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Inspired by Heady Topper: a taste test of 6 big IPAs

Sebago Brewing Co.

By Gary Dzen Globe Correspondent 

One of the great feats in modern beer is Waterbury, Vt., brewery The Alchemist’s turning a most unlikely brew into a classic.

Heady Topper shouldn’t work, and yet the impossibly hoppy, 8 percent alcohol by volume behemoth drinks like a Lincoln Navigator drives, the double IPA’s rough edges smoothed out by incredible balance and aromatics. Consumed fresh, it truly is one of the best beers in the world.

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The rise of that bitter Vermont IPA has spawned a crush of big, canned IPAs and double IPAs, all vying for drinkers’ dollars. Are they any good? Let’s find out, with a random sampling of six:

Big Cranky, Stony Creek Brewery. There’s a lanky, colorfully plumed bird on the can and 16 ounces of a 9.5 percent ABV, 95 IBU (international bitterness units) double IPA inside. The first sip is way too big; seven hops fall all over one another, piling bitter on bitter. But as the beer opens up, there’s a soft, pleasant mango undertone unifying things a bit. Grade: D+

Fat Boy Double IPA, Big Elm Brewing. Brewed in Sheffield, this potbellied, 8.5 percent brew has a clean, grassy nose. It isn’t especially aromatic, with more resin and cereal character than the others. Grade: C

Whistle Punk, Sebago Brewing Co. Another big one, 8.2 percent alcohol by volume, with a picture of a buzz saw on the front (aggression is a common marketing theme in most of these types of beers). This is a grapefruit bomb, in a good way, a total citrus bath that hides the bitterness and ABV well. Grade: A-

Puff, Sixpoint Brewery. An unfiltered version of Sixpoint’s Resin. You’re encouraged to drink this hazy, 9.8 percent ABV, 108-IBU monster within 100 days. If you can, drink it within 20; the tropical fruit and tree sap flavors will only dissipate over time. Grade: B

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Santilli, Night Shift Brewing Co. Everett’s own Night Shift recently won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup for this beer, a 6 percent ABV IPA named after the company’s street, Santilli Highway. Lemony and balanced, it is a beer that doesn’t try too hard. Grade: B+

Ricochet, Backlash Beer Co. Backlash cans two beers, this and a Belgian blonde. The IPA is somewhere between a single and a double, 7 percent ABV, with a focused mango nose and a restrained bitterness. A solid, drinkable brew. Grade: B

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t always make for the best beer.

gary dzen


Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen