10. Maine Beer Co. Another One
City: Freeport, ME
The verdict: Some of these beers tend to be a little bit more identifiable than others, especially if you have a good memory. And really, it’s not necessarily the aromatics or flavors that can give Maine’s Another One away—it’s the appearance. It’s just a brilliantly bright beer, in an extremely light straw yellow; semi-hazy in a way that is similar to but distinct from the crop of NE IPAs on the table. Of course, picking up on it in this way takes a subtle eye, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter because Another One is a fantastic IPA regardless of what it looks like. In the previous tasting of 116, both Lunch and Another One were in the top 10, and there was much discussion of which was actually superior. Although they appeal to different tastes, my money was always on Another One, which is Maine’s most expressive standard IPA. On the nose, it delivers piercing, clean citrus tones of tangerine and especially lemon, and some very pleasant florals. Very mildly sweet, with a kiss of grainy, bready malt for balance, it’s a hop showcase that also emphasizes drinkability. In reality, Another One is a frighteningly drinkable beer, the kind of IPA you could easily drink by the liter thanks to a deceptively simple but delicious hop profile and soft bitterness.
9. Grimm Artisanal Ales Magnetic Compass
City: Brooklyn, NY
The verdict: You know you’re in a hop-bomb era when a brewery instructs the drinker to “roll the can to suspend hop particles” before pouring, and that’s exactly what Grimm does. This particular hazy IPA makes use of the New Zealand Rakau hop, a varietal that hasn’t really emerged into very wide use in the U.S. just yet. Like other NZ hops, though, it’s very forward with unusual tropical fruit tones. This is definitely one of the more unorthodox IPAs on the table, first presenting big tropical notes of pineapple and melon—multiple score sheets call out “melon” on this one—before segueing into greener, more resinous characteristics and an unusually herbaceous funk. Still, the moderate bitterness reels you back down to Earth and reminds one that this is IPA we’re drinking, and a juicy, fascinating one at that. There’s seemingly no hop varietal that Grimm can’t wring a unique beer from.
8. WeldWerks Brewing Co. Juicy Bits
City: Greeley, CO
The verdict: Well, there you have it—definitive proof that great NE IPAs aren’t only coming from New England these days. It’s probably safe to say that this hazy, juicy, orangey brew is the biggest surprise of the top 10, or at least the most unheralded. WeldWerks, however, is for real—they picked up multiple medals in the last year at both the 2015 GABF and 2016 World Beer Cup, and they also took IPA gold in the Denver International Beer Competition in 2015. Juicy Bits is their self-described northeastern beer, and it announces itself with a big, impressive tropical fruity nose that slowly morphs into intense orange juice citrus as the beer warms a bit. It’s definitely on the sweeter side, with the residual sugar conferring the expected chewy mouthfeel. It’s a beer that the name describes perfectly, the kind of IPA that detractors would likely call “one note” while ignoring how perfect and crowd-pleasing that note is. To quote one tasting sheet: “Super citrusy, but just dry enough.” That is the difficult task that most of these NE IPAs need to figure out—how to be decadent without being absurd. This one pulls it off.
7. Fort George Brewery 3-Way IPA (/w Barley Brown’s and Melvin Brewing)
City: Astoria, OR
The Verdict: Fort George is quite a solid brewery on average, with IPAs that usually seem to strike a good balance between older and newer influences, and this collaboration beer with two other excellent breweries is no exception. The first thing that hits on the nose is a big waft of lemony citrus, like lightly sweetened lemonade, but with a touch of pineapple as well. That’s soon swept aside by a big charge of grassy, green hops—a nicely old-school touch that plays very well with the juicier fruit flavors. Malt? Well, there’s probably some in there somewhere, but you’re not drinking this for malt. Nevertheless, it’s quite a lot different from say, the NE IPA’s on the table—less sweet, less juicy, less rich, and instead much more clean and crisp, with firm, moderate bitterness that invites another sip. It’s a versatile IPA that hits the dead center of the bullseye, as far as reverence for the style and execution are concerned.
6. The Alchemist Focal Banger
City: Waterbury, VT
The verdict: The Alchemist amusingly describes this beer as being “judiciously” hopped with Citra and Mosaic … which is rather like saying your average hurricane is “on the windy side.” Obviously, the truth of the matter is that Focal Banger is ludicrously hoppy, as one would no doubt expect from the little brother of Heady Topper. In terms of character, the two share some similarities, although Focal Banger is probably a little bit more directly hop-focused, with a correspondingly lighter malt profile. It explodes out of the glass with rich, complex aromatics: Dank, green hop resin, juicy pineapple and grapefruit candy, and a touch of exotic spiciness that you sometimes get out of these tropical varietals when used in massive amounts. There’s definitely a syrupy quality to this hop-rate, which candies the fruit impressions and cuts down a tad on drinkability … but man, what a rush that initial whiff can be. Whether it comes off as more strongly tropical or dank may come down to what flavors your palate perceives most acutely, but Focal Banger is clearly a treat for those who love big, big hops.
5. Grimm Artisanal Ales Lumen
City: Brooklyn, NY
The verdict: Honestly, at this point what else can we say about Grimm? When you enter three IPAs into a 247-beer blind tasting, and they finish at #5, #9 and #26, then you’re clearly among the best in the world at making IPAs. This is the kind of new school example of the style that is so juicy, it made several of the tasters in its initial heat question whether it was a fruited IPA when it really wasn’t. Orangey citrus and pineapple are operative hop flavors, but good luck pinning all of the different fruit impressions down. Sweetness is present, but more subtle than some of the other, similar beers—among the hazy, juicy IPAs, this is one of the easiest-drinking, with not a chance of being cloying. Or to quote one score sheet: “Very juicy, but not overpowering.” Or another, from a person who sounds mildly confused: “Orangey passionfruit?” Bitterness is quite soft, with a pillowy mouthfeel that we’ve come to expect from these various Grimm IPAs. It’s just exceptional stuff.
4. Trillium Brewing Co. Melcher Street
City: Boston, MA
The verdict: … wherein we see that double dry-hopped is not always better. Although we very much liked the ultra-turbid bottle of DDH Congress Street that finished #32, we ultimately fell in love with Trillium’s other “street” IPA, Melcher Street. Perhaps it’s just that we love Melcher’s Mosaic a little bit more than Congress’ Galaxy hops, or perhaps there really is a point of overhopping that detracts slightly from the final beer, but for whatever reason, this one lands right in the sweet spot. Once again, it highlights how complex and how weirdly variable in character Mosaic seems to be in disparate beers. This time, rather than a huge, decadent tropical nose, it comes through with more clean, bright citrus (grapefruit) and then waves of dank, grassy and pine sappy green hops, although perhaps some of that also comes from the supporting Columbus hop. From one score sheet: “beautiful hop profile, excellence.” From another: “So bright, so good.” Trillium’s beers inspire long lines, but with results like this, they seem fully justified.
3. Tree House Brewing Co. Jjjuliusss
City: Monson, MA
The verdict: This beer is the double dry-hopped version (does every NE IPA maker share this same terminology?) of Tree House’s extremely sought-after Julius IPA, and a beer we were pretty lucky to get, all things considered. It is, in no uncertain terms, an obscenely hoppy beer, but it’s interesting how its character comes through in a slightly different way than in some of the other turbid northeast IPAs. Yes, it’s hugely juicy and orange-laden (maybe clementine-like oranges?), but there’s also a lot of other, interesting influences here. It’s a perfumey nose that is somewhat herbal, but also profoundly floral—like a field of wildflowers—and quite resinous at the same time. There’s so much going on that it’s almost confounding on some level trying to process it all at once and call out distinct flavors from the melange, like trying to pick specific faces from a crowd. In spite of itself, though, what those plethora of flavors create is a beautiful whole that is shockingly easy to drink. To quote one score sheet: “Perfectly clean finish, lighter than it looks.” The beer is a very delicate balancing act that we imagine must change on a daily basis after canning, as the delicate hop aromatics age and morph. Consider yourself lucky, if you get to try some.
2. The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. General Braddock’s IPA
City: Braddock, PA
The verdict: Credit for this beer being present in the lineup goes entirely to several members of r/beer, the primary craft beer subreddit, who told me I should be hunting it down for inclusion. Suffice to say, we’re very, very glad we did. This is an absolutely fabulous example of northeastern/New England IPA, and it just goes to show that they can come from anyone, whether or not there’s necessarily a line out the door … although I assume there soon will be for this beer, if there isn’t already. Beautifully aromatic, with a perfumed head that throws out waves of orange and grapefruit zest, it’s creamy, juicy and vibrant, but not particularly sweet. The mouthfeel is ridiculously soft and supple, velvety in texture and without any rough edges. On a second pass, hugely resinous, sticky green hops stand out more on the palate, prompting one taster to write “I absolutely am in love with this beer.” From another: “Mega smooth and juicy.” It’s damn near perfect, and it’s time for the world to know it. Go out of your way to hunt this one down.
1. Prison City Pub & Brewery Mass Riot
City: Auburn, NY
The verdict: The best IPA of 247 is from … upstate New York? Bet you didn’t see that coming! And neither did we, although it wasn’t a complete surprise for me. I’ve been a Prison City proponent since this past fall, when I tasted their beer for the first time at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. At that festival, the brewery (only 10 months old at the time) took home a silver medal for Belgian pale ale, but it’s time to clear off plenty of space on the mantle, because this will surely just be the first of many accolades for an outstanding young brewery that is now planning a second, full production facility. Note to local government: GET THESE GUYS A GRANT, STAT.
In terms of profile, Mass Riot is a huge, massively tropical, unabashedly juicy hop bomb. Orange juice hits hard, as does pineapple juice and grapefruit candy. Resinous flavors on the back end help rein things in only the slightest bit, but this is definitely a juicy IPA first and foremost, and a moderately sweet one as well. One tasting sheet dubs it “Caribbean pale ale” for its tropical flavors, while another refers to it as “The Big Juicy.” In the finals, it was particularly beloved despite having a little bit of age on it, with one taster writing “Rich and fruity, cantaloupe and citrus, a beautiful combination.” Likewise full in terms of mouthfeel, it seems significantly bigger than its 6.3% ABV, with a body that goes on for days. It’s truly a decadent IPA, and we can’t wait until Prison City is producing a much larger amount of beer so we can taste it more often. In the meantime, we’d settle for just one more taste. It’s our #1 American IPA, out of 247.
And there you have it. Weeks and weeks of blind tastings later, we’ve chosen our picks for the best American IPAs out in the market right now. Please share your thoughts below, negative though we’re all-too-certain they will be. Let us know which breweries we should be seeking to add to our ever-expanding list of press contacts, and we’ll do our best to get their beer.
And if you think our list is garbage, we cordially invite you to assemble your own meticulously organized blind tasting of 247 or more IPAs and post the results in the comments. We’ll be very curious to see how your tastes differ.
Note: You can also check out a gallery of all 247 IPAs and labels right here.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru, and he’s already dreading the idea of ever blind-tasting IPAs again, although he’s more likely than not drinking one while you’re reading this. For more beer coverage, follow him on Twitter.