On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the surging popularity of high-alcohol craft beer. The three debate why these double and triple IPAs are so appealing right now and discuss why the trend caught the beer industry by such surprise.

For this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try New Belgium Brewing’s Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA. Tune in for their thoughts.

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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters. I’m Adam Teeter.

Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.

Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.

A: It’s the Friday “VinePair Podcast.”

Z: Friday, indeed.

J: I feel like we need an air horn.

A: We also need something else to talk about besides what we drank, but something in a transition until we get into the subject. Can’t always be TV, prestige TV.

Z: We’ll take suggestions: [email protected].

J: Yeah.

A: Any fashion labels you’re into right now?

J: What?

Z: No.

A: No, I like Sid Mashburn now, too. That look. Come on. I’m swimming…

Keith Beavers: You look good.

A: Living my life. Thank you, Keith.

Z: I have literally no idea what you’re talking about, but that’s cool.

J: It’s okay.

A: Keith’s just noticing I look really good now.

Z: Oh.

K: Swimmer’s body.

A: Yeah. Anyways…

J: No one can see my eyes rolling right now. It’s okay.

Z: I can hear them.

A: I can.

J: You can hear them?

A: I can.

Z: Yeah.

A: I saw Joanna was like, “Why am I here?”

J: Yeah.

A: “Help me.”

Z: I feel like we could talk about, not long form, but something we read recently that we liked. Literary this sh*t up a little bit.

J: Okay, for next time.

A: Yeah.

J: For next time.

A: I’m going to pass. Instead, have you guys eaten or drank anywhere that you were really into? Any memorable meals recently?

J: In Atlanta, we had a lot of really wonderful stuff. I think a highlight for me was Talat Market.

A: Really?

J: Yeah. This Thai place was amazing. Their food was so good. I ate a majority of it, but it was so good. I was really impressed with that. Good on you guys.

A: Good on you, Talat Market.

J: Yeah.

A: Zach, have you been anywhere recently?

Z: Oh, that’s cute. My sister made pizza for us the other day. That was nice.

A: Oh, that’s nice.

J: Nice.

Z: My sister and my brother-in-law. We went over to their house.

A: That’s great.

Z: Saul got to put toppings on, which he enjoyed.

J: Oh.

Z: Big fan.

J: Did he put on salmon sashimi?

Z: No. If it had been an option, it would’ve never made it on the pizza in the first place. It would’ve all made it inside of him. No, but he’s gotten very into pesto lately, which is cool, so they had that.

J: Oh, nice.

Z: We had one pesto pizza. We tried it on noodles relatively recently, and he was like… The way that only a child can, he was like, “Dad.” I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “I like pesto now.” I was like, “Cool. I like pesto also. We can have it more often.”

A: That’s good, man.

J: Oh.

Z: Very serious. How about you, Adam?

A: Oh, so for me, I talked about Ingas on Monday. That’s probably the best meal dining experience I’ve had.

J: What kind of food is it?

A: It’s the former chef from, I think, from Diner and Marlow & Sons.

J: Oh, okay.

A: It’s he and his wife that owned this old bar in Brooklyn Heights. Now, they’re doing really interesting salads, the burger’s good, I had a pork chop, that kind of thing, but really solid food and high-quality ingredients. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. It’s just a very delicious meal.

J: Nice.

A: Yeah.

Z: Can you explain what an interesting salad is?

A: He does this celery salad.

J: Oh, yum.

Z: Oh, okay.

A: It’s really good. Not just a little gem. I’m over the little gems.

Z: Little gems, yeah.

J: You’re over arugula?

A: Yeah.

Z: Talk about cheugy.

A: Little gem salad.

J: Little gem salads are cheugy?

A: Kale salads are real cheugy.

Z: I think both, maybe.

A: Yeah, kale salads.

Z: At least kale salads are legitimately better for you than lettuce. Little gem, we’re over you.

J: Sure.

A: Kale is good for you, and I’ve been making a lot of smoothies at home. Anyways, let’s talk about this week’s topic, this Friday topic, which is we’ve talked a lot about how the low-end side of alcohol, and by low-end, I mean low-alcohol, is booming, but there’s another end of alcohol that’s also booming that no one seems to be talking about, which is super-high alcohol. Especially, we are seeing this in the bourbon space and the beer space where high-ABV is king and continues to be. I’ve started to see a lot of people coming up with their predictions that they think that high-ABV beer is going to be the future of craft beer. That’s what we’re going to see more and more and more and more is this sort of turn away from lower-alcohol beers to these higher-alcohol beers with the doubles and triples, especially, being the things that people start to grab. One of the hypotheses is that’s because people are looking for a larger bang for their buck. Basically, there are two different people. They’re the people that want to have the session drinking experience, which is what we’ve always said is why people are drinking low-alcohol. The data proves this. It’s not just that someone wants to have one drink and then be done, it’s that they want to have three or four over the course and maintain buzz. What we’re seeing on the high alcohol is they want to have two or three and be done. They want to hit it and quit it. It’s like get in out, get where you need to go. You’re starting to see a lot of these beers becoming the market leaders. The most famous of these right now is Voodoo Ranger, made by New Belgium. The one that we’re going to drink is their Imperial, which is considered to be the No. 1 IPA of 2021. It’s still on fire, continues to grow like crazy, and it’s just a behemoth. This is clearly happening. It’s everywhere. Why do you think we’re not talking about it as much as everyone’s talking about low?

J: Yeah. I don’t know. I think this is such a sneaky thing that’s happening.

A: Sneaky.

J: This idea that it’s actually extinguishing that middle range of 4 to 6 percent ABV beers, because people are opting for higher ones or, like you said, lower. I think it’s so curious because I haven’t ever really thought of it before, which, obviously, is why we’re talking about it now. Do you guys feel like you do this? Do you follow this strategy, personally?

A: No. I feel like I drink what I think is delicious, whether it’s low, middle, or high, but I know a lot of people that do. I’ll never forget going out to dinner with a person in the industry who basically said to me that the reason they love Resin — Resin is a Sixpoint beer that is high-alcohol — was that their partner didn’t know it was high-alcohol, so they could have two or three and be like, “Oh, I only had two or three beers tonight.” I was like, “That is such a weird reason to like this beer,” but I think there is a little bit of that. A lot of people think that alcohol is a very essential deliverer of flavor. I think a lot of higher-alcohol drinks do taste better. One of the other trends that’s been reported recently that they think we’re going to see moving into the next few years, is much more focused on drinks with flavor, extreme flavor, and alcohol does deliver that better. One of the biggest complaints you hear about these low-alcohol drinks, especially the low-alcohol beers, is that they’re watery. They’re sort of thin. They taste of the essence, but not the slapping in the face, especially when it comes to IPAs. I think that these all could be why, but what I’m really curious about, so I’m just going to call it out and see is, are we not talking about this because this is everyone not wanting to admit that people actually like to drink alcohol? Because this trend is growing as fast or faster than the low movement. If you put Voodoo Ranger up against the highest-selling lower-alcohol beer and it crushes it, unless you’re going to tell me it’s Modelo, fine, but especially in the craft world, it will crush it, so why? Is it just that we’re scared to talk about alcohol?

Z: I think it’s two things. I think that’s maybe a piece of it, but also, these beers in particular. Other things, similar categories, maybe higher-alcohol wines, things like that, really sit in a blind spot for the drinks media and drink professionals in a lot of ways. You asked, “Well, why do we do this sort of drinking?” Joanna. I was like, “We don’t,” but we’re not a good representative sample of the beer-drinking or drinking public in America because it’s our job. People who do it for a living, beers like this, high-alcohol wines, they are fatiguing if you drink a lot of them. If you’re doing a tasting or even just drinking them in a more “professional” setting. It’s why, so often, you see drinks media, sommeliers, beer pros, things like that, championing styles that are less familiar, maybe lower or moderate alcohol, because if you’re someone who is drinking for a living — which is a weird thing to say, but it’s also kind of true — you need those kinds of things to exist and be interesting because they help sustain you. It’s true that for most people, drinking is not their job. Drinking is something that they do some of the time, but not all of the time. They want flavor. They want impact. I don’t think it’s necessarily that high-ABV beers are better tasting, exactly, but I think you got it later on, Adam: They have more flavor. I don’t think those two things are exactly the same thing, but for a lot of people, if you’re the kind of person who… You’re going to a local brewery or you’re picking up a 6-pack at the grocery store or whatever, you want something that’s going to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s not just about alcohol. It’s about the intensity of flavor. This is why full-bodied red blends have always succeeded really well in the wine space because when you drink it, you’re like, “I know I’m drinking a thing. I know I’m getting what I paid for.” A session IPA is not going to be able to deliver that because of basic laws of physics or whatever, you can’t get the same flavor intensity in a low-alcohol beer that you can in a high-alcohol beer. For a lot of people, when that beer is the one or two they’re having in a night, that’s what they want. I think that is a really hard thing sometimes for us to see because it doesn’t correlate to how we drink, and doesn’t correlate to how we think about the drinks industry a lot of the time.

J: I think another part of this is that we’re potentially, or perhaps, over our light beer phase. Like you said earlier, we’re into flavor, and we’re into this lushness, but we’re also over “We need beers to be 100 calories.” I feel that paves the way for these types of higher-alcohol beers, obviously, because they’re more caloric, but people are okay with this now, especially if the idea isn’t to drink in abundance.

A: It’s like, “I want to have two of them and then be good, and feel the way I want to feel or whatever, and then that’s it.” I think that’s the blind spot that we always talk about we have as drinks media, or just media in general, is we never want to talk about the fact that it’s a drug. I do think that in the world of cannabis, there’s been a way in which everyone’s comfortable about talking about getting high. It’s not just about, “No, man. I smoke it for the flavor. I really taste that Skywalker Kush. I like how it tastes.” No, it’s because you like the high. You like the actual effect. The reality is that people are drinking for the effect, and if they think drinking two 8.5, 9 percent double IPAs, they got the flavor as well, but it gave them the effect they were looking for, which is something that makes them a little bit more social or a little bit chiller or whatever. That’s why they’re drinking it. I think that is what people are turning back to. It’s the same reason — again, we’ve talked about this before — there’s another group that have gone to low-alcohol because they also like the effect, but they want to be able to go all day, hang out with their friends, and party. There’s a whole group of people that don’t want to do that. They’re in the age where they want to have two drinks at the end of the night and that’s it, and they want them to be double IPAs. That’s what they’re looking for, but they want to say, again… Mentally, I think there is something about saying, “I only had two drinks.” That’s always been so interesting to me because two drinks of a higher alcohol content are very different. “I had one beer at the end of the night.” Yeah, but if it was a triple and you had 12 percent alcohol, you basically had the equivalent of two glasses of wine. That’s something that I think is what’s always going to be in our culture. The fact that these are on fire is being proven by you seeing huge displays for them show up in Costco and Total Wine. These are the beers that are moving. Yes, there is a lot of doom and gloom in the craft beer world right now because people are worried about how you go national and is it relevant as it used to be, but there clearly are beers that are resonating with the majority of the national drinking landscape, and those beers are higher-alcohol.

Z: I also wonder if there’s a piece of this that has been reinforced by some realities of the pandemic. It is that these kinds of beers — double IPAs, higher-alcohol beers, etc. — are better on shelves longer because both the hops themselves and alcohol are preservatives. I think there’s a way that if you’re trying to put out… Whether it’s lower alcohol, your lagers and pilsners, things like that, they’re just not going to hold up as well in the rough-and-tumble world of retail and of grocery store shelves and stuff like that. Getting a skunked beer or something is no fun. Not that IPAs can’t skunk, but I think it’s harder. They’re just sturdier beers. There’s a reason the category was invented, so that the British could ship beer to India. These beers are just more shelf-stable than a lot of others. In this environment where so much more beer has been diverted into cans, into bottles, draft is not as big a deal right now, unclear if it will come back, but that is a big piece of this, too. These are the beers that are best suited to the way that people in 2022 are drinking beer, which is in taprooms to some extent and beer bars, but a lot of them at home or out of cans and bottles. Again, you’re not going to convince me that a light lager is going to hold up as well as these beers in a can or bottle.

A: Yeah, so should we try this?

J: Yeah.

Z: Yeah.

J: It smells really good.

A: Voodoo Ranger now has a bunch of different versions. The four that are really on fire are the Voodoo Ranger, the Voodoo Hazy, Voodoo Imperial, and the Imperial Hazy. This is the No. 1. This is the Imperial. Again, it’s New Belgium. It is 9 percent alcohol. We’re drinking it out of a glass bottle, but you can also get it in a can.

Z: Tastes good to me.

A: It’s pretty good.

Z: For a double IPA, the hop character is not over the top; it’s actually pretty mild. It’s got a little bit of sweetness to it, which I’m sure also helps it with its sales. I would be curious to know what kind of malt they’re using.

A: It’s a little malty.

J: I feel like this is a good IPA for people who aren’t IPA people, and that may be why it’s so successful.

A: People just seem to really love it. I think IPA people like it, too.

J: Yes, it’s one for everyone.

A: It’s this more classic IPA, too. Another one that’s on fire right now is Double Two Hearted, which is the Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, but their double IPA. Both these breweries recently have sold. They’re now owned by much larger companies, but I think this is the future, and I wonder if we will see this now. It’s interesting. Now, when I go to the supermarket and I look at the New York regional craft beers, especially when you look at the IPAs, almost all of them are doubles. I don’t see any of them anymore that are just 6.5 percent IPAs. The IPA I talked about on the last podcast, Butterfly Door, that was a double. I think that might be what people are doing.

J: Where we’re going.

A: Yeah, where we’re going.

J: I should also mention that there’s a great article about this in The Washington Post by Kate Bernot if people want to check it out. She speaks to this, too.

Z: We’ll put that in the show description.

J: Yeah.

A: Very cool. Well, if you have a double IPA or higher that you like, let us know [email protected]. Maybe we’ll check it out on the show. No one sent us shots yet.

J: You’re going to remind people? Come on.

A: Yeah, because Zach said he would do them, so I’d like him to do them. I’ll see you both next week. No, I won’t see you next week. I’m on vacation. You don’t know me. I’ll see you next week. You two, enjoy your conversation.

J: Great, have a great weekend.

A: Sounds great.

Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast, the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast Network. If you love listening to this show, or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do, as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast, whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere. If you are listening to this on a device right now, through an app, however you got this audio, please drop a review. It really helps everyone else discover the show.

And now for some totally awesome credits. So the VinePair Podcast is recorded in our New York City headquarters, and in Seattle, Wash., in Zach Geballe’s basement. It is recorded by Zach, mastered and produced by Zach. He loves all the credit. Keep giving it to him. Drop his name in the reviews. He’s going to love hearing how much you love him. It is also recorded in New York City by our tastings director, Keith Beavers, who is the managing director of the entire VinePair Podcast Network.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.