Triple IPA is a fickle beast. The term has been around for a few years now, in increasingly wide use by breweries, but there’s little to no consensus of what makes a beer a “triple IPA” rather than the DIPA/Imperial IPA we’re all familiar with. The most recent 2015 BJCP guidelines certainly weren’t updated for triple IPA, and it hasn’t yet earned its own classification on rating sites such as BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer, either. So really: Can it be said to exist, when every place where it’s rated and quantified and judged simply labels it as a DIPA?
Is the term just a marketing ploy that some breweries adopted to signify a slight increase in ABV and hop rate? There’s certainly no consensus on an ABV limit necessary to earn the distinction—I’ve seen some triple IPAs with a “mere” 10% ABV, which in my view was always within the realm what was common for DIPA. After all—Dogfish Head doesn’t even refer to 120 Minute as a triple IPA, and that beer is a whopping 18% ABV. So in my eyes, if you really want to earn the triple IPA distinction, you need to at least blow past the 10 to 11% ABV range.
Noble Ale Works indeed reaches that point on their new triple IPA. Nelson, She Wrote weighs in at 12.3% ABV and features exclusively the sought-after Nelson Sauvin hop varietal, which is often described as having a complex blend of citrus, white wine and berry-like fruit notes. I’ve had it in single-hop beers before, but certainly never one this big. I was immediately excited to try it, given the fact that Noble Ale Works ended up in the finals of our last DIPA blind tasting for their Citra Showers brew. The result here is an interesting “TIPA,” one that retains the profile of a smaller beer in some ways while emphasizing its bulk in others.
Note: How great is this label?
On the nose, this beer is hugely hop-forward, which is actually sort of an impressive achievement on any 12% ABV beer, where malt/booze usually creeps to the forefront. Orange blossom floral notes and resin/grassy character give way to some of that “white wine” quality, but the biggest takeaway for me here is orange zest-like citrus. It smells pithy and bitter, like orange marmalade, followed by moderate caramel maltiness. Booze is surprisingly light on the aroma, which makes one’s initial impression of the beer seem lower in ABV than it actually is. I imagine that if I was smelling it completely blind, I would peg it as a strong IPA/lighter DIPA.
On the palate, the mouthfeel is thick and creamy, and it becomes much more clear that this is a big beer. Those citrusy, juicy hops are present, with a prominent melon/cantaloupe-like note as well. Booze comes out in a big way, and interestingly, it brings huge bitterness along with it. I often find that huge IPAs in this range ultimately seem less bitter on the palate despite huge IBU numbers because of all the accompanying malt sweetness and booze, but the dryer malt profile of Nelson, She Wrote (none of those deeply caramelized fruit/dried fruit flavors) actually allows the big bitterness to remain intact—again, like a smaller IPA. The booze, however, brings with it a sherry-like dessert wine quality that is slightly harsh.
How to synthesize all of those notes? The resulting beer is still a hop showcase more than anything else, chased by booze and bitterness. You get juicy citrus and resin, caramel maltiness (but more restrained than most in this ABV range), high bitterness and lots of booziness, but it still finishes significantly more dry than most other comparable TIPAs, which have a tendency to cross over into American Strong Ale/Barleywine territory. The profile is thus like an IPA/DIPA on steroids, and who knows—perhaps this is exactly the definition that Noble Ale Works is following for triple IPA.
It’s an intriguing beer, but personally I’d love to see the same profile in the 8% ABV range, without the encroaching booze. Still, it’s one that lupulin lovers will want to track down.
Brewery: Noble Ale Works
City: Anaheim, CA
Style: Triple IPA
Availability: 16 oz cans
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer and whiskey guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more beer content.