I am a huge fan of Southern Tier Brewing Company. Their brewmaster and I seem to be on the same wavelength. Their Harvest special ale was a standout among fall beers. Pumking graced my glass as I watched trick-or-treaters maraud through the streets of Cooperstown on Halloween.
Phin & Matt’s is one of my favorite anytime ales. And I really think the Blackwater series was made specially for me (Mokah over Ben & Jerry’s vanilla is a beer float to die for). So, when I saw their Superpack in a Wegman’s in Canandaigua on a recent trip to visit my folks, picking it up was a no brainer. It is not your typical variety pack and not for the feint of heart. The 2XIPA is the lightweight in the pack at 8.2% ABV. Iniquity is an Imperial Black Ale with 9% ABV and Unearthly is an Imperial India Pale Ale at 9.5% ABV.
So, how were the beers? Needless to say, given their alcohol content, I didn’t have them all in a single session. Instead, they were part of my evening beer ritual and generally drunk with dinner.
The 2XIPA is, of course, a Double India PaleAle. High alcohol and lots of hops, but amazingly smooth and drinkable. It went down easier than many regular IPAs I’ve had and had extra body and complex citrisy flavors to boot. It was so well balanced that it might appeal to folks who don’t like super hopped beers. This is probably a dangerous beer, since I could easily have had several in one sitting.
Unearthly is Southern Tier’s signature super-hopped brew, an Imperial India Pale Ale, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t deliver in your face hoppy bitterness. That said, it is far from one dimensional. The hyper bitterness is carried on a backbone of caramel malt sweetness that works well. If you are a hop fan, this beer gives it to you from the first whiff to a long finish. I really enjoyed it.
I admit that the beer I was most excited about was Iniquity, an Imperial Black Ale. And IT IS AWESOME! I am a dark beer fan and you don’t get much (perhaps any) darker than this. It is black malty flavors like coffee and bitter chocolate with a little bit of char, but balanced with hop flavors. And it is so smooth. I am a fan.
Breweries should take note that this is a very unusual variety pack and the kind of thing that gets extra notice. Variety packs have become very popular. It seems like very few packaging breweries don’t have a basic variety pack to showcase their standard styles. And many are now doing seasonal variety packs. The next logical way to distinguish yourself (other than the overall appeal of your brand and quality of your brews) is the specialty variety pack that really showcases your difference as a brewer and brewery. The Southern Tier Superpack does that admirably by packaging three big beers that play to the extremes of hops and dark beer fans.
Incidentally, I was curious about whether there was an accepted definition of Imperial, Double, and Triple as applied to American beer styles. The basic answer appears to be no. They just mean a stronger version and can refer to an actual multiple of alcohol, bitterness, gravity, or ingredients or just a general idea that it is a stronger beer. If someone knows a better or more formal set of classifications, I would be interested to hear about them.