The Washington Hop Mob Triple IPA Roadshow started at Brouwer's last Monday, and while it didn't inspire Pliny the Younger-style insanity, by the time I got there an hour or so in, there was a substantial wait at the bar to order and every table was claimed. Seattleites really do like their local triple IPAs. (The next three Roadshow events take place at Special Brews in Lynnwood tomorrow, Pint Defiance in Tacoma on March 5, and at Naked City Brewery back here on March 13.)
And there were a lot of local IPAs to try. Populuxe, Reuben's Brews, Stoup, Airways, Bainbridge Island, Black Raven, Elysian, Georgetown, Pike, Spinnaker Bay, and Strong Arm all turned in new huge beers, and Big Time, Naked City, and Two Beers rereleased ones they'd brewed before. Only Pike's had an estimated alcohol content by volume of less than 10 percent, and Two Beers' Ascension, which is more like Dogfish Head's notoriously boozy 120 Minute IPA than the Younger that brought about this madness, came out at over 15 percent. Pours came in 6- and 12-ounce sizes, which is more than enough for the average drinker or someone trying to sample more than a handful of the damn things. At Hard Liver, Brouwer's annual barleywine festival, 3-ounce pours are also available, and despite the refreshing nature of IPAs as opposed to the gut-punch sugar-crash feeling that comes with drinking barleywine, 3 ounces was about enough of most of these. If you want to try more than one or two of them and stay coherent, do what most regulars do at these things: bring a few friends, order a few pours each, and taste. It's easier on your wallet, your liver, probably your general composure, and definitely your head the next day.
That said, tasting over a dozen gigantic beers in one sitting isn't easy, no matter how you look at it. Giant, hoppy, bitter beers are palate wreckers (there's a beer by Green Flash, out of San Diego, called Palate Wrecker for a reason), and triple IPA is not a recognized beer style, so there's a lot of room for variance...
...When I think of triple IPAs, mostly I think of Otto in The Simpsons trying to get Springfield Elementary to spend their newfound oil money on "those guitars that are, like, double guitars?" but, like, triple, I guess, and with beer. They're excessive and more gimmicky than practical, less functional as refreshers or complements to spicy foods than their smaller counterparts, but that doesn't mean they don't have potential.
The beers I tried were surprisingly diverse, and not for a second did I feel like I was being barraged with a bunch of Pliny the Younger clones. Spinnaker Bay's Three Sheets To The Wind drank like a very good young American barleywine, while Strong Arm's Denunciation gave off barleywine vibes in its taste and pure rubbing alcohol in the nose. Georgetown's Kiss Ass Blaster tasted like a bigger and maltier take on their Lucille IPA, while Black Raven's Birdserker came out pleasantly thinner than some of the others and with an perhaps unintentional (but not exactly unwelcome) Brettanomyces character, giving it funkier, earthier characteristics than any of the other beers offered. Airways' Very Loud Lady, despite having one of my least favorite names, was a pretty pleasant barrage of tropical fruit flavors, and Pike's Hopulus Erectus was mild but very drinkable when compared to some of the other beers' extremities. The beers that have been around for a while—Naked City's Cry Me a River and Whiny the Complainer—were respectively thick with hop oil and sticky-sweet, perhaps closer to Pliny than a lot of the newcomers. That said, there's still plenty to try in the next few weeks. Reuben's Blimey That's Bitter! blew within three or so hours of being tapped, and others started to fall quickly to the excitement of both the crowd and, most likely, the brewers, who have something of a hit on their hands.
If you missed out last week and any of this sounds like a good time, check out the other Roadshow events, as sourcing enough hops to make these isn't the easiest or most cost-effective thing, making it unlikely that any of these will become regularly produced beers for most of these breweries. If you want to try all 14, have a lot of time on your hands, and want to not feel like you're putting yourself through some sort of punishment for the sake of completion, attend multiple tastings, try a handful, and do the same thing at the next one. It's much easier than trying to do it all at once—which can probably be done, but also almost definitely shouldn't be.