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.
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
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.