Commercial Calibration: Imperial IPA
One way beer judges check their palates is by using commercial "calibration beers"—classic versions of the style they represent. Zymurgy magazine has assembled a panel of four judges who have attained the rank of Grand Master in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Each issue, they score two widely available commercial beers (meads or ciders) using the BJCP score sheet. Download your own score sheet, pick up a bottle of the beverages and judge them yourself!
Hop Into the Future
This edition of Commercial Calibration examines the imperial India pale ale, an intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and deep malt flavors of an American barley wine. The hallmark of the style is a heftier dose of hops and alcohol than an IPA, while accomplishing enough drinkability to keep it out of the "sipping-style" realm of barley wine.
The two Imperial IPAs examined by the Commercial Calibration judges were chosen because of their innovative hop bills. Farms across the world are cultivating avant-garde varieties of hops with exciting new characteristics, giving beers—particularly those of hop-forward styles—qualities otherwise not widely prevalent.
Rampant Imperial IPA, brewed by New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo., weighs in at 8.5% ABV and 85 IBUs. Mosaic hops, an experimental hop variety formerly known as HBC 269, instills a complex blend of floral, tropical, fruity and earthy characteristics along with notes of mango, lemon, pine and blueberry. Calypso hops, a derivative of Nugget, formerly known as 03129, provides hints of pear and apple. Centennial hops are also used to ensure a well-rounded hop aroma.
El Dorado Imperial IPA, brewed by Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Md., weighs in at 10% ABV and 70 IBUs, and is part of their single-hop imperial IPA series. El Dorado hops were developed in 2008, and released for commercial use in 2010. This variety of hop is known for its tropical fruit notes, with hints of pear, watermelon and stone fruit shining through. Stan Hieronymus, author of For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops, has likened the aroma to cherry Life Savers candy.
Read on for the full evaluation of Rampant Imperial IPA and El Dorado Imperial IPA by the panel of Commercial Calibration judges.
About the Judges
Our panel includes David Houseman, a Grand Master IV judge and competition director for the Beer Judge Certification Program, from Chester Springs, Penn.; Beth Zangari, a Grand Master level judge from Placerville, Calif. and founding member of Hangtown Association of Zymurgy Enthusiasts (H.A.Z.E.); Scott Bickham, a Grand Master III judge from Corning, N.Y., who has been exam director or associate exam director for the BJCP since 1995; and Gordon Strong, a Grand Master VII judge, principal author of the 2004 BJCP Style Guidelines and president of the BJCP board, from Beavercreek, Ohio.