The Beer: The Maharaja (Release No. 26)
The Brewery: Avery Brewing Company
Location: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Imperial India Pale Ale
Stats: 10.2 percent ABV, 102 IBU
The Maharaja is part of Avery Brewing Company's Dictator Series, and according to the brewery's website, "the Avery Dictators Series was born of an inexorable need to trek further into the depths flavor: all three of the Dictators represent an exploration of beer flavor through the medium of traditional ingredients." A glance at the label of this beer explains, "the maharaja" translates to "great king." The descriptors go on to inform the drinker to expect a "regal, intense, fierce and mighty" ale — which is pretty accurate, especially for a huge beer that checks in at more than 10 percent alcohol by volume.
Style: Imperial IPAs are considered the pinnacle of hop-forward beers. They can be upward of 120 IBU (international bitterness units) and The Maharaja is right up there at 102 IBU, made with, as Avery Brewing says, a "deranged amount of hops." Experts say the human palate cannot identify bitterness levels much beyond 100 IBU, though Imperial IPA diehards may disagree.
Aroma/Flavor: If an IPA is a showcase of hops, then an Imperial IPA can be described as a full-out hop assault. Flip off the cap and pour this monster into a snifter glass to enjoy the aromatic sensations of this hop festival. Fresh-squeezed ruby red grapefruit envelops the senses, followed by the perception of alcohol warmth with background notes of tartness and earthiness to support. Fans of heavy-handed use of hops will likely appreciate the immediate and substantial hop blast. There is no denying this is a big beer as the alcohol fights for dominance among the grapefruit from the hop oils.
The ale pours a clear copper color producing an off-white head made up of extremely small, dense bubbles with amazing retention. The beer's head is where much of the aromatic experience comes from, and the long-lasting foam continues to project the hop party Avery's brewers have created. (Side note: This is also why it is so important to pour a well-made craft beer into a glass. It's impossible to experience what the brewer intended when beer is consumed straight out of a bottle or a can.)
Bitter grapefruit and warm alcohol lead the flavor parade, masking the malt backbone to a certain degree. Once the beer passes through the palate, the drinker is left with a pleasant graham cracker-like aftertaste that helps to reconcile the extreme hop battleground that came first. The alcohol is not subtle in any way, creating both a complexity as well as a back of the palate spicy burn. It can be somewhat of a distraction in its strength.
Mouthfeel: The almost full-bodied and fairly carbonated beer produces a super-creamy ale that leaves beautiful layers of Belgian lacing, which is reminiscent of rings on a tree trunk. With every sip, you get a new ring on your glass. The carbonic bite, along with the alcohol warmth, leaves a slight, though not quite astringent, burn.
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Strength: This beer is not for the faint of heart. At 10.2 percent ABV, each glass is the equivalent of two and a half light beers. Best to be enjoyed on the couch over a long weekend.
Pairing: When pairing any food with any drink, one rule is always true: Balance your flavor intensities. It will take a substantial dish to stand up to a beer of this size and strength. Though Avery's website suggests pairing with shrimp cocktail, try pairing The Maharaja with a hearty dish such as extra smoky BBQ ribs. Or try taking a different route and pair this beer with music. Both are sensory experiences and it takes a big, heavy and long song to fully appreciate a beer of this magnitude. This writer recommends listening to Iron Maiden's "Alexander the Great" — a song of appropriate length and strength, not to mention one of history's other great kings — while slowly sipping this massive beer.
For more information about The Maharaja or Avery Brewing Company, please visit www.averybrewing.com.