NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Imperial IPA is now designated as Style 22A Double IPA in Category 22 Strong American Ale which includes modern American strong ales with a varying balance of malt and hops. The category is defined mostly by alcohol strength and a lack of roast.
An Imperial IPA, is a style American brewers came up with to satisfy their customer's insatiable appetite for more and more hops in their beers.
A DIPA is an intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale that is missing the big maltiness and / or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. It is strongly hopped, but clean and without harshness. It is a tribute to historical IPAs.
It's drinkability is an important characteristic; this beer should not be a heavy, sipping beer. It is meant to be enjoyed and quaffed. It also should be somewhat dry with little residual sweetness and less malt backbone than other beers in the strong ale category..
Other terms are just as valid, Double IPA or Triple IPA being the most popular. Some brewers test the physical limits of the properties of hops and add an insane amount in their recipes, vying for the most extremely drinkable example of the style.
The problem is that anyone can add a lot of hops to an Imperial IPA recipe, but making a delicious DIPA is much more difficult. Balancing the bracing bitterness and prodigious hop flavor and aromas with complex malt flavors is an art as well as a science.
Brewing an Imperial IPA isn't as easy as doubling an IPA recipe. You must brew a "drinkable" well balanced beer which is pretty difficult with the hop load in these beers.
You have to keep the Crystal malt character down and make sure the beer finishes dry, otherwise the beer will end up tasting like an American Barleywine.
A couple of things you can do to keep the finishing gravity low (thus the attenuation high) is to use a lower mash temperature, in the 149-150°F (65-65.6°C) range.
You almost have to add sugar to the beer to get the final gravity to finish low, one to two pounds is about right per 6 gallons.
The hop load in an Imperial IPA is usually so high that it doesn't matter which bittering hop you choose. It is however very important which flavor and aroma hops you choose because these characters are "extreme" in these beers. American hops are most often used in these beers.
If you look, you should be able to find many Pliny the Younger Triple IPA or Pliny the Elder Double IPA clone recipes. Many homebrew shops also offer clone kits. At MoreBeer.com, look for the Pliny the Elder All-Grain and Extract Beer kits. These would make great Christmas, birthday or just because gifts for the homebrewer in your life...or yourself.
References: Information for this article was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the Brewing in Styles section of Brewing Techniques magazine entitled India Pale Ale, Part II: The Sun Never Sets-- written by Thom Tomlinson, and the Wikipedia article entitled India Pale Ale.
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