Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Going Big on my 50th Birthday With Kevin Buckley’s Imperi-Ale 5.0

Whether surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking or drinking IPAs, there’s a fine line between “going big” and taking yourself out.

More’s not always better. Sure, it’s quite a thrill to land that gnarly jump or ride that killer wave, but there’s a point where raising the bar will eventually kill you. Sort of like with imperial IPAs – a bigger IBU doesn't usually translate as a better tasting beer.

With that challenge in mind, I asked my friend Kevin Buckley to work outside his comfort zone and brew a specialty “big beer” for my 50th birthday. Kevin doesn’t normally toil away making gigantic “hop bombs,” but he generously agreed to give it a go.

The marching orders: use all Oregon grown hops supplied by Indie Hops; use about 5 pounds per barrel (to match my 50th), and unleash it on the night of my roast, cold (two months hence). The name: Imperi-Ale 5.0.

Kevin brewed with our Nuggets (13.9% AA, high essential oils), Centennial (11.5% AA, also high in essential oils), and Cascades (8.5% AA) per the following schedule:

First Wort-Nugget 2#
60 min-Centennial 2#
60 min-Nugget 3#
15 min-Centennial 2#
15 min-Nugget 2#
Whirlpool- Centennial 1#
Whirlpool-Cascade 2#
Primary ferm-Cascade 5#
Dry Hop-Cascade 15#
Dry Hop-Centennial 6#
Dry Hop-Nugget 4#

Dry hopping with Nugget? We admired the pluck, but were a bit concerned. Although it’s not uncommon to dry hop with super alphas that also have high essential oil (e.g., Columbus, Magnum, Summit, Simoce), most of said oil consists of myrcene and we were worried about off flavors (cat piss, grassy or machine –yuck!). How would all those essential oils, mainly myrcene in the Centennials and Nuggets, react with the alcohol, Co2, yeast, sugars, and oxygen?

Surprise Surprise! The result was a highly drinkable, well-balanced, pleasantly fruity beer without the sharp bitterness you might expect from a hop-forward ale clocking in at 98 IBU. The 8.7% ABV proved dangerously unnoticeable, as my fired up and emboldened friends lapped it up and proceeded to pound me unmercifully. Hey, like I told my roasters: A true friend will stab you in the front! (quoting Oscar Wilde). It went quickly.

A few of the comments on the Imperi-Ale 5.0 from the not exactly naïve quaffers in the room: a mildly sweet front end with a touch of melon flavor… A clean transition to a gentle bitterness… Moves towards a citrus/spicy note nurtured by a warming bready-toasty character of malt…. Finishes with a crisp melon punch and caramel sweetness, capped by a touch of lingering bitterness…

As Kevin modestly explained: “This brew, while loaded with hops, was designed to be big yet enjoyable for all levels of drinkers. For the extreme hop heads, there are moments when the hop bitterness shines through. For those partial to red/English pales, there’s plenty of body and malt complexity.”

Thanks Kevin. You went Big and we enjoyed the ride. And thanks for experimenting with our Nuggets for dry hopping. It’s a credit to your brewing talents that you were able to land this hugely hopped beer with grace and style (in stark contrast to Mr. Solberg, who after a few hours of steady infusion fell like a Mighty Doug Fir).

Imperi-Ale 5.0 was launched last week and Kevin’s customers are loving it. There’s still a few kegs left, but you should probably beat a hasty path down to Backstreet Brewery in Vista if you want to taste this break out, all Oregon grown hops beer. Hey, to those of you who might’ve stereotyped IH as an aroma only outfit, we can go big with the alpha, too!

Roger Worthington


  1. The beer sounds tremendous and I'd love to try it on a homebrew scale, but we'd need to know the total batch size to scale down those hop additions. Can you help? Thanks!

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