As if India Pale
Ales weren’t a big enough style of beer, brewers today are making some even
stronger super-hopped ales. Double IPA anyone? Or how about an Imperial IPA?
What will they think of next? Can they really top these hop monsters? I’m
not so sure. After all, there’s a limit to how much bitterness the human
palate can detect. And it may just have been reached with Smuttynose Big
Mind you, Smuttynose Brewing of Portsmouth, New Hampshire already has a
standard IPA. But that wasn’t good enough for them. They also do the Big A
IPA now as a part of their “Big Beer” series. And that’s fitting, because
not only is this a very big beer, it’s a beer that keeps getting bigger all
Here’s what I mean. Big A IPA was first released in May of 2002. Here’s the
ingredient and info listing from the brewery:
2 Row Pilsner
60° L Crystal
OG 18.4° P
TG 5.1° P
Northern Brewer Mash
Northern Brewer Bittering
East Kent Goldings Aroma
Northern Brewer, Challenger, East Kent Goldings Dry Hopping
70 IBU's Bitterness
Pretty impressive. Lots of hops here, folks, a respectable 70 IBUS of
bitterness, which is pretty darned good but by no means overwhelming.
Original gravity of about 1.073 assures firm, full body. Alcohol at 7%,
appropriate for the average IPA. But they didn’t stick with the same old
beer for 2003.
2 Row Pale Malt
60° L Caramel
IBU - 80
Amarillo Aroma & dry-hop
As you can see, the hops have changed. Gravity has stayed the same pretty
much, alcohol down a tad to 6.6%. But the beer got a bit more bitter at 80
IBUs. And that wasn’t enough. Oh, no. 2004 saw an even more bitter brew.
Pale (2-row) malt
Belgian pale ale malt
ABV - 9%
IBU - 100
Bittering - Magnum and Cascade
Flavoring - Horizon
Aroma - Ahtanum
Dry Hopping – Columbus
The alcohol content is really up there this year. And once again, we’re
getting some new hop varieties thrown in. We’ve gone from some classic
English hops in 2002 to Pacific Northwest varieties in 2003 and 2004. And an
amazing 100 IBUs of bitterness. Can’t possibly top this right? Wrong. They
did in 2005.
Pale ale malt
OG - 21° p; TG - 2.9° p
ABV - 9.2%
Bittering - Warrior, Cascade
Flavoring - Horizon
Aroma - Sterling
Dry hops - Columbus, Sterling
Are they serious? 120 IBUs? That’s a major league IPA. Generally, beers of
this strength and bitterness run the risk of tasting more like a barleywine
than an IPA. But Smuttynose has pulled this one off nicely, and I think the
beer maintains its IPA character quite nicely. The malt is certainly there,
but it’s certainly not cloying with all of those hops going on.
Tonight, I’m drinking a bottle of the 2005 release Big A IPA.
Smuttynose Big A IPA 2005 pours to a bright orange amber color with a
very thick head of densely packed foam. A very thick layer of Brussels lace
hugs the glass and follows the liquid all the way down to the bottom. The
nose is spicy and promises a true delight for hop lovers.
At first, you get a good dose of firm maltiness from the brew, though the
decision to stick with pale ale and pilsner malts leaves the beer less chewy
than it might be were they using a lot of caramel malt. Still, you will get
some chewy caramel character.
But as one might expect, the hops are the major attraction here. They start
out with a balancing bitterness, then gradually increase in intensity until
they simply burst with amazing bitter flavor in the finish. They’re a little
grapefruity, very peppery, a tad resiny, but mostly just really bitter. This
is a true hophead’s delight.
If I were you, I wouldn’t miss this beer. But I’m not. I’m me. And I’m
definitely not missing a chance at it.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For
reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.