Together they set out on a mission to find the ultimate hop forward beer. As hop enthusiasts, they sought to praise brewers for their ability to create the best representation of a hop. From the beginning, they decided they weren’t looking for the best hoppy brew based on IBUs alone and agreed that the best must also be drinkable and well-balanced. And so began the creation of the greatest battle of beers.
The name of the event was inspired by Three Floyds Brewing from Denver, CO and their famous Alpha King IPA. It was strong, hoppy and delicious – the perfect example of the beers they were looking for in the competition. Inspired by the Three Floyds location, Ralph and Bill decided that the competition should be hosted during the Great American Beer Festival – the largest American beer festival of the year. Three Floyds agreed to lend the name of their beer to the cause, and the Alpha King Challenge was born.
Sponsored by Hopunion, C.B.S., American Brewer Magazine and Three Floyds Brewing, the first competition included less than 10 beers and only two judges, Ralph and Bill. The first official Alpha King was Larry Bells of Bells Brewing, crowned for his Two Hearted Ale in 1999. Over the years, the competition gained popularity, slowly adding more and more beers to the lineup of entries. Participants, fellow brewers and beer enthusiasts began to gather from across America to witness the crowning of the next Alpha King. The event was first located at the Falling Rock Tap House from 2001-2011 and then moved to a larger venue, The Rock Bottom Brewery, in 2012 to accommodate the growing crowds.
Additional sponsors contributed, such as White Labs, and more judges were invited to experience and determine the hoppiest beer of the year. In 2001, Brewing News, owner of American Brewer Magazine, began assisting with judge procurement, selecting beer industry writers and official judges of the Brewers Association.
In 2012, the Alpha King Challenge moved to its current location at Rock Bottom Brewery. Since then, the Alpha King crown has evolved to become one of the most highly esteemed beer and brewing awards in the industry. Placing in the competition has helped many brewers advance their careers, providing opportunities and creating connections with other leaders in the industry. Winners proudly showcase the crown in their breweries, proving they are a master in the craft of translating hop flavors and aromas to beer.
As of 2020, the current sponsors of the event are Yakima Chief Hops and Three Floyds Brewing, as they search for the holy grail of highly hopped beers each year. The selected judges now consist of volunteer brewers from the craft beer industry. The Alpha King Challenge continues to be a highly anticipated and well-respected competition amongst the craft beer community.