DRAFT PICKS: The ‘official’ beer of spring (Or so I say)

With spring having finally arrived (NOT!!!), it’s time to look for some brews that may best express this season of the year.

I would suggest American Double IPAs could well be the official drink of spring. I know, I know, there are the Maibocks. We’ll talk about them another time.

American Double IPAs are basically India Pale Ales (IPAs), with attitude — and then some. They are generally hoppier than IPAs, (which is saying something), and often a lot more aromatic and floral — hence, a springtime beer!

Double IPAs are just that, double the pleasure, double the taste, double the ... just about everything. They are more full-bodied than most IPAs.

Double IPAs are sometimes referred to as Double Imperial IPAs since the “base” of some of this line of brews was occasionally a Russian Imperial Stout; sometimes — not always.

Look, class, it is often hard to tag or label specific beers or types of brew since the parameters are often so wide-ranging. Rarely are the characteristics of any one brew identical to the next in its defined category.

It might be reasonable to expect that if an IPA is sharp, acidic or herbal in its “construction,” a Double IPA would be sharper, more acidic or more pronounced in its herbal qualities. This, however, is not necessarily so. Some Double IPAs actually express much more balance than the “regular” IPAs do.

American Double IPAs really became a brewing force to be dealt with in Washington, Oregon and California when brewers began experimenting with a more enthusiastic use of local hops. Each new hop variety created new nuances of taste — some a bit more acidic, some a touch more fruity.

Back east, brewers continued, and to a far lesser degree, still continue to create more malt forward brews not having had access to the vast hop fields of the Northwest.

This is changing, however, as more and more hops are grown east of the Mississippi — including a rapidly expanding acreage in Michigan.

Double IPAs are “beefy” when it comes to the hops, and for many explorers they are a carefully learned and acquired taste.

Go slowly. Take your time.

There is a lot to be enjoyed in the hidden flavors created by a magical mix of hyper-hops and mature malts.

According to the good folks at Beer Advocate, the top 10 American Double IPAs include:

1: Heady Topper — The Alchemist

2: Pliny The Younger — Russian River Brewing Company

3: Pliny The Elder — Russian River Brewing Company

4: Citra DIPA — Kern River Brewing Company

5: Double Sunshine IPA — Lawson’s Finest Liquids

6: Double Galaxy — Hill Farmstead Brewery

7: Keene Idea — Alpine Beer Company

8: Abner — Hill Farmstead Brewery

9: Ephraim — Hill Farmstead Brewery

10: Bell’s Hopslam Ale — Bell’s Brewery, Inc.

Note that only one of the Top 10, the Bell’s, is readily available in this area on a seasonal basis.

As for the rest of the list ... if you happen to find a couple bottles of the Russian River Plinys floating around loose somewhere, don’t forget your favorite journalist.

Have a great spring while experimenting with new beer varieties.

Alchemy Hour Double IPA

Great Lakes Brewing Company


When considering the more hoppy, yet still well balanced Double IPAs,  Alchemy Hour certainly needs to be well up there at the top of your chart.

This Double IPA has a good bit of muscle (9.4 percent ABV), but doesn’t have a harsh or cutting amount of alcohol backlash. Quite the opposite, this is a nice, subtle brew for a Double IPA.

Alchemy Hour pours a light amber, leaning toward a muted orange color. There is a decent head that seems to start retreating as soon as it is poured. The head certainly doesn’t last too long. If you’re using the head as a “vehicle” in the aroma stage, get tucked into it pretty quickly.

This is a great spring welcoming brew with a strong fruit-floral presence right from the first sniff. There is something mildly tropical about Alchemy Hour with more mellow fruit scents (pear and mango) and a certain citrusy tartness as well. The hops are well forward, but the malt doesn’t surrender a place at the table. All the fruits and florals rest firmly and securely on a bed of malty caramel.

What the nose suggests, the mouth finds real and honestly expressive.

The hoppy florals and fruity tones are right up front at first wash. They also are well sweetened and balanced by the maltiness that carries through the first wash and subsequent sips.

Alchemy Hour is much tamer than many of this genre — not nearly as acidic as some, but still with a zesty kick. The hoppiness of this brew never gives in to other elements, but at the same time it is not as herbal as one might expect.

What explorers may find as a very demonstrative experience aromatically, becomes a lot more balanced when carefully rolled in the mouth.

This is not a heavy, full-bodied beer, but more moderate than some might expect. Personally, I appreciate the moderation. Despite the somewhat elevated ABV, I wouldn’t suggest this is a dry beer, or even that there might be a dry finish. It wraps up a bit sweet, but not sticky sweet.

If you are a huge IPA fan, this may be a bit too malty for you. If you are a more malty ale drinker, this may be a bit too hoppy.

I’ll take it for what it is — a most enjoyable Double IPA.

Plead The 5th Imperial Stout

Dark Horse Brewing Company


Plead the Fifth is a excellent dark, dark, dark (read: black), Russian Imperial Stout that logs in at a hefty 11 percent ABV. When poured well, a thick head of creamy dark beige foam forms and actually hangs around a bit. (Remember, oftentimes brews with a higher alcohol by volume don’t hold a head for a decent period of time.)

This brew looks quite creamy as you pour, and the first scent carries a creamy drink quality along with it. It’s heavy on the chocolate malts and just full of exciting aromas. There is a definite caramel base with strong support by the smell of darker fruits (maybe a bit figgy), and a lot of roasted malt tones (which often reminds me of burnt or brown sugar). There is a hint of molasses in the background.

First wash brings with it a deep, almost exotic, flow of creamy chocolate with mildly assertive vanilla tones and the dark fruits first recognized in the aroma stage. A touch of plum, but certainly the feel of ripe figs.

This is a very chocolaty drink. It is thick and creamy, with a kick of alcohol on the swallow. There is a little hint of coffee in there as well.

Plead the Fifth is very, very full-bodied. I’d suggest it could well be described as velvety.

With all the fawning, however, it is most important to note that this is a wonderfully drinkable brew — and very highly recommended to those who might be just thinking about venturing out into the darker, thicker beer drinking adventure that is Imperial Stout.

This is a good beginner’s RIS brew, and it is a wonderful sip for those who appreciate the genre as well. There is a little bit of punch to this stout. There also is the somewhat milk/cream feel of a more lactic milk stout.

Note: This one can really sneak up on you.

You’ll feel the warmth. This is a fine brew to enjoy in the company of good friends with convivial conversation. Sip slowly and roll each wash around well for the fullest appreciation. I wouldn’t suggest pairing this with food. I just don’t think this is a meat and cheese type of stout.

This is a fine, fine example of a Russian Imperial Stout.