A rather large number of hopheads regard Russian River Pliny the Elder and The Alchemist Heady Topper as the two best imperial IPAs that ever were, and ever will be.
These two beers are absolutely phenomenal, and they’ve inspired something of a cult (Neil Patrick Harris is reportedly a fan of Heady). I’m a big fan of both beers, too. But the conversation that’s built up around them isn’t as easy to swallow as the citrusy, piney wash of beer: Endless online arguments over which is better (kind of a beer geek version of the classic East Coast vs. West Coast battle); declarations that Heady or Pliny are so great, they’ve spoiled all other beers—none can compare! OK, stop it.
There are other phenomenal hop-forward beers out there—as good as the two kings—that don’t receive the same amount of hype, but certainly deserve it. Chances are, you either haven’t heard of them, or simply haven’t had a chance to taste them. Allow me to introduce you to a few:
It’s jam-packed with all the classic hop flavors: juicy grapefruit and orange, fresh grass, a little weed and just enough cattiness to make you say, “wow”—plus, its subtle caramel-sweet backing perfectly buoys the hop flavors. But what catapults this beer into “this is one of the best double IPAs I’ve ever had” is its insanely smooth, creamy mouthfeel. It’s Alaskan’s new year-round offering, so check it out now.
Like Hopthermia, this Missouri-born double IPA floods the tongue with brilliant citrus, as well as fresh sweet grass and dank, sticky pine—the hop flavors are just immense. And, like the Alaskan offering (there’s a trend developing here), the prickly bitterness is understated, which means it’s the hop flavor that dominates each smooth swallow. This one comes out in May.
Anderson Valley Heelch O’ Hops
This incredibly vibrant beer explodes with hops: Dank pine and fragrant mowed grass take the lead, followed by those familiar punchy citrus notes. But, again, this one’s wonderfully creamy, with a toast-and-caramel malt backbone that lifts the hops into the spotlight. It recently scored a 98 in our reviews section, and is available year-round.
Griffin Claw Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA
There’s nothing raggedy about this showstopper. Technically, it’s an IPA (hence the bonus category) but the amount of hops packed into this beer suggests otherwise. Big pineapple and pungent, dank pine splash down in the front, and then merge with floral, citrusy notes for a deliciously complex swallow; subtle malt sweetness accents each hoppy sip. We tasted this for the first time last week, and haven’t stopped talking about it.
No “best of” imperial IPA post would be complete without mentions of the following. Stone Enjoy By. Bell’s Hopslam. Lagunitas Sucks. Hill Farmstead Abner. Kern River Citra DIPA. Alpine Pure Hoppiness.
Which imperial IPAs do you think deserve more hype?