On the first day of blind-tasting DIPAs, one of the judges made an offhand remark. It was something along the lines of the following: “I feel like I’m drinking three to four different eras of American IPA.”
Some 13 additional days of tasting later, I find myself in complete agreement. Like few tastings that Paste has ever organized before, this leisurely stroll through 176 freakin’ DIPA/Imperial IPAs was like buying a ticket to “the museum of DIPA.” Imagine a place where you can walk down a huge corridor that represents the timeline of this beer style, complete with a tap handle and tasting glass every 10 feet. At the first stop, you drink American DIPA as it was in 1992. At the second, DIPA in 2000. At the next, DIPA in 2008. And then 2011. And then 2013. And so on, and so on, rapidly shrinking from years to MONTHS as the breakneck pace of this style’s evolution kicks into high gear. That’s what this tasting was like.
We had old-school DIPAs that placed a premium on the balance between piney hops and biscuity, caramel-rich malt. We had the drier, West Coast DIPAs that followed, intensely bitter, resinous and citrus pithy. We had the softer, sweeter generation that followed, highlighting juicier fruit impressions of citrus and tropical fruits. And of course, there was plenty of representation from the hazy NE-IPA camp, and even the still-nebulously defined “milkshake” camp beyond. In the end, we found examples of almost every style to enjoy.
In the end, despite the power of trends (such as NE-IPA), what this tasting revealed was that all of these different styles of DIPA are still able to exist alongside one another. Gaps in age and experience in the craft beer community made this clear among the tasters, some of whom felt strongly drawn to one style or another. There were numerous discussions on the subject of “What SHOULD a DIPA taste like?”, and just as many answers. The only thing that remained clear was one of the universal truths of the craft beer experience: You like what you like, and you don’t have to justify it.
So let’s get to it: The fruit of 14 days of DIPA tasting, starting now.
As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these DIPAs were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.
The issue of seasonal availability is especially difficult to manage when gathering DIPAs. Because there’s not necessarily a single season associated with the style, breweries tend to produce their DIPAs whenever they feel like it. We chose “September” for the tasting almost a year in advance, on the assumption that this would likely be as good a time as any to have it, but that always has a few side effects. For example: We weren’t able to obtain a few high-rated beers such as Maine Beer Co. Dinner, not because they didn’t want to participate, but because there simply isn’t any fresh Dinner to be had right now. Ditto with several other beers we obviously would have wanted to include.
- This is a tasting of DIPAs, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. To be admitted, it had to be labeled as “DIPA,” “Imperial IPA” or “Triple IPA,” given that the lines between double and triple IPA are particularly thin. There was no specific ABV limit, high or low. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.
- There was a limit of two entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.
- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, style-appropriate glassware is from Spiegelau.
- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP-style tasting.
- The top 1-2 beers from every day of tasting advanced to a second, 25-beer FINALS TASTING that was held in a single afternoon, in order to crown a grand champion.
Suffice to say, given the fact that this is our second biggest tasting ever, we’re looking at a very, very large field this time around. Most of these beers, predictably, were perfectly fine drinking experiences. Sure, there were a few overly bitter messes in here, and certainly a few NE-IPAs gone awry, but on any average day you’d probably be happy to have the vast majority of them in your glass. I honestly wish that we could include more in the ranked portion, but I’m pretty sure that writing about more than 50 of these DIPAs would put me in an early grave.
You’ll notice plenty of great breweries, here in the field … and if you read through the entire list, you’ll also notice many of the same breweries in the ranked portion, or even in the final. This tasting proved particularly difficult for breweries to land multiple beers in the rankings, and only a handful managed that feat. Only one brewery scored two different beers in the top 25. We’d like to think this shows a good level of parity between these brewers in the ultra-competitive field of DIPA, along with a sense of mortality—none of these places are invincible. Not even if they’re Russian River, The Alchemist, or Trillium, or Three Floyds.
With that said, in our typical fashion, I will remind you that the beers below in The Field are simply listed in alphabetical order, and are thus not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Adirondack Pub & Brewery Milkstache
Alaskan Brewing Co. Hopothermia
The Alchemist Crusher
Arches Brewing Rough & Ready DIPA
Asheville Brewing Co. I9PA
Bear Republic Apex
Belching Beaver Pound Town
Black Shirt Brewing Red Evelyn
Blue Ghost Imperial Rye IPA
Blue Ghost Mountains to Sea
Bond Brothers Long Haul
Boneyard Hop Venom
Bonfire Brewing WtFO
Boulevard The Calling
Burial Beer Co. Allegory of Gluttony and Lust
Burial Beer Co. Gang of Blades
Burlington Beer Co. Beekeeper
Burlington Beer Co. It’s Complicated Being a Wizard
Castle Island Brewing Co. Hi-Def
Cerebral Brewing Fantastic Planet
Clown Shoes Space Cake
Clown Shoes Space Driver
Coronado Brewing Co. Idiot
Coronado Brewing Co. Stingray
Crux Fermentation Project Half Hitch
DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon
Deep River Carpetbagger
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Dry Dock DIPA
Dry Dock Grapefruit IPA
Due South Brewing Co. Category 5 IPA
Due South Brewing Co. Oaked Category 5 IPA
Exhibit “A” Brewing Co. Hair Raiser
Fiction Beer Co. Robopsychologist
Firestone Walker Inferos
Foothills Seeing Double
Four Noses Road to GABF
14th Star Brewing Co. Tribute DIPA
Fremont Brewing Co. Brother
Frost Beer Works Plush
Garage Project/Stone Fruitallica
Gizmo Brew Works Dynamite
Gizmo Brew Works Trojan Horse
Golden Road Triple IPA
Good People Snake Handler
Great Divide Hercules
Great Notion Super Over Ripe
Great Raft Grace & Grit
Green Flash West Coast IPA
Half Acre Deep Space
Heavy Seas Double Cannon
Henniker Brewing Co. Damn Sure
Hop Concept IPA Mosaic/Eureka
Hop’n Moose Brewing Co. Better Dayz
Hops & Grain Brewing Co. Haze County
Hopworks Urban Brewery Ace of Spades
Ill Mannered Brewing Co. Palate Fatigue
Iron John’s Brewing Co. Pedro
Iron John’s Brewing Co. Viejo
Joseph James Hop Box
Kern River Brewing Co. Citra
Knee Deep Tahoe Deep
Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Lakefront Clutch Cargo
Lord Hobo Boom Sauce
Melvin Brewing Drunken Master
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA
Night Shift The 87
Noble Ale Works/Pizza Port Fog Horn
NoDa Imperial Hop Drop ‘n Roll
Offshoot Hops and Rec
Oskar Blues G’Night
Our Mutual Friend Double Dang
Port Brewing Mongo
Rogue 8 Hop
Russian River Pliny the Elder
Scarlet Lane Brewing Co. Eirik Bloodaxe
Scofflaw Brewing Co. Double Basement
Seventh Son Brewing Co. Laniakea
Short’s Brewing Co. Superfluid
Sibling Revelry Noble Sibling
Sibling Revelry Triple IPA
Smartmouth Bandwagon VIII
Smartmouth Notch 9
Southern Prohibition Crowd Control
Southern Prohibition Paradise Lost
Southern Tier 2XIPA
Spider Bite Open Wide
Stevens Point Imperial IPA
Stone 21st Anniversary
Stone Ruination 2.0 (Orange Peel & Vanilla Bean)
Tattered Flag Manghost TIPA
Tattered Flag TMIPA
Terrapin Dave’s Not Here
Three Floyds Arctic Panzer Wolf
Three Magnets Big Juice Smoothie Edition
Three Taverns Crave
Track 7 Left Eye Right Eye Left Eye
Trillium Mosaic Cutting Tiles
21st Amendment Blah Blah
Two Roads Road 2 Road
Two Roads Two Juicy
Uinta Brewing Detour
Union Craft Brewing Farmhouse DIPA
Unknown Brewing Co. V-Hop
Urban Artifact Gaslight
Urban Artifact Hippodrome
Wicked Weed Freak of Nature
Wormtown Be Hoppier
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Howling Moon
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Howling Moon Coconut
Next: Finally, the rankings! DIPAs #s 50-26
City: Olympia, WA
The verdict: As if it really needed to be said, the concept of “northeast IPA” is obviously no longer restricted to anywhere near the American Northeast. Breweries all over the country, and indeed all over the world, are now trying to replicate these big, hazy, juicy IPAs, with varying degrees of success. Three Magnets’ take on the style is pretty archetypal, but it’s the traces of unusual complexity that propel it out of the field and into the ranked portion of the list. A musky, funky, tropical fruity nose gives way to hop flavors of sweet citrus and pine, along with an x-factor note that is hard to place, but almost seems like a minty herbality. A solid beer, and indicative of the level of quality that exists in this top 50—every one of the beers that follows is something we’d be really psyched to drink if we ordered it at a beer bar.
City: Nashville, TN
The verdict: Bearded Iris has built itself into the most hyped brewery in Nashville (and perhaps in all of Tennessee) in the last two years, largely on the back of hazy IPAs and DIPAs, which have equated to the sort of long lines for can releases seen at hyped IPA breweries all over the country. This particular offering is among the lowest in ABV in the tasting at only 7.8%, but that translates to a very friendly, easygoing take on the style that doesn’t try to completely blow the doors off in terms of the volume of its flavors. Soft and creamy in texture, with very low bitterness, ZigZag is floral and dripping with juice on the nose, but not quite as sweet on the palate, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, this beer is really a grower—several tasters’ scores improved as they repeatedly returned to it and complimented its deft, balanced level of citrus juiciness. We’d be curious to sample this again.
City: San Diego, CA
The verdict: This one is all about aromatics and a clean delivery. A newer DIPA from Ballast Point (only since 2016, as opposed to the venerable Sculpin, which is now 11 or 12 years old), it shows a clear grasp of the newer generation of aroma hops while delivering them in an authentically west coast way. A huge blast of floral, dank and lightly tropical hop aromatics hit the nose on first inspection; very inviting and more “great outdoors” in nature than many of the intensely juice-forward beers in the tasting. Malt balance is very light but appreciably crisp and clean, an ideal canvas for the hops. All in all, Manta Ray is light of body and very drinkable—a crushable, refreshing DIPA if there ever was one, without sacrificing hop intensity. Nice stuff.
City: Woburn, MA
The verdict: The name seems to suggest that the brewery sees this beer as somehow “less than,” but we actually think it beats out their also-solid Boomsauce DIPA. It hides its 9.5% ABV fairly well, although the higher level of booze is probably a factor in the more prominent residual sweetness. That sweetness, however, works well with a citrus-forward profile that reminds us of mandarin orange and tangerine, making for a beer that seems like a crowd pleaser. Lightly grainy malt impressions offer a ghost of support to the hops, which is all we really need. It’s as easy to enjoy a DIPA as you’re likely to find in its ABV range.
City: Paso Robles, CA
The verdict: Losing Firestone Walker’s Double Jack DIPA (a classic of the genre) was certainly a blow, when the brewery announced it was being retired in 2016. However, the brewery’s rotating Leo v. Ursus series has largely picked up the slack, first with the excellent Fortem DIPA and then with Adversus. This one is more about subtlety than blowing the doors off, nicely balanced with hop notes of sticky pine resin, grapefruit and perfumey florals. There’s actually a nice degree of malt complexity for a beer that (I believe) is exclusively pilsner malt, with a few “bread crusty” notes that give it an identity outside of just being a hop canvas. Regardless, Adversus is a dry, very quaffable DIPA, which is what you’d typically expect from Firestone.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: Denver’s Cerebral Brewing Co. has been having an under-the-radar run of impressive placements in these blind tastings in the last few months, and that continues with this beer, which is more or less brewed in the NE-IPA style. Very easygoing and approachable, Tandem Jetpack is citrus-forward, with sweet flavors of orange juice and grapefruit candy, without going too far. Hints of toasty malt offer a little bit of underlying structure, and bitterness is more or less completely absent. Very much a crowd pleaser, and very easy to enjoy, but not the most complex take on the style. Still, good stuff, and obviously more approachable in a blind tasting than Cerebral’s other entry, which featured blueberries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s a bit of a strange flavor to run into during a completely blind DIPA tasting.
City: Stowe, VT
The verdict: Oh, how the mighty have … arguably become slightly less mighty, while still being pretty damn good? Yes, it’s good old Heady Topper, the beer that has arguably done more for the field of “whale” DIPAs than any other. It’s hard to believe that this stuff has been around for 13 years now, but it has since 2004 at least, bearing the standard for “NE-IPA” for almost a decade before anyone even bothered to coin that term. And it’s still an excellent beer, even if the mystique and hype perhaps aren’t quite what they once were. The flavor profile is a good balance of different elements—there’s still a good charge of bitterness in there, a pithy orange citrus quality that balances juicy tropical fruit sweetness. There are also hints of booze and even of light caramel, which fade into a finish dominated by greener, more piney notes. Several score sheets use the word “solid,” and that’s what Heady Topper is—solid. Is that a disappointment to some? Surely, but it shouldn’t be. As the style continues to evolve, so does every brewery, including The Alchemist. Just look at their Focal Banger, which was #6 out of 247 IPAs the last time we tasted those.
City: Asheville, NC
The verdict: The most impressive aspect of this triple IPA from Highland is that in a blind tasting, not a single one of us pegged it as a triple IPA or 10%-plus ABV beer at all. That is some seriously well-hidden booze, and we should take a moment to give props to Highland Brewing Co. in general, which has really come forward as a good example of an older regional brewery (23 years old) that took a step back, assessed its IPA program, and worked to modernize it with great results. Seriously, if you haven’t had any hop-forward beer from Highland in the last few years, it’s time to reevaluate, from the pilsner up to DIPA. POW! brings forth a nicely balanced profile of piney, grassy, “green” hops and pink grapefruit citrus with a slightly chewy malt body that still doesn’t go all-in by any means on caramel or deeply toasted/dried fruity flavors. In fact, this is probably one of the driest beers in the 10-plus ABV range we sampled in the entire tasting, and certainly one of the most approachable. A very well-made beer that is more subtle than the name would imply.
City: Braddock, PA
The verdict: Before our 247 IPA blind tasting in 2016, we had no knowledge of Braddock, PA’s Brew Gentlemen, an up-and-coming producer of hazy IPAs. They were simply one of many suggestions from r/beer that I followed through on acquiring, but man, were we glad we did when their General Braddock’s IPA went on to finish #2 out of 247. Since then, BG has established itself as a powerhouse in our hop-forward tastings, and this one proved no different … but more on that later. First we’re considering Akamai, an unusual sort of NE-IPA in the sense that we’ve rarely encountered one with such a wide gulf between appearance and texture/mouthfeel. The beer looks like it would be thick as a Stephen King novel, but in reality the mouthfeel is quite thin, although simultaneously creamy. This threw tasters off for a moment before they adjusted to it, but the flavors are right on: Big, spicy resin and mango/pineapple juiciness that follows. It’s a very capable balance between earthy and juicy, but it drinks like a session IPA. Interesting stuff.
City: Tunbridge, VT
The verdict: This is our first entry from Tunbridge, VT’s Upper Pass, but it makes a pretty solid first impression for a brewery we’re not really familiar with. As you’d likely expect from the location, Cloud Drop is NE-IPA all the way; as accurate a template for the style as you’re likely to find. “Effortlessly easy drinking,” begins one of the taster’s score sheets, noting a balance between orange/lemon citrus and resin, with mild residual sweetness. There’s some of the earthy, grassy quality that we’ve come to associate with Trillium IPAs in particular, but not so much as to unbalance things in favor of vegetal hop flavors over juicy ones. All in all, this is an excellent example of what so many brewers are trying to execute right now, with greatly varying degrees of success. The easy balance between juicy, tangerine-esque flavors and dank green-ness was a common profile for a lot of these NE-IPA’s, but judging from the final placement alone, this one is clearly one of the better takes at it.
City: Sacramento, CA
The verdict: The more beer we have from Track 7, the more it seems clear that these guys are flying under the radar in terms of national exposure—not because they’re making earth-shattering, genre-bending beers, but because they’re just rock solid in terms of execution. This one is right down the middle in terms of influences: A bit of doughy malt and a touch of caramel, supported by waves of mildly catty (in a good way) resin, grass and grapefruit. On the dry side, but not too bitter, Left Eye Right Eye seems to be seeking a platonic ideal in the middle between “juicy” and “pithy.” A Swiss army knife type of DIPA; you could probably pair it with practically anything.
City: Holland, MI
The verdict: A common theme of this DIPA tasting has been the reemergence, on some level, of mid-sized regional breweries that are discovering new modes of IPA brewing. New Holland, in the same manner as we previously described Highland Brewing Co., has clearly reworked some of their previous DIPAs to stay modern, and the results are quite pleasant. Hoptronix has elements of both old-school and nouveau DIPA, bringing moderate levels of toasty malt and firm bitterness into balance with a very floral, inviting hop nose. Hints of tropical fruit are also present, but the hop profile here seems more driven by flowery, earthy freshness, which pairs well with a clean, crisp finish. We can dig it.
City: Plainville, CT
The verdict: Relic’s offering is a softly textured quaffer, low on bitterness and high in juicy hop aromatics and flavors. Juicy orange and peachy notes of stone fruit are a feature, nicely supported by a light honeyed sweetness that reminds one of orange blossoms. From one score sheet: “Soft and sweet, pleasant but light-bodied, with plenty of juicy orange.” There’s nothing too complicated about this one; it feels like one of those entries that is stretching the boundaries between single and double IPA in the New England style. It’s a little bit sweeter than some of the other, similar entries, but nothing that would impede drinkability. It’s easy to imagine that anyone who appreciates NE-IPA would probably enjoy this.
City: Baltimore, MD
The verdict: DuClaw isn’t exactly a brewery we associate with uber-hyped DIPA releases, but this Star Wars-referencing can (the brewery’s first-ever 16 oz release) packs a profound wallop of hop-driven flavors. I mean damn, this is some hoppy stuff. It leans heavily on Citra and Mosaic, which I would normally expect to go hard in the direction of juicy citrus and tropical fruit impressions, but that’s not exactly how it played out to our palates. Rather, although there is plenty of citrus, what is emphasized is massive, green, grassy hop flavors, a herbaceous and almost savory punch that tasters found very intriguing and a nice departure from other beers on the table. From one score sheet: “Sweet perfume and citrus, and tons of grass. Like a lawn after a rain shower.” From another: “Huge hop bomb of grass clippings, but it works.” Certainly an interesting new direction for DuClaw; we look forward to seeing what other kinds of 16 oz cans come rolling out of these Baltimore staples in the future.
City: Warren, VT
The verdict: Along with Heady Topper, Sip of Sunshine is perhaps the other beer most responsible for getting us to where IPA is today, and it’s good to see that it still holds up. Like a few of the other beers in this tasting, it’s another one of those that doesn’t really commit fully to a “double” aesthetic, and instead feels a bit more like a bridge between single and double IPA. Still, the big hop flavors are there: Lots of funky tropical fruit, in a cocktail of pineapple juice and resin, with a bit of corresponding bitterness for balance (not a ton, but more than none). From one succinct score sheet: “Clean, correct, on point.” From another: “Pineapple, sweet onion and sticky resin.” It’s no longer quite as bombastic as some of the other NE-IPAs on the scene, but it doesn’t have to be. Sip of Sunshine still fits in comfortably among the new wave of VT and New England hop bombs.
City: Boulder, CO
The verdict: There was a time for me, back in perhaps 2007 or 2008, when if you asked me for a definition of “classic double IPA,” I would have simply said something to the effect of “a beer like Avery’s Maharaja.” This is the personification of the old-school DIPA that still makes it work today, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that even now, in a field of 176, it stands out. From one score sheet: “Perfumey, woodsy, piney, floral, dank and tropical all at once. Great balance, perfect example of old-school DIPA.” From another: “Caramel malty, toasty, candy sweet /w bitter balance.” Unlike many of the nouveau DIPAs, this one clearly isn’t trying to hide its ABV; rather it uses it to its advantage in amplifying the slightly syrupy nature of dark caramel and tropical fruit notes. In the end, it all just works. There were no shortage of beers in this mold in the tasting, but Maharaja takes that old, familiar profile and executes it much more satisfyingly than most.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: Crooked Stave is a brewery we more commonly associate with fruited sours or wild ales than hazy IPAs, but who doesn’t want a piece of that hazy pie these days? This new-ish 2017 offering gives us at least a little bit of malt balance in the form of grainy and slightly nutty malt flavors, but mostly features a hop profile of sweet citrus (orange and lemon), grass and perfume, along with some more herbaceous qualities (something slightly savory like lemon thyme). That balance is appreciated, and it makes for a different sort of DIPA—you might tag it as “NE-IPA” in terms of appearance, but we can’t think of many examples of that style with this sort of malt balance. Which is to say, a hazy appearance doesn’t always denote a beer that is 100% unbalanced in favor of the hops.
City: Avondale Estates, GA
The verdict: There were several DIPAs in this tasting that noted their use of lupulin powder; a fast-growing potential “next big thing” in terms of infusing intense hop flavors (rather than bitterness) into IPAs, and Goodvice was one of the most interesting of those. Part of the reason why is hop varietals: Loral, Ariana and Ekuanot are all very new styles whose profiles haven’t really yet been nailed down by the beer community, which implies a certain exoticness. This follows through to the flavor profile, which is big on tropical fruit sweetness, but in a somewhat amorphous sort of way—it’s hard to nail down exactly what kind of fruit you’re tasting, and it’s always on the tip of your tongue. Score sheets mention pineapple, and mango, and papaya, but simultaneously others evoke “white peach” and white wine grapes. Regardless, Goodvice features those juicy fruit flavors with moderate residual sweetness and low bitterness. It’s an interesting, unusual, experimental sort of DIPA.
Disclosure: Wild Heaven was founded by the former co-founder and original publisher of Paste, and is only a few blocks from the primary Paste office in Avondale Estates, GA.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: Denver’s literary-themed Fiction Beer Co. has put in a few nice showings in recent tastings, and this take on NE-IPA is no exception. Despite the appearance, it’s actually more balanced and subtle than one might expect, with a nice (but not exactly “explosive”) profile of citrus and tropical fruit juiciness that is supported by additional impressions of floral hops and crisp malt. Logic is Relative isn’t totally devoid of bitterness, either, which is actually sort of a nice thing to see in NE-IPA from time to time. From one score sheet: “Nice balance of tropical and citrus notes, very approachable.” From another: “Enjoy the mid-palate melon/tropical thing they have going on here.” If there’s one thing we can appreciate seeing in this tasting, it’s seeing a good number of NE-IPA’s like this one that aren’t quite as over-the-top in terms of presentation and intensity.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: Few breweries have gone from “just opened” to national hype magnets as quickly and explosively as The Veil did after opening in 2015, and they’re a big part of why Richmond has come to be considered one of the best beer cities in America—although nowhere near the sole reason, as we’ll see later in this list. Still, The Veil tends to earn its hype when it comes to IPA and DIPA, starting with this awkwardly named brew. This one is immensely hoppy, and likely to be interpreted differently on the nose by each person who smells it. Some tasters get 100% juice—all orange and mango and guava and pineapple—while others pick up more on the intensely resinous, dank qualities that are the result of having such a ridiculous amount of hop particulate involved. From one score sheet: “Vibrantly citrusy but also dank, with a soft, velvety mouthfeel.” It’s also a bit sweet—if “resin” and “sweet” can go hand in hand as descriptors, that’s what you’re getting here. It’s like drinking a liquified bag of unprocessed hop flowers.
City: Griffith, IN
The verdict: This beer apparently features noble hops, but you’d never really think it from the profile—it seems American all the way, which speaks to the evolving landscape of newer generation German hop varietals. Slightly old-school i construction, Toad Storm feels a bit like your classic West Coast DIPA—fairly dry but orange-amber in color, and with a pine-and-citrus hop melange that work together very comfortably. This one is certainly more “woodsy” than most; the quality that reminds us of a stroll through the forest when the trees are bleeding sticky sap. Balanced, quaffable and engaging despite feeling familiar, it garnered the following bit of praise on one of the score sheets: “Right down the middle isn’t a bad thing to be.” A tasty, well-made entry from a brewery we don’t know all that well, but we’ll be keeping an eye out for more New Oberpfalz in the future.
City: Columbus, OH
The verdict: Here’s a DIPA that is unabashedly big and bold. The recipe for Creeper seems to change over time, so we can’t exactly compare it to when we’ve had it in the past, but it’s very much a high-volume take on IPA. The hop profile is big on citrus—orange and lemon and pink grapefruit, all at once—but the booze and bitterness both make themselves felt at the same time. Unlike some of the other beers in this tasting, there’s no chance that you’ll be mistaking it for a single IPA—or a pale ale, for that matter. The level of bitterness evokes DIPAs from one generation ago, but at the same time, the intensity of the citrus fruit character is distinctly modern and familiar. It seems natural that it thrives in both ways at once. Of note: Columbus Brewing Co. is one of only three breweries that managed to land two separate entries into the top 30.
City: Greeley, CO
The verdict: The “regular” version of WeldWerks’ Juicy Bits IPA made the top 10 of our 247 IPA blind tasting, so it stands to reason that the imperialized, double dry-hopped version would also be a heavy hitter. This one is thick and luscious for the ABV—you get the sense that about half of it is dissolved hop matter. Bitterness is practically (but not entirely) nonexistent, which just leaves you to revel in all of the soft, juicy fruit flavors: Mango, passionfruit and especially stone fruit—notably peachy and apricot-y, as far as these types of DIPAs are concerned. There’s so much fruit, in fact, that it almost crosses into that dangerous “does this really seem like beer?” territory, but it walks itself back from that brink to just be a really good NE-IPA.
City: Berkeley, CA
The verdict: Fieldwork is the brewery that can turn anything into an IPA, and when we say “anything,” we mean practically any beer style they’ve ever sent in for a blind tasting. As such, we’ve been patiently waiting for the day when we were actually blind-tasting IPAs to see how Fieldwork would deliver, and we were not disappointed: They’re the second of only three breweries to land two beers in the top 30. This one, seemingly named in true nerd fashion after Sagat from Street Fighter 2, is a “brutish but beautiful” beer that attacks with a panoply of bright, juicy fruit impressions. Guava, melon and orange/lemon citrus give way to a long, dank, grassy finish that stretches on forever. Malt? There’s not really any to speak of. It’s a little bit rougher around the edges than the brewery’s other entry King Citra, but it’s a good example of Fieldwork’s signature bombastic attitude toward hop rate. No surprise here that DIPA was their time to shine.
City: Somerville, MA
The verdict: It’s not easy to form a snap judgement on a beer that you won’t later want to modify. In the course of any blind tasting, it’s important to return and taste each beer multiple times for exactly this reason: Your initial perceptions can be startlingly different from what you taste only a few minutes later. Aeronaut’s Double Hop Hop is a skillfully made NE-IPA that is considerably more subtle than most of them—creamy, luscious and velvety in terms of mouthfeel but delicate and nuanced in its flavors. Initially, tasters focused on the grassy, resinous and “greener” side to its flavor profile, but as time passes (and perhaps as the beer warms a bit), the juicy side becomes increasingly assertive. These sweeter fruit impressions include a lovely stone fruit character that beautifully captures that fresh, “just picked” quality of ripe peaches. Says one tasting sheet: “Not necessarily swinging for the fences, but smooth from the start till the end.” This is ultra soft and plush DIPA that will grow on you.
City: Baltimore, MD
The verdict: This highly sought-after DIPA from Union is a beer I’ve chased down on the festival floor of GABF in the past, so I wasn’t particularly surprised to see it advance to the final. It can boast of at least a bit more malt balance than most of the beers that made it into the top 25, with hints of caramel and bread crust that are quickly overtaken by big waves of orange/tangerine/grapefruit citrus. There’s something of a pithy quality to that citrus—clean and crisp rather than “juicy” sweet, with moderate bitterness and good drinkability. It’s very much a DIPA in the west coast style, despite hailing from the opposite side of the country. Excellent balance overall, and that’s always worth a few extra points.
City: Biddeford, ME
The verdict: None of us were at all familiar with this Maine brewery heading into the tasting, but if they’re naming beers after Japanese giant monsters, how bad can they be? This one is big, clean and full of character, with a lovely nose that hits you with a waft of pure, sticky resin and hints of tropical fruit. There’s good balance between these differing aspects of the hop profile, coupled with moderate bitterness that reminds you of the fact that yes, this is indeed an element that every beer in the DIPA category used to universally feature. One taster was particularly impressed with how drinkable Daikaiju was in spite of its hop rate, writing “I’m pretty sure I could drink 100 of these.” We’re not sure that’s a great idea, but if you’re already burnt out on NE-IPA, the clean, resinous profile of Daikaiju could be exactly what you’re looking for.
City: Newport, OR
The verdict: Alright, we have to admit we are pretty damn impressed on this one. This brand new DIPA is unlike anything hop-forward we’ve ever had from Rogue in the past, and it’s completely upended our expectations for the longtime Oregon stalwarts. They’ve made something that feels like a comfortable midpoint between west coast and NE-IPA, light on the haze but vivacious on the hop front, while still retaining a bit of malt balance at the same time. Lush tropical fruit notes of pineapple and grapefruit are augmented by mild, honeyed sweetness and hints of toasty malt, with lovely balance. I wrote earlier in this piece that older breweries discovering new modes of IPA brewing had become a major theme of our experience, and this is exactly what I was talking about. You never know where a great IPA is going to come from, these days.
City: Los Angeles, CA
The verdict: You know a beer is probably exemplary in some way when one of the tasters’ notes just begins with a “woah.” Highland Park’s “extra life” of a DIPA features an absolutely gorgeous hop nose: A massive blast of sweet tropical fruit and dank resin are an incredibly inviting way to begin. The same notes carry over onto the palate, although they’re not quite as assertive or intense as the nose might promise. What it develops into on repeated sips is a very clean, lighter-bodied, dangerously drinkable DIPA, albeit one that is 100% focused on hops. But man, the nose—if you could turn these beers into a perfume or cologne, I’d wear this every day.
City: Boston, MA
The verdict: It’s interesting to us how Trillium and Tree House in particular always seem to be invoked as two sides of the same coin in terms of their prominence in the NE-IPA community, but their actual house styles actually seem quite distinct from one another whenever we get to taste their beers. While Tree House DIPAs typically strike us with their softness and juicy-sweet fruit character, Trillium offerings have a different signature note that always seems to be up front: Grass. Grassy and resinous, dank, earthy and green; to us this is Trillium in a nutshell, and Street Shark is a fine example. That isn’t to say this one isn’t also bursting with tropical fruit, because it is, with plenty of pineapple and lemon and mango, but that’s after the initial rush of sticky-sweet resin has subsided. Thick, chewy and full in terms of mouthfeel, this style of full-throttle NE-IPA has a difficult time being anywhere near “refreshing,” but that’s not why you’re drinking it. Rather, Trillium’s DIPAs strike us as celebrations of the hop plant itself, because it’s hard not to be reminded of those hop cones while drinking them. They’re holy grail beers for acolytes of those dank hop flavors.
City: Columbus, OH
The verdict: Ohio: Always overlooked as one of the country’s best beer states. Why? We can’t rightly say, but there always seem to be new breweries to get excited about from the Buckeye State. Columbus’ Seventh Son offers us this lovely 16 oz can, which contains one of the tasting’s best versions of West Coast IPA—perfumey, piney, resinous and grapefruit citrusy all at once. Mild-to-moderate bitterness holds everything in check, while a deftly calculated balance between crisp malt and citrusy American hops are the twin stars. Moderate residual sweetness lends a touch of juiciness to the fruit flavors, but this is far from an attempt at NE-IPA. Solid from start to finish.
City: Anaheim, CA
The verdict: Noble’s IPAs are magnets for medals at competitions such as GABF, and they’ve performed equally well in our previous tastings of hop-forward styles, including a place in the finals the last time we blind-tasted DIPAs in 2015. This one is a lot of things at once: powerfully resinous, but also quite fruity, with a tropical fruit character that is almost a little bit tart at times—multiple score sheets mention that unexpected element of acidity. It’s also fairly sweet, giving its fruity flavors an impression of grapefruit or mango candy, although it’s obviously not overwhelmingly so. A touch of booze rounds everything out, but the dominant impression is those sweet tropical fruits.
City: Strongsville, OH
The verdict: Now this is how you do a modern DIPA with some balancing malt in it. The Brew Kettle’s White Rajah IPA once came in #1 overall in our 2015 blind tasting of 116 single IPAs, and we’ve been suspecting they’d follow it up with another big IPA tasting performance ever since. This one is a beautiful balancing act—restrained, biscuity and toasty malt provides structure to an amber-hued DIPA, but never does it come close to overshadowing a big charge of juicy, tropical fruity hops, primarily derived from Mosaic, which then fade into dank resin. It’s big and assertive, but perfectly balanced; a testament to the fact that modern hop rates and juicy, tropical flavor profiles can still get along with a slightly darker malt profile. Hazy NE-IPA may have taken this tasting by storm, but DIPAs like El Lupulo Libre will never go out of style.
City: Auburn, CA
The verdict: Knee Deep is dependably among the best producers of west coast IPA in the country, so when we receive an entry from them in a hop-forward tasting, we’re usually assuming it will be a contender. Tasters took a particular liking to this assertive triple IPA, which flexes its muscles to a degree but doesn’t completely descend into boozy mayhem. It’s actually considerably drier than most of the other beers in the 11% ABV and beyond range, with an impeccable balance between toasted malt, light caramel and classic west coast hop notes of orangey citrus and pine/grass. “Malty, /w candied orange slices” writes one taster. “Meaty, chewy, big body and hop complexity” writes another. This is exactly the type of beer that was most likely to reveal generational differences at the tasting table—while younger tasters perhaps tended to gravitate toward the NE-IPAs of the crowd, beers such as Hop Trio made big impacts with tasters and brewers who had followed the style of DIPA throughout its evolution. If anything, it speaks to the ever-expanding diversity of exactly what the phrase “IPA” entails.
City: Jackson, WY
The verdict: 2X4 is the beer that has put Melvin on the map in Wyoming as a top-tier producer of IPAs, and it has a bevy of medals to prove it. It’s one of those modern DIPAs that finds itself as a midpoint between substyles—it’s not too typified by any one impression, because it has a bit of everything. Tropical fruity hops light up the senses initially with notes of pineapple and mango, but there’s also citrus and some floral hop impressions here as well. On the palate, 2×4 is slightly boozy, making its 9.9% ABV felt, while also retaining a fair amount of residual sugar. It can simultaneously appeal to lovers of juicy hop fruitiness and west coast DIPA purists who prefer clear beer and expect an alcoholic presence. If you like this style, it’s sort of hard to imagine you wouldn’t enjoy a can of 2×4.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: It’s amazing how quickly fruited IPAs passed in and out of relevance in terms of critical acclaim, is it not? When the style was new a few years ago, writers and beer tasters fell over themselves in adulation of these grapefruit or pineapple-bombed beers, but just as quickly that tide receded. What people chase today are IPAs delivering hop-derived fruit juiciness, but Weekend at Broznies is evidence that you can still brew an amazing DIPA with fruit—provided that you do it in a way that feels authentic. This NE-IPA juice bomb from The Veil finds a way to cram in plenty of pineapple fruit into what must already have been a very tasty Citra DIPA, melding the flavors in such a way that it becomes impossible to tell where the hops end and the fruit begins. There are simply no rough edges on this beer at all—or as one taster wrote, “insanely low bitterness; incredible.” It’s a bit on the sweeter side, but when you read “pineapple IPA” on the can after the blind tasting is already complete, it actually seems impressively reserved, all things considered.
City: Placentia, CA
The verdict: The Bruery certainly took quite a while to form spin-off Offshoot Beer Co. and produce their first ever IPAs, but it would appear they were simply making sure they’d be cranking out world-class hoppy beer right from the get-go, which is okay by us. Conditions, part of a duo with a session IPA called “Terms,” is a textbook NE-IPA that would be a near-perfect introduction to the style for drinkers who have never had one before. Lush tropical (mango) and citrus (orange) fruit juiciness dances on the tongue, while low bitterness encourages gulps rather than mere sips. There’s some hop complexity here in the form of resin/grassy notes that slowly build on the tongue after each sip, but you’d be forgiven for not even noticing them, thanks to the fruitiness and velvety smooth texture, derived from both wheat and oat malt. This isn’t the most complex version of the style that exists, but goddamn, is this beer easy to love.
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: Ironically, one of the tasters actually wrote the phrase “super ripe” in describing this NE-triple IPA from Great Notion, owing to its panoply of juicy tropical/citrus influences. We liked it more than the brewery’s other “Ripe” entry, Over-Ripe DIPA, which took a good thing a little bit too far in terms of syrupy fruit sweetness. This one, on the other hand, is right on the money: Huge fruit flavors, supported by deeply resinous green ones. “Super fruity and creamy, with orange Starburst citrus and stone fruit complexity,” wrote another taster. “Starburst!” wrote a second, making for two tasters invoking the same candy on their score sheets independently of one another. Coincidence? We think not. Regardless, Super Duper Ripe is the type of sweet, fruit juice-driven DIPA that we can get behind, because it’s not difficult to imagine finishing a full glass.
City: Broussard, LA
The verdict: Ghost in the Machine is pretty easily the most hyped craft beer in Louisiana, and with good reason—the results justify the public acclaim. This one is very fruit and juice-forward, dripping with pineapple sweetness and nice touches of lemongrass-like herbaceousness and dankness that bump up its complexity a notch or two. The mouthfeel is as soft and smooth as you’d hope from the appearance, with nonexistent booze (makes sense, given the 8% ABV) and high drinkability, despite a very thick, creamy texture. With beers like this, the question is always how they’ll perform outside their home market, where they may benefit from being a novelty that has developed a big reputation, but even in a lineup stacked with stellar NE-IPAs, Ghost in the Machine obviously still held up very well. We’re sure it will continue to be a valuable trade chip for New Orleans beer geeks.
City: Brooklyn, NY
The verdict: This is a beer we almost didn’t have in the tasting, despite the fact that Grimm is the defending champion from 2015 (when they placed #1 with their DIPA Lambo Door). The reason is because this batch of Afterimage wasn’t the typical representation of the brewery’s popular double IPA, but instead a version that was lagered in an experiment to produce a crisper take on DIPA. As a result, the folks at Grimm initially hesitated in sending it … but clearly they needn’t have worried. Despite the crispness, lighter body and mouthfeel, this Afterimage is still a hop showcase, awash in lemon candy/orange citrus and more exotic tropical influences. Bitterness is low but still subtly present, providing just a bit of counterbalance to what are primarily sweet-driven fruit flavors. Regardless of how it’s been finished, it’s as good as we’ve come to expect anything hop-forward from Grimm to be.
City: Hinesburg, VT
The verdict: Frost is a brewery that has been sniffing around the upper echelon of several rankings of hop-forward styles in the past, but this is clearly their time to arrive in earnest—and not the only Vermont brewer to do so, either! This one makes use of hop varietals from both hemispheres to create an enticing and complex network of hop-derived notes: melon, mango, citrus, pine and dank. As one taster wrote: “Juicy, sticky weed resin, so into it.” Placed next to some of the other beers in the final, it wasn’t necessarily among the most explosively flavorful or assertive, but this is one case where an overall complexity and balance between elements is worth points. Lush is a great synthesis of multiple aspects of modern IPA brewing.
City: Berkeley, CA
The verdict: This one is for the orange juice lovers in the house. You know the ones we mean—the full-pulp purists who are likely to be shelling out a small fortune in order to squeeze their own every morning. You love Tree House Julius? This beer is from the same family tree, without a doubt. From one taster’s score sheet: “Very soft, absolute citrus bomb with peachy highlights.” From another: “Crazy fruity, with big orange/peach/apricot flavors. Delicious.” What it tastes like is an NE-IPA calculated to be the most universally approachable, easy to love beer imaginable, and that is in no way a bad thing. Beers like this are the reason that Citra might be the most beloved single hop varietal in the world—literally everyone loves a well-done Citra beer. And this is one of the very best Citra beers you’re ever going to find.
City: Columbus, OH
The verdict: The last time we blind-tasted DIPAs back in 2015, this beer from Columbus Brewing Co. finished at #2 out of 115. This time, it’s #8 out of 176. In fact, of the entire top 10 field from 2015, it’s the only beer to land in the finals in BOTH tastings. So yeah, suffice to say—Columbus Brewing Co. makes a damn good DIPA in the form of Bodhi. And unlike so many others at the top here, it does so with both explosiveness and balance, all while being relatively dry and crisp. From one score sheet: “Really nice balance of resin and tropical fruity hops.” From another: “Beautifully resinous, woodsy nose with tropical fruit highlights.” Drinkable and lighter of body, with some solid bittering balance, Bodhi is a near-perfect execution of the classic West Coast IPA, while still being fruity enough to stand out among the NE-IPA crowd. If you live in a market where you can buy this beer all the time, consider yourself very lucky.
City: Tallahassee, FL
The verdict: You want proof that a DIPA with some malt character can still compete in the world of the NE-IPA? Look no further than this entry from Florida’s Proof Brewing Co., which lands in a beautiful middle-ground between IPA generations. On the nose, it evokes modernity: “a big blast of tropical fruit, clean citrus, lemon and resin,” according to one score sheet. But then on the palate, you realize there’s more to this particular DIPA than just the hop presence—it’s also fairly malty, with notes of toasted bread, moderate caramel and enough booziness to make itself felt. It’s modern and nostalgic all at once, which made it resonate across generations of tasters as well. From another score sheet: “Rich, complex flavors. Just has a little bit of everything.” Ultimately, this type of tasting favors the extreme hop bombs on some level, but beers like Warpath still manage to find their way into the top 10 when executed with just the right degree of deftness.
City: Charlton, MA
The verdict: Now here’s a beer that took us by surprise, not necessarily because of what it was, but because of what it wasn’t. Namely, when the can came out at the post-tasting reveal … and it wasn’t particularly hazy! A Tree House DIPA, fairly clear! What what? Perhaps we simply didn’t agitate the can very much while pouring, but color us surprised. Less shocking is this beer’s wonderful overall hop aesthetic: Big, vibrant and yes, “bright” on the nose with assertive (but tactful) doses of dank resin and grapefruit/lemon citrus. It’s a beer that smells like it should be bitter, evoking some classic West Coast IPAs of yore, but on the palate it’s instead very soft and clean, with low bitterness and ridiculous “crushability.” Or as one less-than PG taster wrote, “light and drinkable as fuck.” Looking at the low ABV, that all makes sense. This DIPA is just a joy to drink, and it feels like something Tree House crafted for all those occasions where you’re not necessarily looking for dissection, but simple pleasures. Coming from a brewery so known for huge, “blow-the-doors-off” flavor profiles, we can’t help but find that really impressive.
City: Brandon, VT
The verdict: This is why we do blind tastings, right here. As far as I know, none of the judges present at any of these 14 days of tasting have ever sampled anything from Vermont’s Foley Brothers Brewing before. In fact, I’m not sure if any of us have even heard of this brewery before, but here they are at #5 in a blind tasting, out of 176 beers. And rightly so, because their DIPA, Prospect, is freaking phenomenal. Hazy and juicy in equal measure, it blends a wonderfully varied range of citrus, tropical and stone fruit characteristics, although most tasters were calling out pineapple and peach in their notes. On the sweeter side of the juicy spectrum, with very low bitterness, Prospect is a comforting, extremely accessible DIPA that even features some very lightly doughy malt along with the hops. We really couldn’t ask much more from any NE-IPA.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: Theory: Richmond, Virginia is secretly the best IPA city in the United States—and thus the world. Evidence: The Veil. Hardywood Park. The Answer Brewpub. And last, but certainly not least, Triple Crossing. These guys are Richmond’s secret weapon, and it’s not a new development—they’ve been a great brewery for quite a while, and one that hasn’t received the praise and national attention that was due to them. In 2016, their Jurassic Park-themed Clever Girl IPA placed in the finals of our 247 IPA blind tasting, but when it came to DIPA this year there was no denying that they were the absolute stars of the show. This one, the “lesser” of their two entries, is a gorgeously fruity NE-IPA with loads of grapefruit and orange citrus, chased by resin and an unusual, almost minty herbaceous quality that lends complexity. From one score sheet: “Wonderfully bright and fruity, plenty of juicy peach, grapefruit and pine.” It’s hard to believe that the same brewery produced another DIPA that was even better.
City: Athens, GA
The verdict: Creature Comforts is in the middle of a pretty impressive run in blind tastings at the moment, having taken home the #1 honors in our 64-beer blind tasting of goses back in August. This, however, is arguably even more impressive, an absolutely brilliant DIPA for the fruit lovers in the audience. From the first score sheet: “Huge burst of bright pineapple, lemon and grass. Just awesome.” From another: “Big, funky blast of tropical and citrus goodness.” The other score sheets are more or less the same—tasters loved the vivaciousness of the tropical and citrus-forward American hops, as well as the accessibility of this quaffable DIPA, which features mild-to-moderate residual sweetness giving life to its fruit flavors. In terms of the breadth of the beer’s flavor profile, the brewers at Creature Comforts are getting the absolute most out of each of these hop varietals.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: The notes from one of the tasters on this beer begin with “This is how you do it. Tropical fruitstorm.” Yes, it’s the second entry from Triple Crossing in the span of four beers. Across all 176 entries, they are the only brewery to land two different beers in the final. And not just in the final, but in the TOP FREAKIN’ FIVE of the final. And it’s not like they just squeaked in, either—these were basically unanimous selections. In the entire time we’ve been blind-tasting beers, the only similar accomplishment I can think of was Grimm landing two different DIPAs in the top 5 of the previous DIPA tasting, in 2015. This is some seriously rarified air, is what I’m getting at.
Suffice to say, Interstellar Burst is a particularly stellar example of NE-IPA. Impossibly smooth and luxurious on the palate, it’s like drinking a cloud—except it’s a cloud of the best juice bar smoothie you’ve never deigned to pay $9 for. From one score sheet: “Ridiculously soft and juicy, tons of passionfruit and peach. Damn.” From another sheet: “I could drink too many of these—not a bad thing.” As the latter would suggest, perhaps the most impressive thing about Interstellar Burst is that it has that rare quality of drinkability that sometimes eludes even great NE-IPAs, which can be bogged down by a combination of chewiness and residual sweetness that rob them of a chance at being called “refreshing.” Triple Crossing is making some of the best takes on this style that we’re currently able to imagine.
City: Braddock, PA
The verdict: Somehow, we get the feeling that when the folks at Brew Gentlemen sent this one in, they knew exactly where it was going to end up. And not just because praise for this beer (and this year’s batch of this beer) has been uniquely effusive online (and it has, if you look it up), but because it’s just so damn good. In the last 49 entries, we’ve praised a lot of different kinds of double IPAs—malty DIPAs, bitter DIPAs, West Coast DIPAs, juice bomb DIPAs—but ultimately, the winner was the beer to best blend any and every aspect of what we love about DIPA into a single package. Call it a representative of NE-IPA if you will (because it is one, at least to look at), but that’s almost doing it a disservice. If you’re going to call it anything, just call it amazing.
The nose of Lou is a thing of beauty, combining explosive citrus and tropical fruit influences with perfumey florals and resinous notes, backed by one of the most wonderfully pillowy and soft mouthfeels of the entire tasting. It was one of those beers where every taster has seemingly found something different to appreciate. Some of them were in love with Lou’s greener aspects, keying on the grassy/dank side to its profile, while others were all about the juice. You can hear the delighted confusion just reading tasting notes: “There’s a fruit finish I can’t place, but I just love it. It’s so lush and wonderful.” As far as we’re concerned, this is the best, most complex DIPA we had a chance to taste, out of a whopping 176. Congratulations to Brew Gentlemen—we sincerely hope you guys can deal with a whole lot more people suddenly interested in snapping up bottles of this beer. Put us on the list, will you?
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for additional, similarly over-ambitious blind tastings.