Hop-a-Palooza

India Pale Ale (IPA)

Crafty brew-crafters long ago discovered that increasing a beer’s alcohol and hop content also considerably increased its shelf life. A useful discovery for Imperial Brits trying to concoct a brew stout enough to survive the long journey from England, around the Horn of Africa, to its subjects in India – all without the aid of refrigeration. More recently, Americans have discovered a seemingly insatiable taste for this highly hopped style now commonly referred to as India Pale Ale.

My first introduction to the beautifully bitter American IPAs came in the early 1990s via California brewer Sierra Nevada. For years their Pale Ale was not only my beer of choice but was also the only IPA I could find on east coast shelves – and then only in specialty shops and bars.

Soon, though, Sierra was everywhere and so too were IPA drinkers. About a decade after my Sierra conversion I got a taste of what was to come when I discovered Dogfish Head’s hoppier, and more expensive, 60 Minute IPA (first brewed in 2003). Shortly thereafter, all hops broke loose.

A flood of new IPAs entered the market. Today Beer Advocate has reviews for 3,151 different IPAs, making it perhaps the single most popular craft style. But the style itself is changing; becoming bigger and bolder as brewers engage in a hops arms race.

Responding to the competition, Sierra introduced its hoppier Torpedo Extra IPA in 2009. Three short years later it upped the ante again with its release of Hoptimum Imperial IPA. Perhaps afraid that the name Hoptimum was too subtle, Sierra describes its newest creation this way: “Aggressively hopped, dry-hopped, AND torpedoed with our exclusive new hop varieties for ultra-intense flavors and aromas.”

Did you get that? Hops! It’s loaded with freaking HOPS!!!!

Having favored IPAs for nearly 20 years, I still found myself slightly unsure what to think about this recent arms race. Is hopscalation making the world safer for beer lovers or is it really just a M.A.D. dash toward bitter oblivion?

I had to see for myself. Naturally, and fortunately, that involved drinking lots of beer.

We lined up the three Sierras against an IPA and an Imperial IPA from Durango, Colorado’s awesome Ska Brewing. We threw in Missoula Montana’s Big Sky IPA because, why not? The results surprised me.

I consider myself a hop head so going in I assumed the Imperials would dominate the crowd. To my surprise, Ska’s Modus Hoperandi (probably best considered an “Extra” IPA, weighing in at 65 International Bitterness Units) was my favorite. Its bright citrus flavors won me over as a nice complement to the the biting IPA bitterness.

The Imperials, meanwhile, struggled with balance. Shannon and I both agreed that Ska’s aptly named Decadent was too sweet, bordering on cloying. We disagreed, however, on Shannon’s favorite, Hoptimum. At 10.4% alcohol by volume and 100 IBUs I found it overbearing, resulting in a split decision on the wisdom of hopscilation.

The overall winner of the night, though, was . . . us! Six great beers paired with an awesome homemade Gai Pad Bai Gaprow, lots of music and tons of fun. We hereby declare Hop-a-Palooza a roaring success.

With 3,145 more IPAs to try, Hop-a-Palooza II is a forgone conclusion.

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17 Comments on “Hop-a-Palooza”

  1. Larry Vanstone October 10, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    I love the strong citrus taste in some of the western states IPA’s I sampled. Some have such a grapefruit flavor they could almost be considered a breakfast drink. (Now there’s a way to start your day!) Much more Citrus then the typical Canadian IPA’s I regularily enjoy. I, like you, have tasted a few

    Like

    • Brian October 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

      Breakfast drink, LOL. I like the way you think. Although the good old Bloody Mary is pretty tough to beat.

      Like

  2. Pit October 10, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the heads-up on IPSa. I’ve seen them arouond but I have never tried one. That’s something your posting here surely has changed. Next time I find one, it’ll be a definite “go”: Am looking forward to trying that type of beer, especially as I like a hoppy brew. And after trying, I’ll post about that, as I di about my other beer-tastings [https://pitstexasexpatblog.wordpress.com/?cat=1917].
    Best regards from southern Texas,
    Pit

    Like

    • Brian October 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

      Be sure to let us know what you think after you try one (and which one you tasted).

      Like

      • Pit October 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

        Will do!
        Meanwhile, Prosit!
        Pit

        Like

  3. Danny Breslin October 10, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    You can’t beat a pint of Keith’s IPA in Halifax NS

    Like

    • Brian October 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Sadly, we missed Nova Scotia when we were out east. Now you’ve given us another reason to get back that way.

      Like

      • Danny Breslin October 11, 2012 at 4:46 am #

        You must visit Alexander Keith’s brewery if you go to Halifax, they do a costumed tour of the place telling you the history etc. It’s fun.

        Like

  4. the usual bliss October 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I love Ska beers and was so excited to see TWO in your lineup. The Pinstripe is the original and my favorite- thanks for representing!!

    Like

    • Brian October 10, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

      We discovered Ska when we visited their brewery in Durango, CO. Everything we tasted was terrific. Too bad it’s not more widely distributed. We don’t see it very often. 😦

      Like

      • the usual bliss October 10, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

        I lived with a woman who was dating one of the boys who started Ska Brewery, and rode along on their “distribution” day. It entailed piling cases of beer in the back of his pick-up truck and driving to every po-dunk liquor store between Durango and Telluride. I remember being impressed at the commitment for distribution then- and that was 12 years ago! I agree- I wish they were available in more areas, like Park City, where I live.

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  5. P. C. Zick October 11, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    A post after our hearts! We’ve been brewing our beers this past year. By far our best one is the Imperial Pale Ale from Brewers Best. Torpedo is good but one of the best craft IPAs we’ve ever had is from Fat Heads out of Cleveland called Headhunters. It’s very difficult to find, but we have a couple of places here in Pittsburgh that sell it. We had some on Saturday and then I sampled a few other IPAs and I couldn’t even taste the hops after the Headhunter. I ordered a second one. Thanks for post. Dogfish also has a 120 minute IPA now, but I haven’t had the pleasure. Have you?

    Like

    • Brian October 13, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      If we ever settle down somewhere the first thing I’m doing is setting up a home brewery. Seems like so much fun.

      Like

      • P. C. Zick October 13, 2012 at 11:53 am #

        It is fun. We save a little bit of money but most of all we have a blast making it, analyzing it, and of course, the best part sitting back and enjoying.

        Like

  6. Sid Dunnebacke October 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Ha! Newly subscribed, I expected to dive right in to your travels – so I have to laugh that the first post of yours after following is about beer! Too cool. I did some math in my head, and I don’t think you’re altogether up to the next 3,145 IPAs, at least not in the year or two…

    Like

  7. Jason Sailor October 16, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Awesome blog. Found it while researching rafting the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon. Planning a trip for October 2013. Really enjoying reading through your site, a wealth of great information and inspiration.

    Now about beer… When you make it to Australia you are going to love our beers. Hops and bitter beers feature strongly. We have a flourishing boutique brewing industry. Some, such as Little Creatures have been bought out by the multinational brewers. (a bit of a sad day when I heard that) fortunately there are plenty more up and comers. Matso’s from Broome have some great and unique beers. My wife and I travelled to a magical place called Byron Bay, on the New South Wales north coast. Found a great little brewer, Stone&Wood. Put that on your ‘places to experience’ list. Ironically a lot of Corona is consumed here, perhaps that reflects Australia’s multicultural society?

    I have your site bookmarked and am looking forward to reading and learning.

    Life is your memories.

    Cheers,

    Jason

    Like

    • Brian October 16, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      Hi Jason,
      Glad you found us. And thanks for the great tips on Australia. We’re really chomping at the bit to get over to your neck of the woods. I’m really happy to know Australia has good boutique brewers. All we ever hear in the states is “Fosters, Australian for beer.” LOL.

      Like

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