Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is Pliny the Younger the Best DIPA? Nope!

Instead of 6 month it only took 6 or so days to get some real beer talk going.  I'm improving. The last post I did before dropping off of planet beer was a comparison of Heady Topper and Fat Head's Head Hunter DIPA. Since I left off with hops I'll come back the same way. And there is no better time than now since Philly hop heads are all a buzz over the annual arrival of Pliny the Younger.

Philadelphia is one of a handful of cities outside of California that receives Pliny the Younger. So when it hits the town the rush is on.  This year I relied on Twitter to ensure I got my PtY fix. After getting a tech geeks version of a heads-up I slid into Teresa's Next Door for a couple glasses of the hoppy elixir.

Pliny the Younger @ Teresa's Next Door
Is it worth the hype? Should you stand in line for hours or pay an outrageous amount for a few precious ounces?  Been there done that, so for me, no. However it is a great IPA. This year's version is fantastic. Big fresh hops is what this is about. It's very well balanced, so no over the top bitterness or cloying sweetness. The danger is that even at 11% it's too easy to drink.

For years Pliny the Younger has been put on a giant hop pedestal and worshiped.  Sure it's great but there are some serious contenders for the title of ultimate IPA. Both Heady Topper from The Alchemist in Vermont and Abrasive out of Surly Brewing in Minneapolis are serious hop forward beers. They come in 16oz cans, which may be my favorite format for IPAs.  Whats not to like about big cans? No light creeping in to destroy those delicate flavors, lightweight and of course, more beer than a 12 oz bottle. I've gushed about Heady Topper many times. A couple posts back I have it besting Head Hunter IPA. For me it goes above PtY and sits on the top of hop hill.

With that said I recently had the chance to have Abrasive DIPA. Amazing!  Opening the can gets you an immediate aromatic hop wave to the face. The flavors are big tropical fruits: grapefruit, orange, tangerine and mango. The hops are dank and resinous with an aggressive piney bitterness. This pulls up along side Heady Topper and although it doesn't pass it, it hangs in there neck and neck. If you are lucky enough to have a can, drink it now.

A real surprise came from Evolution Brewing in Maryland: Lot No. 6 DIPA. A fantastic flavor mix of mango, tangerine, orange zest, toffee and hints of pepper. The sweetness balances out the piney resinous blend of Citra, Columbus and Centennial hops. Great to see this newer brewery putting out such a high level DIPA.

As it is with life with the good comes the bad. Not necessarily bad, but unfortunately disappointing. Two beer that I always have at the top of my DIPA list were shockingly lacking this year. Bells HopSlam and Troegs Nugget Nectar both seemed to have slipped against the competition. HopSlam while still offering a big mix of citrus and pine, seemed sweeter with more of a malt background. Nugget Nectar (bottle) lacked that impressive hop profile that you expect from a DIPA Imperial Ale*.  However the cask version did not disappoint. For both Nugget and Slam it might not be that they are fading but simply that the new kids in the glass are bringing it bigger and better when it comes to an impressive hop experience.

Double IPAs continue to grow in popularity. Each year more and more offerings hit the shelves.  Pliny the Younger while still a fantastic representation of the style has serious competition for the title of "The Best DIPA". Heady Topper and Abrasive deserve serious consideration. Other brewers such as Lawson's Finest Liquids, Hill Farmstead, Tired Hands and Alpine certainly have beers that could jump into this race. Unfortunately I didn't have any to compare. Hopefully I'm lucky enough to have another lineup of beers worthy of a PtY comparison.

*I was reminded that Nugget Nectar is not a DIPA.  Yes I know it's an Imperial Red Ale.  Because of its hop forward profile it tends to get lumped in with IPAs. My bad! Taking that into account it still seems to be under performing when compared to past years.

DIPA Rankings
1. Heady Topper
2. Abrasive
3. Pliny the Younger
4. Lot No 6
5. HopSlam
6. Nugget Nectar


Jeff Kupko said...

Nugget Nectar is an Imperial Amber, not a Double IPA.

Scoats said...

I know this is splitting hairs but Pliny the Younger is a triple IPA. Elder is a double. So Elder probably is the beer that should have been compared to the others on your list.

It's a nice list either way though.

Kevin said...

As fun as the mystique is with all these beers, it is a bit much for me to chase these beers down anymore. I love PtY but I have had it, and stood in line for it, and paid handsomely for it. For me you get all the hops and balance you need in Fegley's Hopsolutley triple IPA. At $53/cs. I will put it up with PtY dollar for dollar.



Brian P said...

Kevin, There was a time I chased Younger all over Philly. Not happening now. I've had two glasses and I'm good. I'm not a big fan of hopsolutley. To me it seems boozy and unbalanced.

Brian P said...

Scoats, My months away from the computer have obviously left my mind a bit numb. True Russian River does list PtY as a triple buy I have seen it listed as an Imperiial IPA and even a Double. Honestly the lines become so blurred between them. If I had blind tasted these without knowing what I was drinking I doubt I could tell which was a double and a triple.

Brian P said...

Jeff, Yeah the whole Imperial Red Ale thing makes me laugh a little. Come on now. Basically it's a slightly maltier DIPA. You are right Nugget isn't a true DIPA but I always see it compared to DIPA's.

My true issue with Nugget Nectar isn't even how it compares to the big boys on the list, but rather how it stacks up against itself from past years. The batch I had just didn't do it for me. Tough to put my finger on it but the big hop profile seemed muted. Not a fan this year.