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Imperial ESB vs. IPA


john b
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On my annual search for winter/Christmas beers, I picked up Clipper City's Winter Storm, which the label says is an "Imperial ESB". ABV is 7.5%.

It tastes like an IPA to me. Am I missing something, or should there be a difference between the two styles??

John

"I can't believe a roasted dead animal could look so appealing."--my 10 year old upon seeing Peking Duck for the first time.

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There may be some subtlety of style or balance that I'm not aware of (We have any BJCP judges in here?) that would make an imperial ESB different from an IPA, but it makes sense to me that they could be very similar

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They are, by definition, similar beers. The main difference should be that the Imperial (as the name denotes) a richer beer (though still refreshing and not treacly) with a very full mouthfeel and a more pronounced nose than an off the shelf IPA.

That link that I have included is pretty handy as a guide and is still the standard used for AHA contests and generally as a guideline for the GABF.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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They are, by definition, similar beers. The main difference should be that the Imperial (as the name denotes) a richer beer (though still refreshing and not treacly) with a very full mouthfeel and a more pronounced nose than an off the shelf IPA.

That link that I have included is pretty handy as a guide and is still the standard used for AHA contests and generally as a guideline for the GABF.

How do beer judges look on beers that are created outside of the official categories?

There doesn't seem to be a category for "Imperial ESB". I see American brewers slapping the name "Imperial" on things like Pilsners.

On a practical level, the word "Imperial" seems to connote a richer, higher alcohol version of the same style.

An "Imperial ESB" seems fairly redundant, as ESBs are usually already higher alcohol versions of English Bitter Ale. Aren't you heading towards barley wine territory if you make them stronger and richer?

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Erik Ellestad

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An "Imperial ESB" seems fairly redundant, as ESBs are usually already higher alcohol versions of English Bitter Ale. Aren't you heading towards barley wine territory if you make them stronger and richer?

EXACTLY!! Even an Imperial IPA is basically a Barleywine! OK, barleywine light, maybe. I don't buy into all the 'Imperial this and Imperial that' crap. With the exception of the original Imperial, Imperial Stout. If you make a bigger, maltier, hoppier ESB, won't that be an English barleywine!? How 'bout Imperial Pilsner? Kinda sorta sounds like it might be bordering on a Hellesbock. Just 'cause ya can throw more stuff into a beer and make it bigger, doesn't mean that it is a new category.

Bob R in OKC

Bob R in OKC

Home Brewer, Beer & Food Lover!

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An "Imperial ESB" seems fairly redundant, as ESBs are usually already higher alcohol versions of English Bitter Ale. Aren't you heading towards barley wine territory if you make them stronger and richer?

EXACTLY!! Even an Imperial IPA is basically a Barleywine! OK, barleywine light, maybe. I don't buy into all the 'Imperial this and Imperial that' crap. With the exception of the original Imperial, Imperial Stout. If you make a bigger, maltier, hoppier ESB, won't that be an English barleywine!? How 'bout Imperial Pilsner? Kinda sorta sounds like it might be bordering on a Hellesbock. Just 'cause ya can throw more stuff into a beer and make it bigger, doesn't mean that it is a new category.

Bob R in OKC

I once ordered an Imperial Lite and got a plain old beer. :biggrin:

John

"I can't believe a roasted dead animal could look so appealing."--my 10 year old upon seeing Peking Duck for the first time.

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An "Imperial ESB" seems fairly redundant, as ESBs are usually already higher alcohol versions of English Bitter Ale. Aren't you heading towards barley wine territory if you make them stronger and richer?

EXACTLY!! Even an Imperial IPA is basically a Barleywine! OK, barleywine light, maybe. I don't buy into all the 'Imperial this and Imperial that' crap. With the exception of the original Imperial, Imperial Stout. If you make a bigger, maltier, hoppier ESB, won't that be an English barleywine!? How 'bout Imperial Pilsner? Kinda sorta sounds like it might be bordering on a Hellesbock. Just 'cause ya can throw more stuff into a beer and make it bigger, doesn't mean that it is a new category.

Bob R in OKC

There's a difference between an ESB and an IPA. An ESB is all about the perfect marriage of hops and malts, which have to be in near perfect harmony to work. An IPA, on the other hand, is all about dominant hop flavors which steal the show from the malts. Moreover, an ESB is probably made using British hops while an IPA in the US will probably be made with American hops. ESBs are supposed to be served fresh, young, and yeasty. IPAs need a little bit of age to develop a rounded flavor.

If a brewer says that their beer is an imperial ESB, they're saying something about the finesse of their ESB as they incrased both malts and hops but maintained perfect harmony.

Brewers are free to call their beers whatever they want. Styles are merely historical conventions based upon what combinations taste good.

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Well said, aschbren, and welcome to eGullet.

Here's what I love about the so-called Imperial, or Double, IPA's...IMO they are a pretty tangible way of trying to access the appeal of the 'original' IPA. O.g. in the 1.070's or above, check, IBU's in the 100's, check, PALE (meaning no real caramel character aside from kettle caramelization), check, seriously attenuated, check....(if it seems to anybody following along that I am describing Stone Ruination, well, ...I think that's the point).

In other words, the Brits abandoned the style and have taken to just labeling their highest gravity beer as an IPA...so hells, yeah, I'm more than happy that we reclaimed it.

As to the Imperial ESB... I guess I'd have to try a few first. Imperian Pils definitely border on Hellesbocks, but still stand as a substyle of their own, IMO. A lot of substyles have historically done just that, though. We beer geeks may be able to tell a German Pils from a Helles from an Export from a Czech Pils on sight but yer average consumer probably couldn't pick between those shades of grey. So what if it takes a bit of experience to navigate the sub-styles? It's not a new concept.

aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

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A couple of years age Diamond Knot Brewery in Mukilteo, WA put out an Imperial ESB that was simply wonderful. This brewery is known in the NW for its IPA and it’s Double IPA, which they call “Industrial IPA”, so it was no surprise that their Imperial ESB while quite malty with lots of chocolate and biscuit malt flavours, but it’s other big signature was that it was dry hopped warm for a month with Willammet hops. The resulting beer was a malt and hop party, with each vying for attention as the flavour evolved. Truly a great beer that they have sadly not since reprised.

Generally the “Imperial” label for an American beer says to me “bigger”, usually being bigger alcohol and a bigger profile of whatever the beer style being imperialized is known for. I’ve had Imperial Pilsners that were clearly not helles bocks, for they were far too happy for that, being, well, bigger pilsners. I find it an appealing feature of American brewing that the envelope is there be be both respected and pushed, and the Imperial or Double label on a brew tells me it’s a pusher and I want to try it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think Imperial is a fine descriptive adjective... it is evolving into the language like lots of words do. It went from being solely associated with Russian Imperial Stout (which was brewed really big for shipping and market demand reasons), to then being applied to beers that are brewed similarly big compared to the the base style. That works just fine for me.

My issues, however, are the compulsive drive to invent whole new style guidelines to accommodate this convenient adjective, and the stylistic confusion that happens when people don't think about what they're brewing, but rather what they're calling it.

I have never been a style brewer. I brew beers that I like, and if they're not within the lines that the BJCP wants me to color inside, then too bad. If you want to brew a great big example of a particular style, go right ahead... just don't invent a new style definition so that you can claim that you've "brewed to style". You haven't, but your beer may still be really good.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I think the whole "imperial this" and "imperial that" beers being made are just a bunch of crap from people who cant think of a better term for "hopped out the ass", which admittedly wouldn't look that great on a bottle label.

But I'd sure like to see someone try.

But then again, there is a wall that you hit stylistically when all the hops in the world doesnt make the beer any better. I mean, shouldn't beer be made to be ENJOYED?? This hopped out the ass stuff is rarely truly enjoyable. It's more the stuff of a one trick pony.

Rich Pawlak

 

Reporter, The Trentonian

Feature Writer, INSIDE Magazine
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Matter of taste, I suppose, Rick. I've got an "imperial" IPA recipe that has about 8oz of hops in it all told, that I really do enjoy; it definitely counts as "hopped out the ass", but the way the recipe's set up, it's not a masochistic glass of bitterness so much as a play on the flavor and aroma of the two hop varieties I used.

(and to be fair, there aren't many commercial super-hoppy beers I enjoy because of the way I perceive an overuse of bittering hops)

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I think the whole "imperial this" and "imperial that" beers being made are just a bunch of crap from people who cant think of  a better term for "hopped out the ass", which admittedly wouldn't look that great on a bottle label.

But I'd sure like to see someone try.

But then again, there is a wall that you hit stylistically when all the hops in the world doesnt make the beer any better.  I mean, shouldn't beer be made to be ENJOYED??  This hopped out the ass stuff is rarely truly enjoyable.  It's more the stuff of a one trick pony.

I'm afraid I totally disagree.

There are a number of aggressively hopped beers with a big malt bill that I truly enjoy. Brewers such as Moylans, Southern Tier, Alpine, Great Divide, Bell's, Three Floyds, Ballast Point, Midnight Sun..... The list just goes on and on.

You may not like the style and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But those are your tastebuds and I would hope you would respect that others may have a different point of view.

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IPA, of course, refers to an India pale ale. These were super hopped but otherwise simple English ales. The additional hops were added to aid in their preservation on their long voyages to India. ESB's in my experience are both quite hoppy and malty, i.e., full bodied and bitter.

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I think the whole "imperial this" and "imperial that" beers being made are just a bunch of crap from people who cant think of  a better term for "hopped out the ass", which admittedly wouldn't look that great on a bottle label.

Actually, around here (Oregon), the term "imperial" usually means "malted out the ass." That is, a beer whose malt factor and alcoholic content is higher than one would usually see for that particular style. So, an IPA would be highly hopped, and usually have higher alcohol content too. But an Imperial IPA would amp up the malt and acohol factor even more. Of course, the higher malt profile means the beer could stand a higher hop profile too (bitterness and flavoring). So, sometimes Imperials have more hops too. But the key to the term Imperial is more malt and alcohol.

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Actually, around here (Oregon), the term "imperial" usually means "malted out the ass." That is, a beer whose malt factor and alcoholic content is higher than one would usually see for that particular style. So, an IPA would be highly hopped, and usually have higher alcohol content too.  But an Imperial IPA would amp up the malt and acohol factor even more.  Of course, the higher malt profile means the beer could stand a higher hop profile too (bitterness and flavoring).  So, sometimes Imperials have more hops too.  But the key to the term Imperial is more malt and alcohol.

Very good post.

That is what Imperial means to us on the East Coast as well. By definition, a higher alcohol version of any style would have to use more malt to bring up the ABV.

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I think the whole "imperial this" and "imperial that" beers being made are just a bunch of crap from people who cant think of  a better term for "hopped out the ass", which admittedly wouldn't look that great on a bottle label.

But I'd sure like to see someone try.

But then again, there is a wall that you hit stylistically when all the hops in the world doesnt make the beer any better.  I mean, shouldn't beer be made to be ENJOYED??  This hopped out the ass stuff is rarely truly enjoyable.  It's more the stuff of a one trick pony.

I'm afraid I totally disagree.

There are a number of aggressively hopped beers with a big malt bill that I truly enjoy. Brewers such as Moylans, Southern Tier, Alpine, Great Divide, Bell's, Three Floyds, Ballast Point, Midnight Sun..... The list just goes on and on.

You may not like the style and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But those are your tastebuds and I would hope you would respect that others may have a different point of view.

You have named very talented breweries with very very talented brewers, who can achieve a balance and produce a hoppy beer that is enjoyable. I love hoppy beers, always have, but the extreme beers being made now are often too extreme to be enjoyed wholy, especially when in the hands of inferior brewers.

Rich Pawlak

 

Reporter, The Trentonian

Feature Writer, INSIDE Magazine
Food Writer At Large

MY BLOG: THE OMNIVORE

"In Cerveza et Pizza Veritas"

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