This thread on Usenet, while starting out as a review of an Oktoberfest beer, takes to task the trend of brewing "Imperial" style beers. For some background, "Imperial" originally referred to the Russian Imperial Stout style of beer, which is a highly-hopped, high gravity stout with alcohol typically in the range of 8 to 12 percent by volume.
Then some innovative American brewers took the "Imperial" characteristics and applied them to the India Pale Ale (IPA) style, creating the Imperial IPA (which is a recognized style category by the Beer Judge Certification Program). The result, of course, is an even hoppier, stronger IPA.
Naturally, the adjective "Imperial" is (rather arbitrarily) now being used to describe a stronger version of a classic style of beer that was not necessarily strong before. Hence, we see beers like:
- Rogue‘s Imperial IPA and Imperial Pilsner
- Avery Brewing Company‘s The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest (the beer that initiated the Usenet thread above—it’s a whopping 9.3% ABV!)
- Full Sail‘s Imperial Porter
And so on.
Back to the pushback against imperial beers… Personally, I don’t see any problem, they’re just another type of novelty beer. Every brewer at some point has experimented and gone crazy and come up with something completely different. Hell, I’ve been contemplating brewing a barleywine style beer using wheat malt… Imperial Hefeweizen, anybody?
The best criteria, of course, is whether a "new" beer is any good—if it’s good, it will succeed, and if successful enough, it might even grow from novelty to mainstream. Why not? Imperial IPA started out exactly the same way, and now it’s an official style of beer.
And hey, I’ll never have a problem with a good strong beer…