For many of BC’s hopheads—craft beer lovers who prefer hoppy IPAs—Central City’s brewmaster Gary Lohin is da bomb. He’s a hophead himself, and he loves using citrusy sweet, tropical-tinged hops that explode with aroma when you pour his beers in a glass. I still remember the first time I popped a green can of Red Racer IPA and smelled the wave of citrus and pine bursting out of it. Wow. It instantly became my favourite BC beer. Over the years since then it has remained at the top of the IPA list for me, although there are now some serious competitors out there (Fat Tug and Switchback, for example).
As IPAs have become the flagship beer of the modern craft brewing movement, brewers have looked to push the envelope by brewing stronger versions, such as the so-called Imperial IPA which generally runs 8-10% ABV with an even more potent dose of hops. Sometimes these attempts result in a confusing muddle, but when done right, it can create an incredible beer. I love well-made Imperial IPAs because to get that added alcohol boost, a higher original gravity is required (basically the sugars derived from the malted grains which are converted into alcohol during the brewing process). This brings a stronger foundation of malt into the flavour profile, balancing out what are often rather one-sidedly hoppy beers.
The recent launch of Central City’s Imperial IPA in 650-ml bottles (bombers) was a big event for a variety of reasons. First of all, the beer has generally been available only as a seasonal brew on tap at the Surrey brewpub or occasionally at places like the Alibi Room or St. Augustine’s in Vancouver. I have been known to rearrange plans upon receiving a tweet that it was on tap somewhere nearby. But the very fact that it was released in a bottle was big news, too, because up until now, Central City has only ever packaged its beers in cans. Apparently, this marks the start of a new Limited Edition series in bombers, which will include Lohin’s award-winning Thor’s Hammer bottle-conditioned barley wine and a special bourbon barrel-aged version of the same. BC’s beer geeks are salivating, especially those who don’t live near the brewpub and haven’t been able to enjoy these amazing beers before.
This beer is absolutely gorgeous: dark orange with a thick, whip cream head that doesn’t disappear, coating the sides of the glass with legs a Can-Can dancer would die for. One of my favourite things with orange-tinged IPAs is the turbulent blizzard that occurs as the beer settles in the glass after pouring. It’s something about the colour combinations that makes it look so cool, or maybe all those hop fumes just leave me delirious…
Wow. There are so many potent, mouth-watering aromas here. It’s mainly citrus: sweet grapefruit is dominant, with tangerine in there, too. I find the tangerine aroma grow as I drink the beer to the point where I start flashing back to childhood memories of Tang (do they even make that stuff any more?). There’s a little bit of pine in there, too, but the other main scent is tropical fruit—mango, passion fruit.
The sweeter, richer, maltier base I hope for in Imperial IPAs is there, right up front, giving the beer a solid foundation to showcase a huge bucket full o’ hops. The tropical/citrusy hop flavours match the nose, but they aren’t overwhelming in spite of the fact that this beer runs in the 90 IBU range. The sweet maltiness keeps the bitterness to a minimum—I think the regular Red Racer IPA might even come across as more bitter. This is actually a very quaffable beer; the extra alcohol is not really noticeable. Might be best to only keep one bottle in the house or you’ll be tempted to open a second one as soon as you have polished off the first one.
This Imperial lives up to the promise of its heavy head of foam—it is creamy and thick tasting, very malty, almost chewy. It coats the palate nicely, and the residual aftertaste can be savoured for a long time, that is if you are able to resist taking another sip.
I remember sitting with Gary Lohin at a cask festival in his brewpub last year. I asked him what he was drinking and he smirked guiltily before admitting it was his own IPA rather than any of the more than 20 special brews from breweries up and down the west coast that were being showcased that day. I mention this not to imply he is self-centred, but rather as an example of why I think this beer is so good. Gary loves IPAs and he wants his own to be absolutely perfect. This Imperial IPA is no exception to that rule. It is an exceptional beer.
So why don’t I give it a 5/5? To be honest, I marked it down because of the price tag. Only available in private liquor stores, this single bottle topped $10, and personally, I just find that too expensive for what is equivalent to about a third of a six-pack. I’m sure this beer is more expensive to make but when you can buy an Amnesiac Double IPA (8.5% ABV) from Phillips Brewing in the government stores for under $5, it’s hard to justify the price. But that’s my only real quibble with what is otherwise a top-notch beer.
Total Score: 22.5/25
~ Joe Wiebe