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Imperial beer offers up a sweet but bitter taste | The Triangle
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Imperial beer offers up a sweet but bitter taste

The fall season is blockbuster time for seasonal beers. Late summer is when fresh fruit beers come out, which segues right into the harvest when Saisons, Marzens and all the pumpkin spice beers come into season. I dearly love these and all the other seasonal beers, but with the warm weather this week I decided to go back to a summer beer: Firestone-Walker Brewing Company’s Double Jack Imperial IPA.

Firestone Walker Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by Adam Firestone and David Walker on the property of Firestone Vineyard, located in Santa Barbara County, California. The company expanded due to increasing demand and purchased the SLO Brewing Company in Paso Robles, about 85 miles north of the vineyard, in 2001. At this facility, Firestone Walker has built the only current operational union brewing system, the Firestone Union. This system is modeled on the old Burton Union system, which was used on Burton-Upon-Trent to craft distinctive pale ales. The system itself consists of a number of connected oak casks in which the primary fermentation lasts six days before the brew is racked into a stainless steel secondary fermenter. These casks are 60-gallon medium to heavy toast American Oak and are used for approximately 20 weeks before being retired to the barrel aging room. The union system provides an increase in the complexity and maturity of the beer and adds some light smoke and vanilla character, all while maintaining an overall clean taste profile.

The beer poured a clear, dark gold to light copper color with no haze or sediment in the bottle. The head formed as a single finger of medium coarse, tan foam, which actually had some retention. This surprised me because I’ve found that many IPAs have very poor head retention. As soon as I poured this beer I got a face full of a massive grapefruit aroma. The grapefruit dominated and overpowered everything else at first, but after a couple of minutes I picked up some more pine and faint earthy notes. The taste was also dominated by the massive grapefruit citrus character and was very bitter up front. The mouthfeel was quite thin, which is fairly common with IPAs, although I expected the carbonation to be a bit higher than it was. The aftertaste in this beer was also quite bitter, but the citrus held on long enough to fill out the finish.

One thing that differed from some IPAs was the moderate sweetness. I personally think this is the secret to, and trickiest part of, brewing a good IPA: You need to have enough sweetness to make the beer drinkable while also not making the beer overly sweet. Examples of overly sweet IPAs are Dogfish Head’s offerings, although they have been getting better in recent years, while many micros offer extremely dry IPAs. I think another example of a well-balanced IPA is Victory’s Hop Devil, which is readily available here in Philly.

I really enjoyed this beer, and I think it’s a very good example of the imperial IPA style. I would recommend it if you like big IPAs, but I would caution new beer drinkers about this beer: It really is very bitter, and the grapefruit character of the hops is somewhat different than it is with many other IPAs.