To narrow down the IPAs to the Elite Eight, we brought in the pros—Kraig Torres of Hop City and Eddie Holley of Ale Yeah!, two of Atlanta’s best craft beer stores.
The 16 beers we tasted were an absolute treat. To make it this far, there needed to be something special about each of these beers. These are the cream of the hops, the subjects of our hop dreams, tasty to the bitter end. But there can be only one.
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.
Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale vs. Founder’s Centennial IPA
Beer A: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
City: Kalamazoo, Mich.
Beer B: Founders Centennial IPA
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
We began Round 3 with two amazing, very different Michigan IPAs. Our two guest judges were split with Holley preferring the “soft citrus tangerine” notes of Bell’s and Torres picking Founder’s for its “smoky, complicated and utterly hop-tastic” flavor. Bell’s would sneak through with the narrowest of victories.
Bell’s Two Hearted Ale wins 4-3
Lakefront IPA vs. Southern Tier IPA
Beer A: Lakefront IPA
City: Milwaukee, Wisc.
Beer B: Southern Tier IPA
City: Lakewood, N.Y.
The Lakefront IPA has snuck its way into the Elite Eight with a very smooth, well-balanced beer that’s as much about the sweet, bready malts as the floral, pine hops.
Lakefront IPA wins 4-3
Deschutes Inversion IPA vs. Odell IPA
City: Bend, Ore.
Beer B: Odell IPA
City: Fort Collins, Colo.
Odell wins again for its “gigantic nose, grapefruit and tangerine” flavors, as Holley puts it. Torres adds, “fun and light with a zesty hop finish.” The Deschutes was “aggressive from start to finish,” but it finally gets knocked out after surviving some tough early match-ups.
Odell IPA wins 5-2
Surly Furious vs. Great Divide Titan IPA
Beer A: Surly Furious
City: Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Beer B: Great Divide Titan IPA
City: Denver, Colo.
Torres liked Surly’s “low, rumbly, razor-edged and intense” flavors. It’s a potent beer with giant hops and managed to overcome the complex, tangy and always-delicious Great Divide.
Surly Furious wins 5-2
Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA vs. Good People IPA
Beer A: Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA
City: Frederick, Md.
Beer B: Good People IPA
City: Birmingham, Ala.
When Birmingham’s Good People Brewing found out its IPA had made it to the Sweet Sixteen, the brewery tweeted, “We’re all getting fitted for glass slippers as we speak…” Good thing, too, because they’re Cinderella Story has at least one more chapter after a 6-1 thumping of Flying Dog. The Flying Dog was the only beer among the 16 that had us scratching our heads on how it got this far in the tournament. Torres liked how Good People’s “little ribbon of caramel propels this hop-bomb.”
Good People IPA wins 6-1
Real Ale Lost Gold IPA vs. Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
Beer A: Real Ale Lost Gold IPA
City: Blanco, Texas
Jai Alai IPA
City: Tampa, Fla.
We knew we loved Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA. Each round, it’s been the stand-out beer from the Southeast—a citrus bomb that’s both unique and a great example of the style. The big surprise here is how much we realized we love Real Ale Lost Gold IPA, a beer from a brewery that I was completely unfamiliar with going in (and one that shouldn’t be judged by its poorly designed label). Still, Jai Alai was too good to be defeated.
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA wins 5-2
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA vs. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
Torpedo Extra IPA
City: Chico, Calif.
Union Jack IPA
City: Paso Robles, Calif.
“Fantastic, very clean, can drink all day,” wrote Holley, echoing our sentiments about the Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA. Sierra Nevada tasted “pedestrian” in comparison, said Holley. The rest of the judges agreed, giving Union Jack a clean sweep to make it into the Elite Eight.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA wins 7-0
Russian River Blind Pig IPA vs. Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Blind Pig IPA
City: Santa Rosa, Calif.
Beer B: Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
City: Healdsburg, Calif.
If I had to put my money on a single winner before this round, I would have probably chosen Russian River Blind Pig IPA. Its “huge fruit and heavenly nose,” as Holley put it, has had the judges going crazy at every step. But Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA has quietly been dispatching some of the most beloved IPAs in the West—Ballast Point Sculpin, Uinta and now Russian River. There’s a reason this beer has a 100 rating for its style at RateBeer. This matchup was like picking a favorite supermodel, but the Racer narrowly edges the Pig.
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA wins 4-3
This round’s judges were Nick Purdy, Josh Jackson, Bonnie Stiernberg, Sean Doyle, Michael Dunaway, Kraig Torres and Eddie Holley. Check back Monday for the Final Four.
Here are the results from the first three rounds (click to enlarge):