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Hold it, which Blind Pig beer was one of the first Double IPAs?

Cheers to Martyn Cornell for calling out a list of the most influential” beers that was both embarrassingly America-centric and lacking in historic perspective and replacing it with his own “The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time.”

Given that I’ve sworn off railing against lists I thought I might sit back and enjoy, but reading through more than 100 comments I’m surprised that the inclusion of Russian River Blind Pig IPA has not been questioned. Look, I love Blind Pig. It is one of my favorite beers on earth. Drink it it next to a Double IPA, even one as good as Pliny the Elder, and the phrase “less is more” makes perfect sense. But there seems to be some confusion about chickens and eggs (or, in this case, IPAs and DIPAs) at Blind Pig Brewing.

Let’s start with the entry at First We Feast (where the silliness began):

RUSSIAN RIVER BLIND PIG IPA
From: Santa Rosa, CA
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.1%
Website: russianriverbrewing.com

Joshua M. Bernstein says: “Beer geeks rightfully praise Vinnie Cilurzo’s Pliny the Elder, the double IPA against which all others are judged. Thing is, the path for Pliny was blazed by Blind Pig, an IPA brewed to compensate for a flawed brewery [the beer was originally brewed by Cilurzo at Blind Pig before he brought it to Russian River]. Blind Pig’s equipment was so antiquated, off flavors were all too common. To compensate, he added heaps of hops, setting a bitter template that brewers worldwide now follow.”

Then consider how it ends up in Cornell’s “REAL 20.”

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I’m prepared to consider, as the pioneer of “hop forward” American pale ales, and the same consideration may be due to Blind Pig IPA, the first “double” IPA.

Blind Pig Double IPAAnd now revisit the story that Cilurzo has told many times about over his first “double IPA.” He brewed a beer he called Inaugural Ale in June 1994, the very first batch he made at Blind Pig Brewing1 in Temecula, California. Indeed, he said, “Our equipment was pretty antique and crude, so I wanted to start out with something that was big and, frankly, could cover up any off flavors.”

The beer contained between 6.5 and 7% alcohol by volume and Cilurzo calculated it had 100 International Bitterness Units (the actual number would have been much lower). It was aged on oak chips for nine months and served on the brewery’s first anniversary. He had special glasses made for the occasion, with the ingredients printed on the side. He described it as a “double IPA.”

“After that, we made it a tradition to make DIPAs for our anniversary. At our second anniversary, the beer was 120 (calculated) BUs. This was almost undrinkable at the time of bottling, but there was a small market for it,” Cilurzo says. “We had a tasting room at our brewery. Customers would bring their Blind Pig growlers back for refills, etc. The last drop of Second Anniversary Ale, out of the brewery’s last keg, filled (Stone Brewing Co. co-founder) Greg Koch’s growler.”

Quite obviously, this was a very influential beer, was one of the first Double IPAs,2 and is the parent of Russian River Pliny the Elder.3

But Blind Pig IPA was a different beer — brewed after Inaugural Ale, first simply called India Pale Ale, with 6% ABV and 75 calculated IBU (Cascade and Columbus), and later They Passed This Way IPA. It was an excellent beer from the get-go, but it did not blaze the path for Pliny or other Double IPAs.

*****

1 “Vinnie Cilurzo left Blind Pig to brew at Russian River Brewing in northern California, owned at the time by Korbel (the sparkling wine producer). When Korbel decided to get out of the brewing business, Natalia and Vinnie Cilurzo bought the brand name and opened a brewpub in Santa Rosa, later a production brewery. Cilurzo continues to brew Russian River IPA, but revived Blind Pig IPA after moving to Santa Rosa.

2 Mitch Steele revisits the discussion about who brewed the first commercial IPA in “IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale.” Recommended.

3 Pliny the Elder is 8% ABV and is made with several hop varieties not even available when Cilurzo first brewed Inaugural Ale.

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17 Responses to Hold it, which Blind Pig beer was one of the first Double IPAs?

  1. Martyn Cornell January 14, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    *Bookmarks this blog entry for future reference*

  2. Peter January 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    DIPA , though not the name, goes back a very long time indeed.Massively hopped beers of this strength were brewed in the 19th century. All they lacked was present day hop varieties but surely changing a hop variety doesn’t create a new style?If an apple pie is made with a new apple does this redefine an apple pie?
    Kristen England of the BJCP , wrote this about 1868 William Younger No. 3 Export “This one for sure looks just like the very first double IPA ever made.A crap ton of hops,a good amount of alcohol,100% focuses on the hop”

    • Stan Hieronymus January 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Peter – It seemed more relevant to post this with Martyn’s list, but the comment I left there is easily lost in that mass:

      “And as much as I appreciate beer made with a silly amount of hops, I’m curious to see how history treats the Double IPA ‘style.’ ”

      I do doubt, however, that Younger No. 3 Export would have the aroma expected in a 2013 DIPA.

      • Peter January 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

        I take your point but as I said , simply swapping the hops doesn’t constitute breaking new ground.It wouldn’t have had the same aroma but may well have had a lot.
        We have made massive strides in development of all beer ingredients but that’s evolution rather than revolution.
        The crux of the matter is whether something new is there rather than just being different.This is of course a matter of interpretation and opinion.

    • Ron Pattinson January 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      But No. 3 wasn’t a Pale Ale, but a Scotch Ale.

  3. dave January 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    Interesting post. Amazing how even “recent” history can get confused, none-the-less stuff from 50, 75, 100’s of years ago (the stuff being researched by Martyn, Ron, et al).

  4. Peter January 15, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    I’m not going to argue with Ron about beer styles ! But Kristen’s comment gave the impression that it drank very much like a DIPA.There must have been enough resemblance to cause the statement.
    Many people fed on the myths of brewing in Scotland will be surprised to find out that the Scotch Ale in question has a computed IBU of 113.

    • Stan Hieronymus January 15, 2013 at 5:21 am #

      You don’t want to get me started, Peter, on “calculated IBU,” particularly when referencing beers made with hops of questionable AA (age and storage).

  5. SteveH January 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Cheers, indeed, to Martyn’s list. Just finished reading the entry at his BLOG and love the history behind it all, not to mention the objectivity.

  6. Gary Gillman January 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Glad to finally pitch in here, Stan, I’ve followed your articles and writing for years.

    Of course there were very strong and highly hopped Scotch ales – and pale ales – in Britain in the 1800’s. They appear in old ads shown by Ron and Martyn in various postings on their sites and Ron has tabulated data on a few. But. The American DIPAs indeed have a very different aroma than those would have. Those probably smelled like you walked into a room of fresh Goldings or Fuggles bales.

    But any DIPA I’ve had has a massive citric taste (“pithy grapefruit” typically, sometimes piney) of the U.S. West Coast terroir. That alone entitles the beer to its own style, just as APA as a style differs radically from English pale ale.

    I look forward to reading your new Hops book, Stan, good work there. So much is written about beer but far less on its main distinguishing ingredient. This will fill a large gap.

    Gary Gillman

  7. Stan Hieronymus January 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Welcome, Gary. I agree that if you taste Cascades from Yakima and from the Willamette Valley you will quickly understand the important of “where” in hops (“terroir” if you insist), and Cascades from England will make it even more obvious.

    But European hops (which departed Mongolia more than a million years ago) and American hops (which left maybe a half million years later) are genetically distinct. As a result, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra, Centennial and friends contain compounds that produce the good stuff (pine, citrus, tropical fruits) and the bad (garlic, onion, cat piss) you don’t get in continental hops.

    • Gary Gillman January 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks Stan. And I’ve had my share of those strong onion/green pepper/cat’s pee beers, more in the early days of craft brewing. Fortunately these days brewers know which side of terroir their bread is buttered on. 🙂

      Gary

  8. Peter January 16, 2013 at 2:05 am #

    I’m still not convinced that simply using a hop variety with a different aroma profile invents a new style.After all, new hop varieties are cropping up (pun intended) all the time!
    I belong to the school that believes there are far too many so-called “styles”, many of which are simply variants of a parent style.
    My understanding is that Cascade is entirely of European heritage being three quarter Fuggles and one quarter Serebrianker, which comes from Russia.

    • Stan Hieronymus January 16, 2013 at 6:10 am #

      Peter – Just to be clear, I wrote the post to keep a bit of history clear. The beer brewed at Blind Pig with an excessive amount of hops was Inaugural Ale, not Blind Pig India Pale Ale. As I wrote over at Martyn’s blog, I think it is too early to say where these highly hopped beers, with aromas and flavors you only get from New World hops, fit in historically. That’s another discussion.

      Cascade was bred using open pollination, and contains compounds found in neomexicanus varieties and not European.

      • Stephen Beaumont January 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

        So, Stan, it was too difficult to just write “The beer brewed at Blind Pig with an excessive amount of hops was Inaugural Ale, not Blind Pig India Pale Ale”? You have to go make an entertaining and informative article about it?

        • Stan Hieronymus January 18, 2013 at 8:00 am #

          Maybe I just needed to come up with enough words to justify using the photo.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Blog of blogs: week ending January 20 - Beer Today - January 20, 2013

    […] Martyn Cornell’s amending of the 20 most influential beers list was highlighted in last week’s blog of blogs, but on his Appellation Beer site Stan Hieronymus takes issue with the inclusion of Russian River Blind Pig IPA not being questioned. There seems to be some confusion about which Blind Pig beer was really one of the first double IPAs. Read on here. […]

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