There’s a certain breed of young, small craft brewers I tend to think of as “hyper American.” They’re brash, they’re in your face and they take no half measures. They embrace the extreme. Chicago’s Pipeworks Brewing Company is one of these “hyper American” breweries.
You visit their website and you get a sense of goofy irreverence immediately. Just look at the labels or take in the URL—it’s “pdubs.” Every other beer seems to be an imperial IPA or imperial stout. Some craft beer fans would bemoan a lack of subtlety, but when you do “big and bold” as well as Pipeworks does “big and bold,” it’s hard to complain. There’s a reason their limited releases have become some of Chicago’s most sought-after collector’s items.
I was a big fan of Close Encounter, their previous American-style imperial stout. Rather than simply ramp up the intensity in this year’s Closer Encounter, Pipeworks chose to add a new wrinkle by absolutely carpet-bombing this thing with American hops. It’s an 11% ABV monster that makes me seriously question the dividing line between “hoppy imperial stout” and “imperial black IPA.”
The aroma is intensely hop-forward, with citrus (largely orange) mingling with a strong whiff of Hershey’s-like sweet milk chocolate. I also pick up an intriguing mint note, but nothing emerges above and beyond the hops. It’s clear that this is going to be a much more hop-forward expression of the style than most roast-heavy imperial stouts.
The taste confirms the aroma while adding a few new layers of complexity. The chocolate flavors here are darker and more bittersweet, but they’re washed away quickly by a rush of orangey, minty and piney hops. It tastes like nothing so much as a chocolate-covered mandarin orange, which is a great flavor combination. The alcohol is present but not overpowering, lending the initially dry (for 11%) stout some sherry-like sweetness on the back end.
This is some very intriguing beer, and it really does make me question whether it’s truly a stout or an imperial black IPA. Ultimately I come down on the side of stout, thanks to its residual sweetness and more pronounced (“chewy”) body. It emphasizes its stout-like characteristics just slightly more than a black IPA would, but it’s still a very fine line. But when the beer tastes this good, does it really matter?
Brewery: Pipeworks Brewing Company
City: Chicago, IL
Style: American double/imperial stout
Availability: Limited, look for it while you can