All of the usual suspects are represented. My opinion? The best imperial IPA is the freshest one you can get.
I had my first Pliny the Elder recently at a wonderful beer bar in San Diego. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a fantastic beer. I still believe the hype–but within reason. People do crazy things for this beer and I’m not sure why. Why pay some absurd premium, or wait in long lines? Luckily this place had no wait, and plenty of Pliny on tap. It was the same price as similar offerings from other brewers. If you are on the West coast for any reason–by all means make a few phone calls and try to grab a pint. It truly is delicious beer–among the “best” I’ve ever had. But if you’re not near their very-limited distribution, then don’t bother–I guarantee you that you can much more easily find something quite delicious that is fresher and cheaper near you. If you live in a place that is more than an hour drive from obtaining fresh, high-quality DIPA and you’re reading this blog then you should probably consider moving. Even the deep south is rich with craft culture by now.
“Drink local” goes beyond supporting your community and people that work and brew in your home town. It also makes practical flavor sense. IPA and DIPA is best enjoyed all-caps FRESH. As fresh as you can possibly get it. Trading $20 worth of quality beer for some “rare” DIPA in a 6 month old bottle is a recipe for disappointment (or self-delusion about the quality of your score).
At the end of scoring, any poll of this sort is probably going to end up a 4-way split between Pliny, Heady Topper, Dreadnought and…the rest. The breakdown will be largely geographical, but skewed utterly by brand-specific hysteria. The way I see it, the best beer you’ve ever had is the one you’re having right now, or the one that’s waiting at home in your fridge.