Lately, many breweries have been trying their hand at black IPAs.  Uinta’s Dubhe, an imperial black IPA, leaves a lot to be desired.  While the malt and hop elements are equally potent and noticeable, they don’t blend well and create a flavor that just doesn’t taste that good.  The malt component isn’t bad; it’s bold and chocolaty and yields a lot of flavor.  The main issue with Dubhe is the hops.  In-your-face for sure, the hops don’t fuse well with the malt side of things.  The average amount of hops you’d expect to find in an imperial IPA are there, but don’t taste very good.  They taste somewhat stale, aren’t smooth and yield very little citrus notes.  The sweetness from the hops, if any at all, is overpowered by the malt, so the only part of the hops you taste is the bitterness.  You taste this for the duration of the sip, and at the finish it only increases. The body isn’t too thick for what you’d expect of a black and imperial IPA mix, but the weighty flavors, mostly from the hops, make the beer seem thicker than it actually is.  Due to the subpar hop flavor it’s also less smooth than it would be otherwise. Eventually I didn’t want to finish mine.  You expect a lot more out of IPAs from the west, and this one didn’t live up to expectations.

Overall                 3/10
Color                    10
Thickness            7
Hops/Malt          3
ABV                       9.2%


Double Jack

This isn’t the best double IPA I’ve ever had, but Firestone Walker’s Double Jack is definitely on the top shelf.  As part of the brewery’s Proprietors Reserve Series, this beer spends extended time in bourbon and wine barrels to enrich flavor as much as possible.  What is produced is a double IPA that yields copious amounts of complex hop flavor.  The brewers call the combination of strong flavors in Double Jack “aggressive,” but they only seem that way if tasted individually.  Taken as a whole, the beer is smooth and the powerful flavors blend so well they’re hard to discern.

Above all else, hops are the most noticeable flavor element.  They control the scene from start to finish, and while they’re extremely pronounced, they’re easy to handle. Double Jack is very smooth and feels lighter in your mouth than you might expect.  The beginning of each sip greets you with a hop explosion, and as it continues, the same hop flavor is sustained.  While hops are by far the main flavor component throughout, by the end of each sip they are most potent.  The blow is lessened by citrus flavors, predominantly grapefruit, rounding it out.  It’s refreshing and satisfying, giving you all the hops you want – and more – without overpowering.  The trick to help balance the strong hop component is malt.  While the malt flavor never overcomes the hops, it provides what the beer needs by neutralizing some of the hop sweetness.  This also adds smoothness to the beer, making it creamy and smooth, which avoids any lingering flavors that throw off the beer.  To top it all off, the extended time Double Jack spends in barrels enriches the maltiness and smoothness.  The barrel aging further brings all the elements together, making Double Jack richer and deeper in flavor while adding even more smoothness.  Upon the first sip, this seems like a very simple imperial IPA, but the more you drink it, the more appreciation you gain.  The depth of flavor is noticeable from the first sip and only gets better as you drink.

For me, this is Firestone Walker’s flagship beer.  While I’m not rating it as high as Union Jack, for some reason Double Jack sticks out more for me.  Maybe I’ll put a finger on it someday, but for now, if given the opportunity to have a Union Jack or Double Jack, I’ll choose the Double.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    5
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          2
ABV                       9.5%

471 IPA

Before I departed for Colorado, I told myself that with all the great beers the state offers, I shouldn’t have too many IPAs.  But then I thought, since the West makes some of the best American IPAs out there, I should take advantage of it.  I decided not to think about it too much and just get whatever looked good to me at the moment.  Well, when our group found our way into one of Breckenridge Brewery’s pubs in downtown Denver, the first thing that struck me was their Small Batch 471 IPA.  Of course I ordered it, and I was sure glad I did.

471 IPA is Breckenridge’s double IPA, and it’s masterful.  There’s actually more types of malt than hops, but you wouldn’t know it other than noticing how smooth and balanced 471 is.  From the first sip you know you’re drinking a double IPA, but none of the issues that can come with a double IPA are present.  While the hop component is incredibly pronounced, it’s never bitter and doesn’t leave an aftertaste. The beer is actually very light while still having a savory, thicker mouthfeel.  The four types of hops combine to deliver a refreshing, sweet and citrusy flavor that is smooth for the entire sip.  It’s never too strong, never too light.  Each sip you take you expect the hops to peak at some point, and when you realize that the entire sip was a high point, you’re happy it doesn’t recede too quickly and leave a stale residue.  The aftertaste isn’t so much an aftertaste, but pleasant remains getting you ready for the next sip.  At no point does 471 weigh you down.  The hop sweetness is enough to satisfy, and the citrus is pronounced without being too sweet.  Each sip is a joy, and if it wasn’t for having to make dinner a reservation, I probably would’ve kept drinking it all night.

This beer is available in bombers and six-packs, but beware, because it is on the pricey side.  The other day I bought a six-pack because I was thinking about it and was lucky enough to find it at my local liquor store.  Out of the bottle I’d give 471 a 9 out of 10.  It’s still excellent, but is lacking something you can get on tap. On tap (and made down the street) it’s a perfect double IPA.  If you’re a hop fan you won’t be disappointed.

Overall                 10/10
Color                    6
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          2
ABV                       9.2%

"Good people drink good beer." - Hunter S. Thompson