Bolder than an IPA but less malty and rich than an American barleywine, imperial or double IPAs (or DIPAs if you just can’t be bothered to spell it out) are a hop lover’s dream. But beyond being “bigger”—higher in alcohol (generally 7.5% to 10%) and hop character—than IPAs, there is a ton of variety within the category. Even if you’re not generally of a fan of hops’ bitterness, hopefully you’re still reading this: Plenty of the best imperial IPAs don’t leave your mouth a total disaster. They shouldn’t be astringent or unpleasantly bitter; the best of what we sampled offered sturdy malt support and a range of flavors from earthy to floral to herbal. Before you dismiss imperial IPAs as nothing but bitter bombs, give these a taste:
Alaskan Brewing Hopothermia double IPA
Yes, we’re going to use “double IPA” and “highly drinkable” in the same breath. Expect a quiet bouquet of light orange and grass before sturdy, nutty malts and subdued citrus hop flavor. Easy bitterness lingers well into the finish of this 8.5%-ABV brew.
DC Brau On The Wings of Armageddon imperial IPA
Single-hop double IPAs offer a good insight into one hop’s flavor profile; in this case, get schooled in Falconer’s Flight hops. They give up catty, lightly garlic notes on the aroma, while contributing a bitterness a few beats after the swallow. In between, a notably soft texture carries sweeter malts to support more catty hop flavor.
Drake’s Hopocalypse double IPA
Drink this fresh, springy IPA while the weather’s wet and warm. Complex aromas of rain, green leaves and garlic set the stage for a balanced sip loaded with grass and sweet pearl onion, the latter of which clings to a quiet but supportive malt background. There’s a little something for everyone in this sticky, bright brew.
Great Raft Grace and Grit double IPA
This Shreveport, La. brewery surprised us—in the best way—with this multidimensional, balanced double IPA. Re-released in February, Grace and Grit offers up garlicky, catty hop aroma that portends the strong green onion hop flavor to come. On the tongue, underlying malts add sweetness to balance assertive hops and contribute a pleasant mouthfeel. At 8% ABV, it’s at the lower end of the double IPA spectrum.
Green Flash Palate Wrecker imperial IPA
What does an exemplary double IPA taste like? Damn close to this. Grassy, sweaty hop aroma climbs over the edge of the glass. On the sip, green garlic and pronounced bitterness proceed a tickle of spice on the swallow. Even after sipping a few others before this, we could still taste every ounce of flavor in this textbook example of style.
Hangar 24 double IPA
This subtle, nontraditional, 96-point IPA might suit those averse to the style. The addition of orange blossom honey explains the subdued melon and white lily aromas, while a creamy mouthfeel cushions pronounced hop bitterness. Flavor doesn’t overwhelm the palate; here it’s about the interplay of honey and hops.
Headlands Hill 88 double IPA
Brewer Phil Cutti calls the style of hopping he uses to make Hill 88 “omakase.” A Japanese term (generally used for sushi menus) that translates to something like “up to you” or “as you wish,” it means that Cutti selects different hop schedules and recipes for each batch of Hill 88. The beer will always be 8.8% with 88 IBUs, but flavors may vary. The batch we tried offered floral, green pepper and herbal notes on the nose, followed by vanilla bean flavor, sweet malts and a lightly bitter finish to the sip. We’d call this an untraditional offering for the hop experimentalist.
Maui Brewing Lorenzini double IPA
If you’re a fan of shandies, you might take a walk on the hoppy side with this slightly tart, citrusy double IPA. While hop bitterness usually arrives toward the end of a sip, here it’s present right at the beginning with refreshing, juicy grapefruit and lemon for balance.
Sam Adams Rebel Rouser double IPA
Another entry in Sam Adams’ Rebel series (which includes Rebel IPA and Rebel Rider session IPA), the 8.4% ABV Rebel Rouser is a go-to for fans of dank, earthy hops. Note pineapple juice and earthy aromas before a creamy sip full of pine resin and dank hop character. A big, bitter punch punctuates the swallow.