Time to hop on the 21st-century beer wagon: These new brews have more alcohol and more IBUs

IT’S TAKEN A good four years, but we can officially declare the millennium’s first new beer style.

No, we’re not talking low-carb beer.

It’s Imperial India Pale Ale and, yes, that is a mouthful.

Take a look around at local micros and brewpubs, and nearly every one of them is producing an Imp IPA. The style takes its name from Imperial Stout, a super-strong black beer that got its name from the English brews made for Russian czars.

There’s no royalty involved in this bitter ale. In the case of India Pale Ale, the new Imperial style means more of everything. It’s maltier, more bitter, and it smells like your back yard (assuming, of course, you don’t live anywhere in the People Paper Stinkmeister’s neighborhood).

Big, hoppy IPAs have been around for more than a century. But it appears the first reference to Imperial IPA was in 1994, when Whitbread produced Fuggles Imperial IPA for a British Guild of Beer Writers seminar on India Pale Ale.

According to beer writer Roger Protz, it was so successful, Whitbread’s Castle Eden Brewery started bottling the ale for consumers.

From Protz’s description, though, the original brew shares only a faint resemblance to the powerhouses coming out of American micros. Fuggles Imperial IPA, which is no longer produced, was made with only Fuggles hops and rang in at 5.5 percent alcohol and 40 international bittering units.

By contrast, Delaware’s Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is 9 percent alcohol and is rated at 90 IBUs.

Rogue Ales gets credit for producing the first American Imperial IPA, called I2PA, which was originally brewed for the 1996 Oregon Brewer’s Festival.

Five years later, Hopasaurus Rex Imperial IPA from Steelhead became the first official Imperial IPA to win a medal at the Great American Beer Festival, in the strong ale category. Last year, the GABF gave Imperial IPA its own official classification.

Though anyone can make a super-hopped beer, the brewer’s challenge is balance. No harsh, over-the-edge bitterness, and a full malt flavor that doesn’t fall into barleywine territory. Like a traditional IPA, it’s golden or amber in color.

RateBeer.Com lists more than 80 brews that qualify as Imperial or Double IPAs, with great names like Hopzilla, White Knuckle and Ruination.

Locally, Nodding Head Brewpub (1516 Sansom St., Center City) makes an excellent, extremely quaffable version called 3C Extreme Ale. The Iron Hill brewpub chain and General Lafayette Inn & Brewery (6461 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill) serve well-made Imperial IPAs, too.

Others produce Imperial IPA as a special, one-time-only bottling. Victory’s limited-edition Hop Wallop was so popular when it was released last year, every case was scooped up in a week.

Sly Fox says it’ll produce its first Imp IPA in December as part of its so-called 2004 IPA Project: 9 varietal IPAs, to celebrate the pub’s 9th year in business.

Elsewhere, Colorado’s Avery Ten, as its name implies, uses 10 different hops varieties and registers 10 percent alcohol.

Keep an eye out for others, including Three Floyds Dreadnaught, Pyramid Double IPA and Clipper City Winter Storm.

Not enough hops for you? Give Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA a sip. At 20 percent alcohol, it might be the millennium’s next new beer style: the Imperial Imperial IPA.

   Beer radar

Iron Hill opened its newest brewpub yesterday in North Wales (1460 Bethlehem Pike, near Routes 309 and 63 at the Shoppes at English Village). It’s the local chain’s fifth location and the first in Montco . . . Registration is open for Penn Brewing’s Beer Camp, April 3 from noon to 2:30 p.m. at the Pittsburgh brewery. The Harvard of Hops offers a well-rounded beer curriculum for just $25 tuition. Info: 412-237-9402 . . . Meanwhile in Hanover, Pa., Kclinger’s Tavern – one of the best beer bars in the state – has its own major: Beer Appreciation 101. The classes begin Monday. Info: 717-633-9197 . . .

New on area shelves: Troegs Nugget Nectar Ale, a hoppy amber ale. Also, Stone Brewing Old Guardian Barley Wine, Samuel Adams White Ale, Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse and the newest bottling of Heavyweight Biere d’Art.

   Beer calendar

Tomorrow: Sixth annual Main Line Brew Festival, featuring suds from two dozen regional breweries, at the Desmond Great Valley Hotel & Conference Center (One Liberty Blvd., Malvern), noon to 4 p.m., $35, 610-296-8900.

March 18: Beer dinner with Brooklyn Brewing’s Garrett Oliver at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (1460 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales). Includes a four-course dinner, beer and a copy of Oliver’s book, “The Brewmaster’s Table.” $75, 267-708-2000.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Schwechater Fest Bock.

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