Know your beer: Imperial IPAs

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CINCINNATI -- While craft beer is still growing, most drinkers can
tell the difference between a stout or a lager, or even between a pale
ale and a brown ale; but what about when it comes to some of the
higher-end beers?

To help educate those new to craft beer and raise awareness about the
vast array of beer styles out there, #9beer is launching a new series
focused on examining beer styles that the average enthusiast may not
know much about.

We’ll also partner with our beer blogger friends to discuss what
people can expect flavor-wise from the beers, and good foods to pair
these beers with.

This month we’re starting with Imperial IPAs. According to the BJCP
Guide, (that’s Beer Judge Certification Program,) an Imperial IPA can
be described technically as:

“An intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness
and/or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped,
but clean, lacking harshness, and a tribute to historical IPAs.
Drinkability is an important characteristic; this should not be a
heavy, sipping beer. It should also not have much residual sweetness
or a heavy character grain profile.”

“A recent American innovation reflecting the trend of American craft
brewers “pushing the envelope” to satisfy the need of hop aficionados
for increasingly intense products. The adjective “Imperial” is
arbitrary and simply implies a stronger version of an IPA; “double,”
“extra,” “extreme,” or any other variety of adjectives would be
equally valid.”

An Imperial IPA should be in 7.5-10 percent ABV and 60-100 IBUs
(International Bittering Units) range but variances abound in the
American market. Click here for a complete description at the BJCP’s


The Cincinnati area has been lucky enough to be graced with four
strong contenders in the Imperial IPA category in the past month. We
sat down recently with LoveBeer, LoveFood’s Lindsay Bohanske and
BeerQuestABV’s Ian Hoopes to talk beer and pairings with four of
Cincinnati’s best examples of the styles.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Find out What's Brewing in Cincinnati

“Imperial IPAs are rather challenging beers to pair food with because
the hops are so aggressive. A basic principle of pairing is matching
the intensity of flavors. As a result, with Imperial IPAs you have to
look for foods with bold flavors such as pork carnitas or spiced lamb
dishes,” Bohanske said.

The bloggers recommend that you think about the flavor of the hops and
work with complimentary flavors when pairing with foods. Bohanske said
enthusiasts should think of flavors that work harmoniously but aren’t
necessarily the same.

“If you don’t like IPAs, you might try an Imperial IPA because they
can be more balanced. You owe yourself the chance to try the
Imperials, doubles and triples because it might help you enjoy hops in
ways that you didn’t think you could,” Hoopes said.

Courtesy of MadTree Brewing
MadTree’s Galaxy High

First up, MadTree has its Galaxy High on tap currently. It clocks in
at 10.2 percent ABV and 120 IBUs. A perennial favorite, the MadTree
brewers said fans should feel safe knowing it’s available to try at
the taproom most of the time.

LB: This features an herbal flavor with a hint of citrus. I get a
caramel malt backbone with the expected aggressive hop character. The
fruit I taste has hints of passion fruit with lots of pineapple and a
moderately bitter finish. I would call it “sweet pineapple.” You also
get the expected warmth of higher alcohol beer.

JF: I would add that there is a degree of that resiny mouthfeel that
you’ll get with Imperial IPAs. This beer will stick on your tongue for
a bit -- not that any of us mind.

Pairing suggestions: A great pairing for this beer would be grilled
pork tenderloin with a soy/citrus marinade. Try pairing with a
pineapple-cilantro salsa. If in need of a side dish, think arugula
salad with a simple, subtle lemon vinaigrette.

Courtesy of Mount Carmel Brewing
Mount Carmel’s Imperial IPA

Next up is Mount Carmel Brewing’s Imperial IPA. It’s the brewery’s
first in their Snapshot special beer release line. This imperial comes
in at 85 IBUs and 9 percent ABV.

LB: You’ll find an earthy character with this beer coupled with
citrusy, tropical flavors. You would never know this is 9 percent ABV.
For as approachable as it is, the complexity exhibits a intriguing
balance of flavors.

IH: It’s a complex beer. There is a bready-ness on the nose that you
may pick up immediately. For drinkers who are new to more hop-forward
beers, this may be more approachable but still a good example of the

Pairing suggestion: Kick up a hot dish of spicy chicken and waffles.
For those looking for a brunch pairing, the spice and sweetness of the
entrée will go nicely with the fruit and bitterness of this beer.

Courtesy of Rhinegeist Brewing
Rhinegeist’s Saber Tooth Tiger

Rhinegeist’s Saber Tooth Tiger roars in at the third position. The
Over-the-Rhine brewers describe this beer by saying “this beast is
strong and hopped to prehistorical proportions.” It clocks in at 95
IBUs and 8.8 percent ABV.

LB: This smells like watermelon and tropical fruit candy. It’s boozy,
balanced and finishes fairly clean. You can distinctly tell the
different hop characters in this beer. This finishes with a pine
character and medium heat.

IH: When it comes to Imperial IPAs, this is a well-balanced beer. The
aroma of the beer is very inviting. You may be able to pull out hints
of pineapple, but be warned – the aroma may be deceiving paired with
that hop-forward bitterness.

Pairing suggestions: Try a hot, spicy coconut chicken curry with this
beer. Serve it over rice and let the delicious melody melt together.

Courtesy of Fifty West Brewing
Fifty West’s Tripa

Finally, we have Fifty West Brewing’s Tripa imperial. While you can’t
get this beer right now, (though I’ve heard rumors of a few bottles
lingering behind the bar,) it was part of the pack that came out
recently. It weighed in at 11 percent ABV and “420” IBUs. We’re told
that if you want to get this beer, you should try their “Punch you in
the EyePA” while you wait for Tripa to return.

LB: It’s got a substantial malt aroma mixed with citrusy hops and an
alcoholic tingle. Fans of malt sweetness will enjoy this beer as it
borders on being an American barley wine. This beer will stick on your
palate so it is great to share with friends late into your session.
IH: This is an example of the style with a strong malt backbone that
will appeal to fans of denser, heavier beers. The malt in this results
in a sticky-sweet finish that can blur the lines between styles. This
beer is made for sharing and analyzing as you sift through its many
Pairing suggestion: You need a big flavor to go with this beer and
dairy is a great place to start. Think of creamy fondue with savory
meat to dip. Cheeses to consider include cheddar, Stilton, or other
big, bold options.


Don’t forget that imperials are pretty “big” beers. They’re best to be
sipped slowly and enjoyed – plus you’ll likely want something to eat
so pay attention to those pairings.

Also, Rivertown Brewing is close to releasing its DIPA/Imperial known
as “Hop Baron.” It’s available on draft now and bottles will be
available at your favorite shop soon.

Next month we’ll be looking at the wealth of pumpkin and other fall
beers that have come to spice the Queen City up a notch.

(Editor's Note: Lindsay Bohanske is also a sales rep for Cavalier
Distributing, which is the distributing partner of MadTree Brewing)

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For the latest Cincinnati beer news and entertainment, go to or follow Jesse on Twitter at @wcpojesse .

You can take part in the conversation at our #9beer Facebook page too!

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