Starr Hill’s King of Hop, a “DIPA” first released in July of 2014, is a bit of an odd beer. For one, it’s labeled as “imperial IPA,” but the ABV is a mere 7.5%, which is just about the upper limit set for the style of single IPA by the Beer Judge Certification Program, although commercial examples of single IPA tend to go up to 8% ABV and maybe a bit beyond. In our own exhaustive blind tasting/ranking of 116 American IPAs last week, we set an 8% ABV limit for single IPAs. But a 7.5% “imperial”? That’s an oddity. This is a beer that would have fit in perfectly to our single IPA tasting if not for the word “imperial” on its label. How could we include it, when it’s labeled as such? Ultimately, the brewery gets to decide what kind of style their beer is supposed to be judged against. That’s their prerogative.
With that said, the people at Starr Hill have gone and produced a rather exemplary beer here, which has us wondering: What is going on these days over at Starr Hill? Although it’s not like the brewery has ever had a bad reputation, it lately seems like all of their offerings have been performing extraordinarily well to our scrutiny. The red IPA Reviver, for instance, ended up with a ranking of #31 of 116 American IPAs, just barely missing out on a space in the 25 finalists. A while back we also got some of their Bandstand, a 13.5% barleywine aged in bourbon barrels. A 13.5% barrel-aged beer from Starr Hill? Come again?
On some level, what it reminds me of is the phenomena I wrote about in my review of the new-ish Wrought Iron IPA from Abita, that of a brewery with some history turning over a new leaf and making leaps forward to adjust to the ever-transmogrifying craft beer marketplace. In a field as defined by novelty and experimentation as craft beer, things simply change incredibly quickly. Breweries that don’t adapt get left behind in the dust, even if they have plenty of good will and nostalgia behind them. Being founded in 1999 makes Starr Hill significantly older than most of the breweries making waves in the scene these days. But these new releases speak toward an awareness of the market’s evolution and a willingness to release appealing new flavors.
But enough market analysis—you probably do expect at least some description of the actual beer. King of Hop is an intensely fruit-forward IPA/DIPA, with a strongly tropical aroma that hits the grapefruit and especially pineapple particularly hard. It’s also a bit floral and sweet in the nose, with a bit of caramel. It’s an absolutely fantastic aroma that reminds me of zesting fruit in the kitchen and the pungency of the oils that are released.
The flavors, on the other hand, are a bit less assertive. This beer is very light of body, especially if you didn’t take note of the ABV—it’s just about the lightest DIPA in the world, but also one of the most refreshing DIPAs I could imagine. Once again it’s very tropical fruity, with grapefruit and big hunks ‘o pineapple, although it’s not really as sweet as the nose would suggest. There’s also some very pleasant malt flavors—cereal grain and a bit of light caramel, just for a tad of balance and to keep it from tasting like tropical punch. The (relatively) low ABV clearly helps keep it on the drier side, and simultaneously boosts drinkability. It’s all zest and pith, a big fruit bomb, no doubt about it.
Drinking this beer, I can’t help but think it would have performed well in our actual ranking of single IPAs, and that it would be well-received into that particular style. Why it’s labeled on the extreme low end of the DIPA style will likely remain a mystery, but it really doesn’t matter to anyone less anal retentive about these things than myself. Whatever it is, and whatever the hell it should be labeled, it’s still a very good IPA for those who enjoy juicy, tropical fruit flavors that still stay on the drier side.
Brewery: Starr Hill Brewery
City: Crozet, VA
Style: “Imperial” IPA
Availability: 12 oz bottles, formerly 22 oz.