We have been rolling hop bombs across our tongues for about two hours now and have little humor for what the innocent Great American Beer Festival volunteer across the serving table is trying to tell us.
As alcohol and unfermented carbohydrate in the beer increases, so does the ability of the beer to carry more IBUs
“We’d like the Dorado Double IPA,” I say.
“I don’t see that,” she replies, pointing to pitchers of a variety of Ballast Point Brewing beers.
“It’s right here in the program,” I tell her, pointing to the entry, then to the back of the booth. “And there on that sign.”
“It used to be called Crystal Pier,” Vic says. This doesn’t seem to help.
Granted, there is no mention of it on the table, nor is its name on any of the hand-printed signs hanging from the taps behind her. We step around the table and into the booth, which is probably against GABF rules. We have come for hops, dammit.
“Look, this is the keg,” Vic says, pointing to “Dorado Double” scribbled on the top of one. “We need to tap this.”
He looks at the volunteer. “I know how to do this,” he says, not adding, “I’m a professional,” although he owns a California bar. We are certain this is against GABF rules and know it might even be illegal in Colorado.
“I’ll get my captain,” the volunteer says, appearing interested in pleasing us—that, or we’re seeing a look of total fear.
By now Vic is behind the kegs. “It’s already tapped,” he says. “We’ve just got to make this switch.”
She does, fills a pitcher, and pours us each an ounce of the beer.
“Great nose,” Vic says. “Almost no malt character, bitter all the way through. One of my favorites.”
“This is the style, zeroed in,” I agree, as we step to the booth next door and order the Backstreet Imperial IPA.
Blame It on the Hops
When did we know we were in trouble? Maybe when I described a bitterly hoppy beer as “biscuity.” Or when Vic asked, “Where are we going next?” and the answer was Dogfish Head.
Our mission on this last Thursday in September: To try every double (or imperial) IPA we can find at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Why? These are extreme beers that take your taste buds on a roller coaster ride as long and furious as, say, the Raptor at Cedar Point in Ohio.
Many are stronger than barley wine, but although we are drinking only an ounce (or less) at a time, these beers are meant for pint glasses rather than snifters. A mother lode of malt allows brewers to jam more than a mother lode of hops into the beer. First and foremost, these are hop delivery vehicles.
Eight years after beer author-brewer-consumer Randy Mosher presented a travelogue of a recent trip to the world’s great hops growing regions to listeners at Oldenberg Beer Camp, an image lingers. He is tilting his head back as if he were taking a big drink, meanwhile reaching his hands into the air and grabbing fistfuls of imagined hops, then bringing them back down to his mouth.
“Americans have been starved for hops so long,” he says, “that right now we’re just shoving them down our throats.”
Just one week later, Blind Pig Brewing brewer Vinnie Cilurzo proved that point by serving GABF attendees the first, as far as anybody knows, commercial double IPA. He brewed Inaugural Ale in June 1994, the first batch out of the Temecula brewery. “Our equipment was pretty antique and crude, so I wanted to start out with something that was big and, frankly, could cover up any off flavors,” he says.
He calculated the bitterness at the time of brewing at 100 IBU (International Bittering Units). It was aged on oak for nine months, was served on the brewery’s first anniversary, and was 15 months old when it reached the GABF.
“After that, we made it a tradition to make DIPAs for our anniversary. At our second anniversary, the beer was 120 BUs. This was almost undrinkable at the time of bottling, but there was a small market for it,” Cilurzo says. “We had a tasting room at our brewery. Customers would bring their Blind Pig growlers back for refills, etc. The last drop of Second Anniversary Ale, out of the brewery’s last keg, filled (Stone Brewing Co. founder) Greg Koch’s growler.”
Operating pretty much in parallel in the Northwest, John Maier of Rogue Ales brewed his first imperial pale ale in 1995, releasing it as I2PA at the 1996 Oregon Brewers Festival. The hops train was picking up speed.
This year, for the first time, “Imperial or Double India Pale Ale” is a separate category in GABF judging and 39 beers are entered.