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Top 5 Triple IPAs of 2012: Pliny The Younger Be Damned

Drinking double IPAs is so 2011.
Drinking double IPAs is so 2011.
Sarah Bennett

See also: Top 6 Los Angeles Breweries to Watch in 2013

It seems that every year, brewers across the country align on some psychic wavelength that motivates those with adventurous spirits to expand on a new, emerging beer style. Last year, anniversary beers and specialty one-offs became double black IPAs -- roasty, hoppy, boozy guys that warm the soul while wrecking palettes.

2012, however, was the year of the triple IPA -- an amped up version of the already-amped-up double IPA style made popular by the annual release of Russian River Brewing Company's much sought-after Pliny the Younger. The hype surrounding the brew -- which every Spring brings lines of obsessive's to bars offering first-come-first-serve pours of the stuff -- is almost understandable since until this year, Pliny the Younger was one of the few examples of this resinous, bitter style in existence.

Triple IPAs are such a new style that most national competitions (including the Great American Beer Festival) have yet to recognize it as its own distinct category, forcing most of the high-alcohol, hopped-to-hell beers to compete under "Imperial/Double IPA" headers. But the actual line between a double and a triple IPA is amorphous at best.

Some say that any IPA over 10%ABV should be considered a triple. Still, beers that might fit the ABV and hop-burn requirements -- such as Knuckle Sandwich from Fullerton's Bootlegger's Brewery -- are still labeled as a double IPA, leaving the term "triple IPA," at this point, more of a marketing preference than an official style.

Lack of official recognition, however, does not make the triple IPA any less formidable. We spent this year stumbling across nearly a dozen samples of the beefy style and before 2013 brings even more experimentation (smoked black saison, we're looking at you!), we wanted to remind ourselves of the best five. Turn the page for the best locally available versions of these hop-head wet dreams.

5. Moylan's Hop Craic XXXXIPA

First released during San Francisco Beer Week in February, Moylan's Hop Craic is the Novato, CA brewpub's highest octane IPA. Though labeled not as a triple, but a quadruple IPA, this beer has all the qualities to land it on this list: 10.4%ABV, hop oil extract and a bitterness level so high it makes the brewery's almost-too-bitter double IPA Hopsickle seem tame by comparison. Hop Craic (pronounced "crack," means "conversation" in Irish) only came to L.A. in a few kegs, but spare yourself the uncomfortable bitterness and drink an easier-to-find Hopsickle instead.

4. Beachwood Brewing Dank Epoch

Given its penchant for hop-heavy pales and IPAs, it makes sense that the only L.A.-area brewery that has made a triple IPA so far is Long Beach's Beachwood Brewing. Dank Epoch, released for the brewpub's first anniversary party in July, is a surprisingly drinkable golden IPA with 10.7%ABV, tons of fresh citrus notes and a finish that is far more dry than hop burn. This beer is so dangerously good that it left one Beer Advocate user to say it "should be renamed 'Don't know how I got home.'"

3. Knee Deep Simtra

Simtra is the most readily available of all the triple IPAs on this list--bottles can still be found lurking in L.A.'s beer bars and at BevMos or Whole Foods across the Southland--an awesome fact because it is also one of the best. Simtra is a heavy 11.25%ABV beer that gets its name from its two main hops, Simcoe and Citra. With a nice malty backbone to balance out the pine and grapefruit notes, Simtra is another frighteningly drinkable triple IPA.

Ruination 10th Anniversary at the Stone Company Store in Pasadena
Ruination 10th Anniversary at the Stone Company Store in Pasadena
Sarah Bennett

2. Stone Brewing Company Ruination 10th Anniversary

Stone's year-round double IPA Ruination is one of the oldest examples of the style, and its continual production since the early 2000s has easily made it a classic among hop heads. For Ruinations 10th anniversary this summer, however, the kings of SoCal-style beers couldn't just release more of the same; so they added twice as many hops (about five pounds per barrel, including a pound each of Citra and Centennial in the dry hop) and loaded up the alcohol content to 10.8%ABV, turning the stalwart double IPA into a triple IPA worthy of Stone's arrogance.

Top 5 Triple IPAs of 2012: Pliny The Younger Be Damned
Drakes Brewing

1. Drakes Black Label Hopocalypse

Maybe it was because this beer made its SoCal debut around Valentine's Day, but we fell in love with Drakes' limited black-label version of its annual double IPA seasonal, Hopocalypse. The regular white-label Hopocalypse alone has enough orange and tropical fruit attitude to satisfy any hop urges ("it boasts a hop arsenal of Magnum, Chinook, Simcoe, Citra and CTZ," says the brewery's website), but the black-label triple IPA pushes the concept of an imperial pale ale to the limit with 12.5%ABV, a bouquet of hop aromas and flavors as well as a smooth mouthfeel that rarely comes in IPAs of this magnitude. Good for both smelling and drinking (and in a dream world, maybe swimming), the black-label Hopolalypse alone might be worth a trip to 2013 San Francisco Beer Week.

See also: Top 6 Los Angeles Breweries to Watch in 2013