Blind-Tasting 116 of the Best American IPAs: We Have a Winner

The top American India pale ale has been chosen

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Please note: We have now conducted a more recent version of this tasting, blind-tasting 247 American IPAs in August, 2016. You can view it here.

Dear Paste readers: We are insane. Insane to conceive of a 100-plus blind tasting of American IPAs. Insane to put in the hours/days/weeks of emailing and phone-calling necessary to acquire the 100-plus beers. Insane to risk the reputation of our taste buds on the completely blind results. Insane to bruise our palates over the course of weeks with a metric ton of hop bitterness. Just well and truly insane. And yet, we went and did it anyway as a tribute to the country’s single most popular and widely consumed craft beer style.

Yes, we tasted as many American IPAs as we could possibly get our hands on, and the final number ended up at a gaudy 116 (Check out the full gallery of every label). You may have read our announcement about it last week, which was also an attempt to answer some basic reader questions. It outlines some of the rules, which I’ll go over again below. If you want to know why any specific beer isn’t present (Hill Farmstead? The Alchemist?), then please, by all means consult that post, but know that the answer boils down to: “We probably tried to get it, and they don’t ship beer as a rule or don’t want to participate in tastings and rankings.” Trust us, we’d love to have every IPA on the face of the Earth, but instead we simply had to settle for most of the IPAs on the face of the Earth. It’s a tough life we lead.

The Rules

The competition was limited to American-style India Pale Ale, roughly as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program. This is ”single” IPA only: No DIPA, no session IPA, no black IPA and no IPAs with Belgian yeast strains. “Amber/red IPA” is the darkest beer included, as it hasn’t quite been made into its own style just yet.All the IPAs are under 8% ABV. This was a very tough limit to impose—the official BJCP definition ends at 7.5%, but many commercial examples can be found in the 7.5 to 8% range. From 8% onward, you will find most breweries labeling their beers as DIPAs, while a few still call them single IPA, although we also came across beers labeled “DIPA” as low as 7.5%. Unfortunately, this disqualified a couple potential beers, but a limit had to be set somewhere for the sake of fairness.Each day we tasted 10 IPAs blind, in carefully selected heats (still secret to all the tasters but myself), selecting the top 2 from each group to advance to a final tasting of 25. We also included a couple of the highest-scoring beers to not advance from their group as wild cards.The group of 9 judges who participated in the final round included BJCP certified tasters, professional brewers, brewery owners, beer website operators, the owner of a chain of craft beer stores and a handful of professional beer writers. We even had optimal glassware, thanks to a shipment of the best IPA glasses in the world.

Because the goal is to determine the best beers rather than the worst, we’ve decided to rank the top 50 IPAs and list all of the rest in no particular order. Naming one brewery as #116 doesn’t accomplish anything and seems excessively mean-spirited. In reality, we enjoyed almost every one of these beers on some level—from about #100 onward, we’re talking about solid American craft beers that we would happily drink at just about any time. But of course, some managed to rise above and prove themselves as transcendent drinking experiences. Yes, there were surprises on all fronts, both in the beers we loved and the beers that didn’t speak to us as we expected. That’s why we committed so fully to the blind-tasting method.

But enough explanation: Let’s get on with the results.

The Field: IPAs #116-51

Most of these IPAs were good, and some of them were bordering on excellent, but they can’t all be in the top 50. The biggest shock in this whole bunch is almost certainly Russian River Blind Pig, which we assumed would book easy passage at least into the top 50. Perhaps it simply had a tough heat, but that lauded, classic IPA didn’t jump out at the judges when tasted blind. It’s symbolic of the fact that these results can’t be predicted. Check out the full list below, and keep in mind these are not ranked. They’re in random order.

West Sixth IPA
Drake’s Brewing 7×70 IPA
Westbrook Brewing Co. IPA
Upland Brewing Co. Dragonfly IPA
Stillwater Artisan Ales Stereo IPA
Mother Earth Brewing Sisters of the Moon
Hopworks Urban Brewery IPA
Central City Brewing Red Betty IPA
Sun King Brewing Fistful of Hops
Boulevard Brewing Co. Single Wide IPA
Odell IPA
Great Divide Brewing Co. Titan IPA
Ninkasi Brewing Co. Total Domination IPA
Straight to Ale Brewing Co. Monkeynaut IPA
Fort Collins Brewing Co. Rocky Mountain IPA
Blue Point Brewing Co. Hoptical Illusion
Terrapin Beer Co. Hopsecutioner IPA
Weyerbacher Brewing Co. Last Chance IPA
Elysian Brewing Co. Savant IPA
Harpoon Brewery IPA
Fort George Brewery The Optimist
Starr Hill Brewery Northern Lights IPA
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. Citra Dog
Geary’s IPA
Abita Brewing Co. Jockamo IPA
Epic Brewing Co. Escape to Colorado
Coronado Brewing Co. Islander IPA
Avery Brewing Co. IPA
Stone Brewing Co. IPA
Three Taverns Brewery Night on Ponce IPA
Dogfish Head Brewery 60 Minute IPA
Southbound Brewing Co. Rollin’ and Tumblin’ IPA
21st Amendment Brewery Brew Free! Or Die IPA
Maui Brewing Co. Big Swell IPA
Second Self Beer Co. Citrus IPA
Town Hall Brewery Masala Mama IPA
Goose Island Beer Co. IPA
Crux Fermentation Project Outcast IPA
Red Hare Brewing Gangway IPA
Russian River Blind Pig IPA
Hopworks Urban Brewery IPX Mt. Hood
New Belgium Brewing Ranger IPA
Jekyll Brewing Hop Dang Diggity Southern IPA
Funky Buddha Brewery Hop Gun
Hops and Grain Brewery Greenhouse IPA
Bridgeport Brewing Co. IPA
Terrapin Beer Co. Hi-5 IPA
Red Brick Brewing Hoplanta
2nd Shift Brewing Sub-Mission IPA
Real Ale Brewing Co. Full Moon Rye IPA
Deschutes Brewery Inversion IPA
Service Brewing Co. Compass Rose IPA
Schlafly American IPA
Hi-Wire Brewing Hi-Pitch IPA
Redhook Brewery Long Hammer IPA
Foothills Brewing Co. Jade
Ale Asylum Velveteen Habit IPA
Sam Adams Rebel IPA
Anderson Valley Brewing Spring Hornin’ IPA
Black Diamond Brewing Co. Jagged Edge IPA
Smuttynose Brewing Co. Finestkind IPA
Highland Brewing Co. Devil’s Britches Red IPA
Real Ale Brewing Co. Lost Gold IPA
Jailhouse Brewing Co. Mugshot IPA
Full Sail Brewing Co. IPA
Two Brothers Brewing Co. Outlaw IPA

Next: IPAs #50-26

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