Monday, July 23, 2012

DIPA Blind Tasting: Heady Topper vs. Pliny The Elder vs. Pure Hoppiness

I opened my fridge the other day and had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.  I saw that I had a can of Heady Topper (The Alchemist Brewery, Waterbury, VT, 8% ABV) and a bottle of Pliny the Elder (Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa, CA, 8% ABV) sitting right next to each other on the bottom shelf.  As you may or may not be aware, these are two of Beer Advocate's current top 5 beers on the planet- #3 and #5, respectively, sitting behind the top-rated but nearly-impossible-to-find Pliny the Younger both overall and in the double/imperial IIPA category.  I figured, how often do you get a chance to put these two head-to-head since they're so narrowly distributed?  So I called in Andy, the Heady source, to join me in the excursion.  But then I saw that I also had a bottle of #94-ranked Pure Hoppiness (Alpine Beer Company, Alpine, CA, 8% ABV) lurking on the back of the shelf, and since it's my opinion that Alpine can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the IPA market, I threw that into the mix as well.  To make the tasting blind even though only two of us were involved, we did a two-stage serving- Andy left the room while I poured a pair of each beer, and then I left the room while Andy marked each pair in random order.  And then at the end, we matched how I poured with how he marked.

The results:
1) Heady Topper
2) Pure Hoppiness
3) Pliny
1) Pure Hoppiness
2) Heady Topper
3) Pliny

The criteria for ranking these was extremely nit-picky, because they're all so incredibly well-crafted you really have to dig to find some way to separate them. Overall, none of them are overly bitter even though they're double IPAs.  This may be exactly why they're all so highly-regarded- they're powerfully hoppy, but not so bitter that you can't taste anything else.  Well, at least until you've had a couple, by then your palate's pretty shot. They all have similarly light body and are on the dry end, with the malt providing backbone and balance but not much else. 

Andy thought Pure Hoppiness tasted like hoppy ice cream- piny and citrusy with a buttery aspect.  I picked Pure Hoppiness #1 because I thought it achieved an excellent blend of pine and citrus hop flavors, with the citrus winning out- this strong citrus character is a hallmark of Alpine's IPAs and is the exact reason why I love them so much.  We both agreed that Heady was the most bitter of the three; Andy picked out a bit of smoke, which allowed him to identify it in the lineup. In addition to the enhanced bitterness, I thought that Heady also seemed a bit boozy (despite it being the same ABV as the other two), and thus generally the most potent- which is why I picked it #2 over Pliny, I liked the boozy, bitter punch it gave me.  We both felt that Pliny was a bit weak, bland, and lacking in complexity in comparison to the other two- which is of course not to say that we thought it was bad, it just didn't quite measure up.

As we finished the tasting, I remarked that I'd probably pick a different order if we did it again, and sure enough I reversed Pure Hoppiness and Heady on a second tasting.  I suppose it could've been because at that point my palate was beating a hasty retreat, and Heady's extra oomph allowed me to taste it a bit better than the other two.  Andy's second tasting ranked them identically to his first one, which shows that the megaboner he has for Heady exists for good reason.

So all in all, an interesting diversion and a good way to waste a Sunday afternoon. It's really unfortunate that all three of these breweries have such limited distribution- Alchemist isn't distributed to the west coast, Alpine isn't distributed to the east coast, and Russian River is undoubtedly a rare commodity on the east coast if it makes it over there at all.  Each of these beers is a masterpiece, and the only thing better than drinking one of them is drinking all three.


  1. I ended up on your site after googling "blind dvda party", but I'm pleasantly surprised. Bravo!

  2. I've got reviews of Pliny and Hoptologist coming up soon, and also I did a mixing review of them both which will come later. I know a guy who drives to VT all the time, so I asked him to be on the Heady lookout for me.

  3. I think I will have the same opinion of mixed beer as I have of mixed whiskey. blech