Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Let’s Check Out These Rich Brews

In recent years, there seems to have been a plethora of Double IPAs and Triple IPAs appearing in the beer coolers of America’s craft beer bars and on the shelves of local supermarkets.

It seems that every craft brewer when they have a special anniversary to celebrate brews a limited-release Double/Triple IPA or Imperial IPA.

There are even some Imperial IPAs that are available all year around now, such as the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA or Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (Pliny the Younger is still an annual limited release however!).

Normally arriving with a big fanfare and special launch events, the release of an Imperial IPA by many of the popular craft microbreweries is often a highlight of local events for much of the nearby community.

I’ve even been known to plan my annual leave in accordance with the release of “Pliny the Younger” and a road trip across the country.

Double and Triple IPAs, also known as Imperial IPAs, are a sub-style of the India Pale Ale that is constantly growing in popularity.

A Double IPA seems to be the answer to the question “How can we make an IPA even hoppier?”, and, having answered that question, American craft brewers are forever pushing the boundaries further with newer Triple IPAs.

All these beers are characterized by their high alcohol content and intense hop flavors and aromas. While both Double and Triple IPAs are known for their boldness, there are some key differences between the two styles that beer enthusiasts should be aware of.

Is a Double IPA Twice the Strength of an IPA?

clear wine glass with beer
Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

In short – no!

With the average ABV of an American IPA falling between 5.5% and 7% ABV (according to the 2021 BJCP Guidelines), doubling the strength of an IPA would give you a beer that goes well above the 7.5% – 10% ABV guidelines for a Double IPA. It’s probably closer to 1.33x the ABV of a standard IPA.

Trebling the strength of a traditional American IPA would give you an IPA with alcohol levels of anywhere between 15% and 21% ABV, closer to that of fortified wine or a spirit.

Instead, it’s better to think of a Double IPA as double the strength of a standard beer or session ale below 5% ABV. But the double isn’t just a reference to the alcohol by volume of the beer but also the hop and malt content.

Remember, the IPA originally came from England, where it was brewed as higher strength pale ale in the 1800s to help it survive those longer sea voyages to far-flung outposts of the Empire such as India.

Houston Hazier Double IPA
Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash

In addition to bumping up the alcohol content with more malt, this was balanced by more hops, also a natural astringent that helped the beer survive for longer periods.

Although we can now ship beer to the other side of the world on virtually the same day, the style has continued to exist, with the popularity of these higher ABV, hoppy beers making it one of the most popular styles worldwide.

In the early 1970s, the most popular type of beer being brewed by the enthusiastic homebrew scene was any beer type that was English.

The IPA as a beer style was first brewed in the US by the homebrewers before the commercial brewers of the early craft beer revolution hopped it up further with bigger and bolder American hops, as opposed to the earthy herbal hops of England.

The finished beer was very different from an English IPA, with a citrussy, piney, and often fruity taste.

Adding hops during fermentation and often dry hopping gives the American IPAs a much higher bitterness than their English counterparts, with some American IPAs topping out at over 70 IBU.

As American craft beer lovers, especially the hop heads amongst us, demanded beers that were even hoppier, the challenge for brewers was how to add more hops without the beer becoming too harsh or astringent.

The simple solution was to balance the hops with more malts, but this gives the beer more fermentable sugars and in turn an even higher ABV.

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Alcohol by Volume

Hop Rising Double IPA Double india Pale Ale
Image by Brian Child from Pixabay

A common myth is that the Double IPA was invented by accident when a California brewer added too much malt to his mash and decided to balance things with more hops.

In truth, the first Double IPA is widely recognized to have been brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo and was not quite as much of an accident as is commonly thought.

At the time at Blind Pig Brewery (now defunct), Vinnie was restricted to using older equipment on his first brew and was nervous about off-flavors in his first commercial batch of beer.

Knowing hops could hide any imperfections in the ale, he upped the amount of hops added to the beer and balanced it with a higher grain bill.

The result was Inaugural Ale, which was the first commercially produced Double IPA. Vinnie Cilurzo went on to found Russian River, which still produces the highly acclaimed Pliny the Elder Double IPA.

Inaugural Ale had an ABV of 6%, which, by today’s standards, would classify it as an IPA rather than a Double, but it did have a higher IBU of 100, fitting with the current BJCP guidelines for this beer style.

Double IPA Vital Stats (BJCP Style Guidelines 2021)

IBU60 - 100
SRM6 -14
OG1.065 - 1.085
FG1.008 - 1.018
ABV7.5% - 10%

There are currently no style guidelines for a Triple IPA, with no official lower limit or upper limit to the ABV too. It is generally accepted anything higher than the 10% ABV of a Double IPA is a Triple, although a debate does exist for the newer Quadruple or Quad IPA style.

The main difference between a Double and Triple IPA is the alcohol content. As the name suggests, Double IPAs have a higher alcohol content than regular IPAs, typically ranging from 7.5 -10% ABV.

Triple IPAs, on the other hand, have an even higher alcohol content, often reaching upwards of 10-13% ABV. The higher alcohol content in these beers is often achieved by adding more malt to the recipe, which also contributes to a fuller body and more complex flavor profile.

IPAs by Numbers

Session IPA3.0% - 5.0% ABV
American/English IPA5.0% - 7.5% ABV
Double IPA7.5% - 10% ABV
Triple IPA10% ABV +

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – The Hops

Green hops in a glass
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Another major difference between Double and Triple IPAs is the hop profile. Both styles feature a strong hop presence, but Triple IPAs take it to another level.

They are known for their intense hop bitterness and aromas, often featuring a combination of different hop varieties. The hops used in Triple IPAs are often chosen for their high alpha acid content, which contributes to the intense bitterness of the beer.

Double IPAs, on the other hand, tend to have a more balanced hop profile, with a focus on flavor and a pleasant aroma rather than just bitterness.

Modern hopping protocols call for a bittering charge to be added at the 60-minute mark of the boil with hops like Chinook or Simcoe giving the beer a nice bitterness.

When brewing a Double or Triple IPA, it is suggested you layer the hops throughout the entire brewing process to maximize the hop flavors and bitterness.

Many people argue that the dry hopping of an IPA can also affect whether it falls into the Double or Triple category. Both styles tend to be heavily dry-hopped beers and some may be classed as a double dry-hopped beer or a triple dry-hopped beer.

Although most of the hops will be added during fermentation, ancillary hop flavors come from adding more hops after the fermentation in the conditioning process, crucially while the beer is not boiling.

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Appearance

Pliny the Younger on the bar at the Windsor location of Russian River Brewing Company.
Image from Wiki Commons

The appearance of Double and Triple IPAs can also vary. Double IPAs tend to have a golden or amber color, while Triple IPAs are often darker and more opaque. The higher malt content in Triple IPAs can contribute to the darker color, as well as a more full-bodied mouthfeel.

Keyster Triple IPA

Image by Wiki Commons

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – The Grain Bill

Double IPAs will tend to be richer in texture than a standard IPA and can be more on the caramel/toasted side of the palate due to the additional malts added during the mashing stage.

Similar to a standard IPA, the majority of the grain bill in a Double IPA will be a domestic 2-Row or a pale English malt such as Maris Otter.

Normally an IPA would only fill 5% of the grain bill with additional specialty grains or Crystal malts although, with a Double IPA, this can often be as high as 15% specialty/Crystal malts.

A small amount of caramel malt can give the beer that hint of caramel flavor, while Vienna, Munich, and Wheat can also be added for a little more complexity.

Adding some dextrose sugar can allow the gravity of the beer to rise thus increasing the alcohol content and drying out the beer to allow the hops to shine more.

The main difference with the grain bill of a Triple IPA is the sheer amount of malt which is added to the mash, normally above 20 lbs of grains are used.

This gives the brewer a little more room to play around with the specialty malts, although they should still only make up 10 – 15% of the total grist.

Triple IPAs can be very tricky to brew, as you need to achieve a balance between the hop character, malt, and alcohol in order to keep the drinkability of the beer in check.

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Flavor Profile

The BJCP defines a Double or Imperial IPA as “an intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and/or deeper malt of an American Barley wine”.

They go on to stress the strongly hopped nature of the beer, with drinkability an important characteristic of the style. It should NOT be a heavy sipping beer or have too much residual sweetness.

The Triple IPA takes that flavor profile up a notch with outrageous amounts of dry hops, hop flavors, malt flavor, alcohol, and levels of bitterness.

Although it may be similar to a Double IPA in hop character it is very different in texture, with a thick, often syrupy, body accented with intense hop resins that make it more of a heavy sipping beer.

Keeping the drinkability of this heavier IPA in check can be the most challenging part of brewing a Triple IPA.

Examples of Double IPA

Popular examples of the Double IPA style include:

  • Bell’s Brewery Double Two Hearted Ale – an 11% ABV version of their popular Two Hearted IPA sold as a Double IPA
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA – hopped for the full 90 minutes of the boil, this Double IPA reaches 9% ABV and a staggering 90 IBUs of bitterness.
  • Lagunitas Maximus Colossal IPA – Lagunitas describes this 9% ABV DIPA as an IPA on steroids.
  • Stone Ruination Double IPA – At over 100 IBUs of bitterness, this 8.5% Imperial can literally ruin your palate, but in a good way.
  • Pliny the Elder – The original Double IPA (and some would argue still the best), this 8% Double IPA is available all year round, but in limited supplies.

Examples of Triple IPAs

A relative newcomer to the craft beer scene, you may have to look a bit harder for a Triple IPA, although the seasonal release of some makes headline news, involving large events at the brewery to mark the release.

Seattle even has a Triple IPA week where more than 30 Washington brewers show off special batches of their hoppiest Triple IPAs.

Other Triple IPAs to look out for include:

  • Pliny the Younger – The sibling beer to the infamous Pliny the Elder but clocking in at about 10.25% ABV, it’s released once a year in late March/Early April.
  • Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA – a 120-minute continuously hopped version of the popular 90 Minute IPA (DIPA), many would argue the resulting ABV of between 15% – 20% actually makes this a Quad IPA – but we’ll leave that debate for another day!
  • Stone RuinTen – first brewed in 2012 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Stone Ruination Double IPA, the first full-time brewed and bottled West Coast DIPA on the planet, this 10.8% ABV TIPA was so popular Stone has been forced to bring it out of retirement every couple of years as a Limited Time Brew. Watch out for it in April 2023.
  • Wrapped Like A Mummy by Monkfish Brewing – a 10.1% TIPA using Citra, Nelson Sauivin, Mosaic and Galaxy hops, Monkfish of California has been producing many fine Triple IPAs over the last decade or so.
  • Sierra Nevada Hoptimum – This Triple IPA from the king of the hops, Sierra Nevada, clocks in at 11% ABV but takes dry hopping to the extreme with 4 doses of dry hops and newer varieties of hops such as BRU-1 for outrageous fruity aromas.

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Food Pairings

When it comes to food pairing, Double and Triple IPAs have different profiles that can affect the pairing.

Double IPAs have a more balanced hop profile that can be paired with a wide range of foods. They pair well with spicy dishes, grilled meats, and strong cheeses.

On the other hand, the intense hop bitterness and high alcohol content of Triple IPAs make them better suited for pairing with bold flavors such as smoked meats, strong blue cheeses, and chocolate desserts.

Double IPA vs Triple IPA – Last Call

In conclusion, Double and Triple IPAs are both bold and intense styles of beer that are characterized by their high alcohol content and strong hop presence.

However, there are some key differences between the two styles, including the alcohol content, hop profile, appearance, and pairing options.

Some industry experts predict the Quad IPA could be the next big thing, but how far can we go with these hoppier beers?

The Triple IPA isn’t officially recognized as a beer style yet, so I think it’s gonna be a while before we see a Quad or QIPA category.

Beer enthusiasts who are looking to try something new should consider giving both Double and Triple IPAs a try in order to discover which style they prefer.

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