sucks tropical fruit flavors make it one of the best overall DIPAs around. If balance is what you are seeking, this one has an optimal application of bready malts, subtly applied to give the hop flavors minimal interference. While it lacks the clingy, unattenuated honey, Sucks is a delightfully drinkable ale.
Surly Abrasive, as the name would suggest, comes right at you. It makes no apologies about the dominant, dank hop flavors, adding only enough malt to keep the beer from finishing like Aspirin. Of the three, Abrasive is best of the group at making a hop head’s dream beer. Surly crushed this and I can see why a beer geek would prefer it to the sweeter Hopslam.
Double IPA is a style I enjoy, but find them less consistently good than more traditional or American IPAs. DIPAs are a high wire act, and all three of these beers pull off a delicious take on the style. Hop heads, however, will find the most joy in Sucks and Abrasive. These two are world-class, and a few of the best double IPAs released in winter.