Today’s battles determined the final eight spots in the Sweet Sixteen. There’s been a surprising amount of variety in the winners—no single approach seems to be working better than others, but execution is everything. From simple, single-note hops to more complex and unusual flavor combinations—when done well there’s nothing like an IPA.
Even at this stage, the Southeast was still the weakest of the four brackets, but you won’t hear us complaining about having to drink these beers. And at least one of them looks to have a shot at going all the way to the finals. The Southwest, on the other hand, may be the strongest bracket at this stage, with eight very good beers competing. Once again, some great California IPAs would be defeated by even better ones. Our guest judge for this round was Nathan Berrong, beer writer for CNN.
For full rules about the beers chosen for this bracket, see our Top of the Hops: Paste IPA Challenge Intro. And see all the results from the first two rounds:
The Northeast Regionals
The Northwest Regionals
The Southeast Regionals
The Southwest Regionals
Second Round (North)
You can see all our Top of the Hops: Paste’s IPA Challenge here.
Westbrook IPA vs. Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA
Beer A: Westbrook IPA
City: Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Beer B: Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA
City: Frederick, Md.
This matchup pitted floral hops in a can against floral hops in a can. South Carolina’s Westbrook got a good reception in round one, but came across as slightly soapy and astringent in this second tasting. We were surprised to see the new brewery fall to the Snake Dog IPA.
Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA wins 6-1
Good People IPA vs. Saint Arnold Elissa IPA
Beer A: Good People IPA
City: Birmingham, Ala.
Beer B: Saint Arnold Elissa IPA
City: Houston, Texas
After unseating Heavy Seas in the first round, Alabama’s Good People continues its Cinderella Story run against Houston’s Saint Arnold. The citrus-y hop flavor hits you on the nose and carries through the finish. The Saint Arnold smelled nowhere near as pleasant and tasted weak in comparison.
Good People IPA wins 6-1
Mother Earth Sisters of the Moon IPA vs. Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
Beer A: Mother Earth Sisters of the Moon IPA
City: Kinston, N.C.
Beer B: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
City: Tampa, Fla.
Mother Earth was solid but not spectacular. The Jai Alai, on the other hand, does its Florida roots proud with distinct citrus notes in the hops and a sweet balance from generous malts. Frankly, this is the only Southeastern beer that would go toe-to-toe to with the best California beers in the other bracket.
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA wins 5-2
Real Ale Lost Gold IPA vs. Sweetwater IPA
Beer A: Real Ale Lost Gold IPA
City: Blanco, Texas
Beer B: Sweetwater IPA
City: Atlanta, Ga.
Our Atlanta-based judges probably drink more Sweetwater than just about any other beer on this list, so we were shocked to find out that it got knocked out this round. But credit to Real Ale with tasty grapefruity hops and a crisp finish.
Real Ale Lost Gold IPA wins 4-3
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA vs. Stone IPA
Beer A: Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
City: Chico, Calif.
Beer B: Stone IPA
City: Escondido, Calif.
Two of California’s largest, most-respected IPAs drew a tough second-round match-up. Stone’s IPA is beloved for a reason. The hazy, rich Stone was a pleasure to drink after finishing the Southeast beers, but that wasn’t enough to knock out Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra. It’s a simpler beer with a single note playing all the way through, but it plays it crystal clear.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA wins 4-3
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA vs. Lagunitas IPA
Beer A: Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
City: Paso Robles, Calif.
Beer B: Lagunitas IPA
City: Petaluma, Calif.
All props to Lagunitas for creating a unique, delicious, almost smoky IPA. But Firestone Walker has created a near masterpiece. A huge hop kick buoyed by other spice flavors and a strong malt backbone. Union Jack is going to be hard to stop.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA wins 6-1
21st Amendment Brew Free! or Die vs. Russian River Blind Pig IPA
Beer A: 21st Amendment Brew Free! or Die
City: San Francisco, Calf.
Beer B: Russian River Blind Pig IPA
City: Santa Rosa, Calif.
Russian River walks its way to the Sweet Sixteen with a combined score of 13-1. It’s like a bouquet of flowers on the nose, following through with a front end to match and a biting finish. The 21st Amendment was hoppy and refreshing but no match for the more complex Blind Pig.
Russian River Blind Pig IPA wins 7-0
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA vs. Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Beer A: Uinta Hop Notch IPA
City: Salt Lake City, Utah
Beer B: Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
City: Healdsburg, Calif.
Most of the judges credited the smoothness of Bear Republic, which has plenty of hop flavor, as a reason for voting it over the last remaining Utah beer. Hop Notch fought valiantly with a spicy, complex flavor, but this would be California’s day to dominate.
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA wins 4-3
This round’s judges were Nick Purdy, Josh Jackson, Bonnie Stiernberg, Dacey Orr, Sean Doyle, Nathan Berrong and Randall Smith, who created the red wooden VS. sign. Check back tomorrow for the Elite Eight.
Here are the results from the first two rounds (click to enlarge):