On Saturday (February 6, 2010) I attended “The Bistro’s 10th Annual Double IPA Festival” in Hayward, CA. This was my fifth time attending what has become a predictably wonderful beer event.
However, the DIPA Festival has also become quite expensive! This year’s tariff was $35 for a souvenir glass and just five small pours (4-5 ounces each). Additional drink tickets were $2 each. I remember when it felt expensive at $25 entry and $1.50 drink tickets.
An astonishing fifty-eight Double IPAs were on tap (with a couple of notable exceptions to the style), nearly all from California. The average quality was very high, certainly much more consistent than several years back. I’ve scanned and posted the complete list below (click the images to view full size).
I tried eighteen of the beers (but missed two of three winners of the formal judging, the results of which you can find on Jay Brooks’ excellent Brookston Beer Bulletin here). Following are my notes on each, listed in descending order by how much I liked the beer:
- Firestone Walker Double Jack (9.5/10): My favorite of the day, but not typical of most approaches to this style. Double Jack keeps the malt as an almost equal partner to the hops. There’s tons of both in this beer, and that’s how I like it.
- Green Flash Pallet Wrecker (9.0+/10): My preferred profile, with lots of bready (but clean) malt backing up the hops. Marin Brewing’s White Knuckle, which I didn’t try at this festival, is my go-to beer with this character. Of the Green Flash I wrote, “Great balance.”
Russian River Pliny the Younger (9.0+/10): The cult of this beer overpowers what can be rationally said of it. But yes, it’s very, very good – even great. Just feels more like a brewing parlor trick than an actual beer – a virtuoso brewer’s showpiece rather than something to be deeply enjoyed. No one else wrings as much flavor – and dryness – from the style as Vinnie Cilurzo does with Pliny the Younger.
- 21st Amendment Hop Crisis (9.0/10): The ultimate exemplar of the fruit-forward style of DIPA, where citrusy American hops are the king and malt there just for texture. I loved this year’s batch of this beer so much I had it again at the brewpub on Monday night.
- Speakeasy IIIPA (9.0/10): This brewery is really coming into its own after several years of boringness. The IIIPA tasted like juicy fruit, almost bubblegum. Was there wheat in there? Quite scrumptious, and noticeably different from many others I tried. Loved it.
Drake’s Donogginizer (9.0/10): This one’s becoming a local favorite, and I can see why. Just a great all-rounder. Heavy on malt, heavy on hops, but still relatively clean. A pleasure to drink.
- Moylan’s Hopsickle Imperial XXX IPA (8.5/10): This beer has changed a lot over the years (and seems they never know what to call it, either). But it has usually been very good, and the current version is excellent. I wrote, “Wow! All hop showcase. Less malt than others, but not bad for it.”
- Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (8.5/10): Nice, and different! I tasted grass, not just citrus and pine. Maybe some noble hops in here, like Saaz or Hallertau?
- Drake’s Hopocalypse (8.5/10): Edgier than Drake’s round Denogginizer. “Great hops, a little thin on the finish.”
- Rubicon HopSauce (8.0/10): The only beer I tried that placed in the formal judging. “Not overly hoppy, closer to a single IPA.” “Very good drinker.”
- Port Brewing Mongo IPA (8.0/10): I tasted this from a friend’s glass before knowing what it was. I said, “This is a really good regular IPA, but it’s out of place here!” Probably put itself at a disadvantage compared to its heavy hitting competition.
- Bear Republic 11 (8.0/10): Fascinating beer, and very well made, but not sure if it’s something I would want to drink regularly. Almost as if they denatured the hop flavor to focus primarily on bitterness – sort of like the essence of pure bitterness. My notes: “not too fruity” and “a little thin, some edge”.
Glacier Brewhouse Double IPA (8.0/10): The prettiest beer of the day. “Beautiful head – clear, dark beer.” And “malty.” But even though I prefer relatively malty DIPAs, this one didn’t have the accompanying hop character. “Like a bitter brown ale.”
- 21st Amendment Two Lane Blacktop Imperial Black (7.5/10): The “Black IPA”, pioneered by Stone Brewing with their Eleventh Anniversary Ale (now a regular release called Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale) is a favorite pseudo-style of mine. Adding that tiny bit of roasted flavor to the American IPA, and turning it black, just really appeals to me. But I didn’t love 21A’s attempt at a Black DIPA at the festival. Tasted little or no roastiness, and found the texture a little watery. However, I liked it better when I tried it again at their brewpub on Monday night.
- Lagunitas Hop Porno (7.5/10): Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid is often one of my favorite DIPAs (though the bottlings have wild variation, so you’re never sure what you’re going to get). But Hop Porno had an off-smell and initial attack that put me off. The middle palate and finish were great, but this beer didn’t hang together as well as some others.
- Fat Heads Hop Juju (7.0/10): This Cleveland brewery won the formal judging at a recent festival (maybe the IPA Festival?), but I didn’t enjoy this beer as much as most others. “Minty – wow, mint!” was my note.
- Bear Republic Five Zero (6.5/10): Still my favorite brewery overall for their sublime Racer 5 IPA and Hop Rod Rye, but their festival-oriented one-offs have not been big hits with me. Based on the name, I was hoping on some relative of the juicy Racer 5, but I noted Five Zero as “close to flavorless” (presumably in comparison with the other richly-flavored beers present).
And I should mention the dark horse unsung hero of all of this year’s San Francisco Beer Week Events, the “Imperial Common” brewed by a collection of San Francisco Brewers:
- SF Brewers’ Guild Imperial Common in Jack Daniels (9.5/10): Not a Double IPA by any stretch. Wonderfully round all-around drinker, close to a perfect beer. Barely a hint of barrel, perfect texture – not too thick, not too thin. A beer that just feels right. I’ve tried it four or five times so far over San Francisco Beer Week – every sip makes you know you’re in good hands. Spectacular accomplishment.
Another great event, very nicely pulled off by Vic Kralj and the team at The Bistro. Let’s just hope the prices stabilize or decline – there’s no longer a hop shortage to use as an excuse!