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.'"