For our companion piece on the history, sub-styles and modern role of IPA in craft beer, check out the accompanying “Let’s Talk Beer Styles: IPA.” We also have a gallery of all 247 IPA photos and labels.
It’s funny to think that there was a moment, when we started collecting IPAs for this blind tasting, that I legitimately wondered if we would be able to surpass our previous high-water mark of 116.
That blind-tasting—the first in our whole blind-tasting/ranking series of beer styles that has continued on in monthly fashion ever since—was conducted in March and April of 2015. At the time, we were shocked when we were able to assemble 116, and so were our readers to some degree. The piece was a huge success—it’s since been viewed more than a million times, and we were proud to declare The Brew Kettle’s White Rajah as our favorite IPA. We were even more glad when it won a GABF medal only a few months later. Clearly, we were doing something right.
We knew, then, that whenever we finally re-did American IPA, that it would be another huge tasting. But at the same time, I had some doubts. Despite our huge PR list, which has grown immeasurably since the last time we tasted IPAs, how many breweries would choose to contribute their beers? How many that missed out on the top 50 last time would really want to send their beer in again? In the weeks leading up to the tasting, I buckled down, sending out what was likely hundreds of emails to breweries, requesting beer. I canvassed the primary beer subreddit over at r/beer, asking for suggestions of what we should seek out. Many of those beers are in this ranking.
Obviously, we needn’t have worried, as the final total for this tasting ended up at an astounding, bewildering, quite frankly overwhelming 247 entrants. For perspective, the Great American Beer Festival tasted 336 American IPA entrants this year, meaning that we did only 89 fewer than the largest beer festival in the country. Not bad for a tasting organized by one or two people, right?
In fact, in our own way, we’d like to think that the following tasting and ranking is actually far more useful to readers than the yearly results at GABF. Whereas a large-scale festival of that nature doesn’t reveal every beer that was entered, we will. And where GABF awards medals only to the top 3 beers, we’ve ranked the entire top 50. To even make that top 50, it means that beer was in the top 20 percent of entrants. Literally every ranked beer is among the elite. So let’s get to it.
A Note on Beer Acquisition
Like every other blind-tasting at Paste, we acquire these beers in a variety of ways. Most are sent in directly by the breweries when we send out a call for that style. Others we’re able to purchase directly because they’re available in Georgia, which is how we round out the tasting and add as many additional entrants as we can. A few of these IPAs, we were lucky enough to acquire from dedicated readers who sent them in. One beer redditor even joined us at the Paste office for a few days of blind tasting, thanks to the beers he had on hand to contribute. In short: We do our best. Yes, there are some big-name beers that are still missing, but I think you’ll agree that in the end we put together a pretty outrageous lineup.
A Note on Freshness
Because I know the comments will be absolutely swarming with concerns about IPA and freshness, let me explain our process here. The majority of these beers are sent in directly by the breweries, so in these cases we have no control over brewed-on dates. When beers arrive at the Paste office, I sort them and decide on daily tasting lineups. Every beer moving on from its initial round was then refrigerated until the day of the final tasting—I went out and bought a new office fridge specifically for this purpose. Additionally, the beers that arrive earlier get tasted earlier.
In the case of crowlers, as there were many beers submitted in crowler cans, I contacted any brewery whose crowler-based IPA was moving into the finals and gave them an opportunity to send in a fresh crowler in advance of the final. As this is obviously a style where freshness is paramount, I feel like we did the best we could, given the massive number of entries we were working with. I look forward to reading angry, freshness-related comments below from people who have never attempted to organize any kind of large-scale beer tasting.
Rules and Procedure
— We accepted almost all IPA variants, as long as they fell generally into “single IPA.” No session IPAs were allowed, nor were black IPAs, which already had their own blind tasting. The ABV limit was set at BELOW 8% ABV, meaning that 7.9% ABV IPAs were accepted, but 8% ABV IPAs were not. This is a difficult rule to make, as many straddle that limit, but it’s a limit that has to be set somewhere. Other than that, all kinds of IPA styles are represented: Belgian/brett IPAs, fruited IPAs, nitro IPAs, etc, etc.
— There was a limit of three entries per brewery, in an attempt to let IPA specialists enter multiple beers. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field. Given that this was 247 beers, this meant MANY days of daily tasting.
— Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, multiple professional brewmasters, beer reps and multiple BJCP-certified tasters. 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 tasting, although we do have several BJCP tasters participating.
The Field: IPAs #’s 247-51
And oh my, what a field it truly was. Certain things become obvious, when you taste this many beers. Themes emerge; storylines are written in one’s head. And the theme of this huge tasting was emergence: The rise of titanic new IPA breweries that are largely younger and largely creating beers that boast massive flavors. As a result, many of them are among the highest-rated hoppy beers in the world right now.
This isn’t to say that we didn’t enjoy plenty of more subtle, classic IPAs, but there’s no denying those beers had a harder time breaking into the very top rung. Many beers that were contenders in the finals during the previous tasting of 116 can now instead by found in the 25 to 50 range. Some of the previous contenders didn’t make the top 50 at all. So many beers inspired comments like “I would happily drink this, but next to the top few it can’t stand up.”
And really, there’s absolutely zero shame in that. I wish that we could list the entire group in order, because finishing at #51 out of 247 is still something worth bragging about. But there does need to be a cut-off somewhere. To every brewery in The Field: We hope to try your beer again next year.
This huge list of beers is presented below in alphabetical order. As such, they’re not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Abita Brewing Co. Wrought Iron IPA
Adelbert’s Brewery Travelin’ Man Belgian IPA
Alaskan Brewing Co. Icy Bay IPA
Ale Asylum Bedlam Belgian IPA
Ale Asylum High Coup
Ale Syndicate Municipal IPA
Asheville Brewing Co. Perfect Day
Avery Brewing Co. IPA
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Bear Republic Brewing Co. Hop Shovel
Bear Republic Brewing Co. Racer 5 IPA
Blue Point Brewing Co. Hoptical Illusion
Blue Point Brewing Co. Prop Stopper
Bootstrap Brewing Insane Rush IPA
Borderlands Brewing Co. Rebel Base Tan IPA
Breckenridge Brewery Breck IPA
Breckenridge Brewery Lucky U
Bridgeport Brewing Co. Stumptown Candy Peel IPA
Buoy Beer Co. IPA
Burlington Beer Co. Light in the Window
Burnt City Brewing Face Melter
Caldera Brewing Hopportunity Knocks
Caldera Brewing IPA
Calicraft Brewing Co. The City
Cherry Street Brewing Co-Op Mango East LA Highway
Christian Moerlein Blood Orange IPA
Christian Moerlein IPA
Clown Shoes Whammy Bar IPA
Conquest Brewing Co. Coffee IPA
Conquest Brewing Co. Sacred Heart IPA
Coronado Brewing Co. Islander IPA
Coronado Brewing Co. Stingray IPA
DC Brau Corruption IPA
Destihl Amra Mango IPA
Destihl Vertex IPA
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head Flesh and Blood
Drake’s Brewing Co. IPA
DuClaw Brewing Co. Neon Gypsy
El Segundo Brewing Co. Mayberry IPA
Elysian Brewing Co. Avatar Jasmine IPA
Elysian Brewing Co. Immortal IPA
Eventide Brewing “The A” IPA
Evolution Craft Brewing Co. Lot #3
Evolution Craft Brewing Co. Pinehopple
Faction Brewing IPA
Fish Tale Hodgson’s Bitter End IPA
Fish Tale Organic IPA
Foothills Brewing Co. Jade IPA
Forbidden Root Jacob IPA
Fort Collins Brewery Far Away IPA
Fort George Brewery Vortex IPA
Founders Brewing Co. Azacca
Founders Brewing Co. Centennial IPA
4 Hands Brewing Co. Dakine Tropical IPA
Fremont Brewing Co. Interurban IPA
Frost Beer Works Junior IPA
Full Sail Classic IPA
Full Sail Hop Pursuit
Funky Buddha Brewery 3 Years & Brewing
Funky Buddha Brewery Hop Gun IPA
Gizmo Brew Works Earthquaker Oatmeal IPA
Gizmo Brew Works Hop Hydrant Red IPA
Gizmo Brew Works Palisade
Golden Road Brewing Point the Way IPA
GoodLife Brewing Co. Descender IPA
Good People Brewing Co. IPA
Goose Island Beer Co. IPA
Great Divide Brewing Co. Titan IPA
Great North Aleworks IPA
Great Raft Brewing At Arm’s Length IPL
Great Raft Oceans Between Us Brett IPA
Green Flash Brewing Co. Soul Style IPA
Green Flash Brewing Co. Tangerine Soul Style IPA
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery The Great Return IPA
Heavy Seas Beer Loose Cannon IPA
He’Brew Hop Manna IPA
Henniker Brewing Co. Hop Slinger IPA
Hermitage Brewing Hoptopia
Highland Brewing Co. IPA
Hops & Grain A Pale Mosaic
Hops & Grain Greenhouse IPA
Hopworks Urban Brewery Gear Up IPA
Hopworks Urban Brewery Pig War White IPA
Indeed Brewing Co. Let it Ride IPA
Independence Brewing Co. Liberty Lunch IPA
Independence Brewing Co. Stash IPA
Ipswich Ale Brewery Route 101 IPA
Karben4 Brewing Fantasy Factory
Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’
Lakefront Brewery IPA
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery Green Elephant
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery Workhorse IPA
Left Hand Extrovert IPA
Lift Bridge Brewing Co. Hop Dish IPA
Long Trail Brewing Co. Green Blaze IPA
Long Trail Brewing Co. Limbo IPA
Lord Hobo Brewing Boom Sauce
Lord Hobo Brewing Steal This Can
MadTree Brewing Psychopathy
Magic Hat Electric Peel IPA
Magic Hat H.I.P.A.
Manor Hill Brewing Hidden Hopyard Vol. 3
Manor Hill Brewing IPA
Maui Brewing Co. Big Swell IPA
Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Pleasure Town IPA
Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Sockeye Red IPA
Monday Night Brewing Eye Patch Ale
Moody Tongue Brewing Co. Sliced Nectarine IPA
Mother Road Brewing Co. Tower Station IPA
Night Shift Brewing Santilli
Ninkasi Brewing Co. Total Domination IPA
Odell Brewing Co. IPA
Ommegang Nirvana IPA
Orpheus Brewing The Rites
Oskar Blues IPA
Otter Creek Brewing Co. Backside Berner
Peak Organic Crush IPA
Peak Organic Evergreen IPA
pFriem Family Brewers IPA
Quest Brewing Co. Ellida IPA
RaR Brewing HYDE IPA
RaR Brewing Nanticoke Nectar IPA
Red Hare Brewing Gangway IPA
Red Hook IPA
Reuben’s Brews Crikey
Reuben’s Brews Summer IPA
Reuben’s Brews Triumvirate
Revolution Brewing Anti-Hero IPA
Rhinegeist Brewery Streaker
Rhinegeist Brewery Truth IPA
Rock Art Brewery The Humble Harvester
Rocket Republic Brewing Co. Mach 1 IPA
Rogue Ales Cold Brew IPA
Rogue Ales 6 Hop
Roughtail Brewing Co. IPA
Saint Archer Brewery IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Art Car IPA
Samuel Adams Nitro IPA
Samuel Adams Rebel IPA
Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA
SanTan Brewing Co. Moon Juice
Schlafly Expo IPA
Schlafly Grapefruit IPA
Sebago Brewing Co. Frye’s Leap IPA
Second Self Beer Co. Citrus IPA
Second Self Beer Co. Red Hop Rye
Shiner Wicked Ram IPA
Short’s Brewing Co. Hopstache
Short’s Brewing Co. Huma-Lupa-Licious
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
Sixpoint Brewery Bengali
Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi
Ska Brewing Modus Mandarina
Station 26 Brewing Co. Single Hop IPA
Stevens Point Beyond the Pale
Stevens Point Peach Mango IPA
Stevens Point Spruce Tip IPA
Stone Delicious IPA
Summit Brewing Co. Horizon Red IPA
Summit Brewing Co. Saga IPA
Summit Brewing Co. True Brit
Sun King Brewing Co. Grapefruit Jungle
SweetWater Brewing Co. Goin’ Coastal
SweetWater Brewing Co. IPA
Tallgrass Brewing Co. Top Rope IPA
Telegraph Brewing Co. American IPA
Terrapin Beer Co. Hi-5 IPA
Terrapin Beer Co. Hopsecutioner
Third Street Brewhouse Hop Lift
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. Citra Dog
Three Taverns Craft Brewery A Night in Brussels
Tin Roof Brewing Co. Juke Joint IPA
Tin Roof Brewing Co. Rusted Rye IPA
Track 7 Brewing Co. Panic IPA
Triptych Brewing Dad’s New Girlfriend – Amarillo
Troegs Independent Brewing Perpetual IPA
21st Amendment Brew Free! Or Die IPA
Two Roads Brewing Co. Honeyspot Road White IPA
Uinta Brewing Co. Hop Nosh IPA
Uinta Brewing Co. Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA
Upland Brewing Co. Dragonfly IPA
Urban Chestnut Bewing Co. Fantasyland
Victory Brewing Co. HopDevil
Victory Brewing Co. Vital IPA
WeldWerks Brewing Co. Steambarrel IPA
Wild Heaven Craft Beers Wise Blood IPA
Wiseacre Brewing Ananda IPA
Wormtown Brewery Ales for A.L.S.
Wrecking Bar Brewpub Hurricane Boomslang IPA
Yards Brewing Co. IPA
Yazoo Brewing Co. Hop Perfect IPA
Next: The ranked beers! IPA’s #50-26
Well, here we are—the official start of the ranked beers, comprising the top 50 IPAs out of 247. We can’t stress enough that by simply making this top 20 percent, the beers had to be more or less fantastic. It’s an exceptional group, and we’d be lucky to drink any of them on any given day.
Note: We have to apologize for the variable quality of the photos—it’s simply not easy to have your primary photographer present during 16 consecutive tastings, as you might imagine.
City: Chico, CA
The verdict: Sierra Nevada earned a fair amount of press when they unveiled this beer last year, touting new technology that allowed them to use “distilled hop oils” to create a pure, resinous hop presence. Those hop oils do indeed deliver a clean, piercing although not overwhelming charge of hop aroma/flavor—think perfumey and sticky, resinous hop notes with an undertow of light grapefruit citrus. Bitterness is moderate, and the end result comes off simply as a good, balanced, almost “northwest” style of IPA, thanks to a certain resin/woody character. In the age of IPA being king, it’s easy to see why sales of Hop Hunter have been climbing, even as sales of the classic SNPA decline somewhat. It may be the only IPA on this entire list that you could reasonably expect to find in every state of the U.S., and that’s an achievement that Sierra Nevada should be quite proud of.
City: Kalamazoo, MI
The verdict: This is exactly the kind of classic, balanced American IPA that was in the 25-beer final during last year’s tasting of 116, but had a slightly harder time when surrounded by the sea of 247 … while still proving itself as a classic at the same time. Moderately bitter, with a mouthfeel that is a bit creamier and more soft than others in the same mold, Two Hearted stands out with a charge of largely floral hops that then morph into lemon/orange citrus. The mouthfeel really stood out to us on this one, enhancing its hint of toasty malt sweetness, while still leaving the hops as the dominant impression. This one remains an old favorite—you’d have to be daft to turn down a Two Hearted, especially in a 16 oz can.
City: Tampa, FL
The verdict: The first time that many drinkers tasted Jai Alai, it probably seemed like the end-all, be-all example of what were at the time a new dimension in American hops. I myself remember it as one of the first truly “tropical” and “juicy” IPAs I tasted, but these things are of course relative, and it’s difficult to divorce memory from active perception. Tasting it today, Jai Alai doesn’t seem quite as assertive or boisterous as it once was … at least in comparison with the current generation of even more bombastic IPAs. Instead, it’s now the balance that stands out—an orangey and floral hop front end, followed by corresponding caramel maltiness that also provides a bit of chewy body. On the back end, that’s when you get a hint of tropical fruitiness, or perhaps stone fruit. It’s a beer to mull over, and to consider in what makes for a great IPA. Because ultimately, there are IPAs for all tastes—and for all intensities of taste.
City: St. Louis, MO
The verdict: Otherwise just known as Schlafly’s “American IPA,” this seasonal beer is simply a great example of a better-than-average classic-style IPA. The profile is very similar to many others you’ve tasted over the years—juicy citrus, resin, pine and a touch of perfume—but perfectly balanced with a body of lightly bready, doughy malt. The hops are big and assertive, but avoid straying overly into the bitter, pithy quality that you find in some citrus-forward IPAs. It’s a go-to example of the classic West Coast IPA, hailing from the heart of the Midwest, and I can’t help but wonder why the brewery doesn’t produce this beer year-round in addition to its well-regarded “T-IPA,” which features Australian hops. Both are worthy of year-round berths, for certain.
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: Laurelwood delivered multiple solid IPAs in this tasting, but of the few we were able to sample, the best was the newly arrived Tropical Rage. It’s an entry in the modern, tropical fruity IPA style, but is more subtle and gentle in its delivery than most. On the nose, perfumey hops and light tropical fruit notes (mango? melon?) are the takeaway, which yield to more citrusy hop flavors (lemon, grapefruit) on the palate. Very easy drinking, it features some well-hidden IBUs that don’t factor prominently, and feels rather like an IPA for outdoor porch or poolside consumption. This is a quaffer, for certain.
City: Minneapolis, MN
The verdict: This beer was an interesting case where all the tasters quite enjoyed it, but it still didn’t get rated nearly as highly as I was initially expecting. Main reason: I’ve had it before, and Todd the Axe Man when fresh was one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had. I’ve had cans of Todd where the tropical and especially lovely stone fruit hop aromatics (apricot, peach) absolutely explode out of the container as soon as you pop the tab, but for whatever reason, this can was significantly different. Here, the flavors were less distinct, predominantly citrus and floral, and significantly reduced in intensity. I can’t say for certain why perception can be so different, except for the fact that the can was a little bit older than is ideal. Regardless, even in what may be a lesser form, it was still a tasty, hop-forward American IPA … but I can’t help but wonder where it might end up if we did the tasting again.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: You can be certain that there was a smattering of jokes at the table about another brewery making an IPA with “banger” in the title after The Alchemist previously unleashed Focal Banger on the world, but this young Denver brewery proved multiple times within this tasting that they’re a force to be reckoned with as well. This particular IPA, which has already become a local Denver favorite, is a pretty burly example at 7.5% and 100-plus IBU. With no shortage of toasty malt sweetness for balance, it almost comes off as a slightly miniaturized DIPA, albeit one that doesn’t skimp on the hops, either. Hop character comes through with a nice, pronounced stone fruit wave and very ripe, sweet tropical notes—like caramelized pineapple chunks, or fruit in heavy syrup. It’s a rich, fairly bracing American IPA that seems pretty pleased with its own decadence. We are, too.
City: Bend, OR
The verdict: Outside of say, Maine Beer Co. or Grimm Artisanal Ales, Boneyard might be the most consistently awesome producer of hop-forward beers that we’ve had at these tastings. These guys just know hops—intimately know how to produce hoppy beer styles, I mean. RPM is their flagship IPA, and it’s a beer that also made last year’s finals. In terms of character, it actually reminds us somewhat of the preceding beer from Station 26, although it’s a little bit more reined in and drinkable. Caramel and biscuity malt are present and will not be overlooked, contributing a light malt sweetness (and just a touch of booze) that is far from cloying. The hops run slightly more citrus in direction than tropical, although it’s a fruit-forward nose that is complex and difficult to individually categorize. Orange citrus is certainly present, though, as is grapefruit. All in all, it feels like an IPA that is a synthesis of several styles, and certainly worth building around as a flagship, but Boneyard also gave us a second IPA that was even better.
City: Freeport, ME
The verdict: Oh, and speaking of Maine … hello there, Lunch. We’ve absolutely loved this beer in the past, but it’s interesting how it doesn’t quite fit the mode of most IPAs that today are considered “whales.” Lunch isn’t an absolutely absurd hop bomb by any definition—it’s not even the most hop-forward standard IPA that Maine makes. Rather, Lunch is a masterpiece of balance and subtleties, and it always has been. It’s extremely clean, allowing each individual flavor to be singled out and dissected. First, a backbone of bready malt and just the smallest bit of toast. Hops that show pure, zesty grapefruit, lemon and a hint of something juicier and more tiki-like. All in all, it’s a fairly dry IPA, and dangerously drinkable. Lunch is the kind of beer you could dissect at length, but it could just as easily disappear from in front of you as you absentmindedly down the whole bottle without even realizing that you’re doing it. It’s hard to imagine how someone could possibly dislike it … but there’s another Maine IPA we like even more.
City: Santa Rosa, CA
The verdict: When we blind-tasted the 116 IPAs in 2015, the single beer that I was most surprised to see miss out on the top 50 was Russian River’s classic Blind Pig. I wondered at the time if perhaps we had a bad bottle, or if our taste buds were simply short-circuiting on that particular day. Now I’m more certain of the latter, and can happily say with some certainty: We were wrong about Blind Pig. This was the bright, citrusy IPA we remembered, or to quote one of the score sheets: “Citrus, orange zest and pine needles. Moderate bitterness, but still easy-drinking and refreshing. Great example of classic IPA.” What else is there to say? Blind Pig stays dry, as you would expect with from an older West Coast recipe, which likewise boosts drinkability. It’s not a beer that’s trying to be massive, to be a world-beater. Pliny’s little brother remains a dependable pick wherever you see it.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: Random takeaway of this blind tasting—Richmond, Virginia is a great freaking beer city these days. Between Triple Crossing, The Veil, and Hardywood Park, it’s rapidly ascending the list of East Coast beer destinations, and flagship IPAs like Triple Crossing’s Falcon Smash are a big reason why. Hop-forward, but not straying too far from a balanced center, it’s assertive without being gimmicky or one-dimensional. Prominent citrus and dank, resinous flavors present both on the nose and the palate, with candied grapefruit sweetness that is balanced by moderate bitterness. There’s just a hint of toasted malt in there as well to keep it all in check. To quote more than one tasting sheet: “solid IPA,” and one that drinks significantly lighter than its 7.4% ABV. The crowler we received this in could all too easily become a serving size.
City: Worcester, MA
The verdict: Wormtown’s well-liked flagship IPA garnered some interesting comparisons from our tasters. One compared it to “a bigger Jai Alai,” at least in the department of hop character and assertiveness. In truth, it probably has a bit less malt/caramel character than the famed Florida IPA, but at the same time it’s bursting with citrusy goodness. “Tangerine, off-dry and yummy,” reads another taster’s sheet, calling attention to Be Hoppy’s subtle sweetness and charge of fresh, juicy citrus. There’s also an undercurrent of fresh pine, however, with adds a pleasant degree of complexity. Wormtown calls this an “left coast IPA,” and it certainly fits in well among the West Coast archetypes of this genre. We’d certainly believe that we were drinking something from Portland or San Diego, and as far as this classic genre of IPA is concerned, that’s a pretty big compliment.
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: This beer was the only one we allowed into the entire tasting that was labeled as a “session IPA,” but considering the fact that it’s 6% ABV, we’re simply going to reject that categorization: This is an American IPA, pure and simple, and it’s a damn good one at that. It’s almost shocking how flavorful this is for that 6% ABV weight class, by the way—this crowler was punching well above the weight class of many of the IPAs in this tasting that were pushing 8% ABV. Massive stone fruit and citrus aromatics explode out of the glass, very sweet and rich—think blood oranges, apricot and maybe pineapple as well. A bit of biscuity malt saves it from getting completely out of hand or artificial-tasting, adding complexity and structure. This is a flavor bomb, packed into that 6% ABV frame, and it should be sought-after beer for geeks who can appreciate big things in small packages.
City: Oklahoma City, OK
The verdict: “Definitely Mosaic/Citra stuff in here,” reads the first comment on one of the score sheets, and it’s certainly not wrong, as both are present, along with Simcoe, in this Oklahoma IPA. This is a seriously juicy and citrus-forward beer, featuring bright orange/tangerine flavors and soft, supple bitterness. On the nose, it’s a good illustration of how these intensely citric and tropical IPAs sometimes come off as quite funky or musty—an “overripe” fruit note that some appreciate and some find distasteful. Obviously, we’re among the former. There’s significant sweetness in tow with all of that juicy orange, but it does manage to finish more or less dry, which is also nice. All in all, it’s an inspired take on the new East Coast style from a brewery in the center mass of the country.
City: Morrisville, VT
The verdict: At this point in American craft beer, it’s a real rarity to see “IPA” in the 5.5% ABV range, and you could probably get away with calling this one an exceptionally hoppy pale ale, but we digress. It’s much bigger, at least aromatically, than its strength would let on, as huge aromas of fresh-squeezed orange juice come wafting out as you stick your nose above the glass. Explore a bit deeper and the big, sweet citrus is also complemented by a more exotic strain of tropical fruitiness, perhaps something like papaya, along with green, grassy notes. It’s thankfully not overly sweet on the palate, although the malt balance is more or less absent. This beer is a showcase for the single-hopped complexity of Mosaic, an experiment that many other breweries have also done, albeit not always as successfully. It remains a fascinating hop varietal because it can come off so differently in various beers, even when used in a single-hop setting. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Mosaic, but this IPA captures its juicy fruit flavors at their best.
City: San Jose, CA
The verdict: This is an interesting, bruiser of an IPA that is rougher around the edges than many of the really soft, juicy tropical IPAs we tasted, but simultaneously leans on some of the same flavors. Like Mosaic in the last beer, Citra is also popular for single-hopped uses, and on the nose here it comes through with big, sweet, tropical pineapple notes, and no small amount of resinous character as well. However, this beer stands out because it also contains a significantly more expressive charge of caramel and darker malt than almost all the other hop bomb-type IPAs, making for a more complex whole. With medium-to-high bitterness and that richer, fully malt body, it’s another one of the beers we found ourselves thinking of as a miniaturized DIPA. But in this type of field, that can be quite the effective way to stand out.
City: Minneapolis, MN
The verdict: Also known as “Batch 300,” because it was an anniversary beer that eventually became a flagship, 300 has quickly helped earn a reputation for Fulton. Built on a bed of pilsner malt, it’s crisper and more inherently sessionable right off the bat than many of the other IPAs in this tasting, while still retaining plenty of hop character. Hops come through with clean, clear citrus notes (primarily orange) and secondary notes of resin and maybe even a bit of mango, giving it an aroma that is appreciably complex but simultaneously very approachable. This is just an easy, welcoming IPA in general; the kind of beer that feels like it would be welcome in any kind of setting and with any kind of accompaniment. It would do just as well in a paired beer dinner as it would with a basket of greasy fish and chips, and who doesn’t love an IPA like that?
City: Burlington, VT
The verdict: Vermont is full of big-name breweries, but it’s also got a handful of very solid, everyday beer-makers who are also rapidly rising in our esteem. Zero Gravity is one of those places, and here they’ve produced a fairly unique, unusual IPA that stands out in this lineup for zigging when others zag. Tasting blind, it’s clear that there’s something a little bit different in the grist here, and a clever taster might deduce that this is a beer with a large proportion of malted wheat. In this case, the wheat delivers a pronounced cereal graininess and a bit of doughier, breadier character, while also suggesting the ghost of some light spiciness—you’d almost think a very light farmhouse yeast strain might be involved. At the same time, the now-familiar character of Citra leads the way on the hop front, but this IPA doesn’t overdo it as far as hop intensity is concerned. It’s an easy, gentle balance between clean-drinking grain and lightly juicy, floral hops. You can’t ask much more from an everyday IPA.
City: Boston, MA
The verdict: What’s that? A Trillium IPA not in the finals? A double dry-hopped Trillium IPA not in the finals? Saints preserve us! As it turns out, of the couple of Trillium beers we had access to, we ultimately preferred the non double dry-hopped one. Although really— #32 of 247 means we pretty much loved the Double Dry-Hopped Congress Street as well. This beer, obviously in the extremely opaque, turbid northeastern style, smacks you in the face with a very powerful and very complex array of aromatics. We noticed with several of the NE-IPAs something that held true here—they can present specific aspects very differently to multiple palates, presumably because there’s so much going on. Some tasters got bright, acidic, fresh-squeezed orange juice from this, while others thought it was more of a syrupy pineapple juice. For still others, it was the danker, earthier aspect of the Galaxy hop assault that stood out—a slightly bitter, pithy, but also woody character that was fairly unique among these beers. Mouthfeel is also notable, as it presents a very creamy texture that fits the appearance, although at the same time that doesn’t mean it’s particularly full of body. Tasting several Trillium and several Tree House beers in this tasting in particular, it becomes clear why they’re so often compared to each other, but key differences emerge as well, as we’ll touch on later.
City: Baker City, OR
The verdict: This beer nabbed a GABF medal back in 2012, and they’re still doing things very, very right at Barley Brown’s, four years later. It is, in a single sentence, a fantastically balanced, classically northwestern IPA. Everything is in harmony in this beer, from the grapefruit zest citrus on the nose to the support structure of mildly biscuity and lightly caramelized malt. The hop character combines that grapefruit citrus with fragrant, earthy pine for a classic combination that nonetheless seems fresher than it should in their hands. It incorporates the caramel in particular with a lot of tact—just a touch for complexity, without subtracting from the hops. It’s the kind of beer that scored high scores from every taster without sparking much in the way of conversation, because there’s no controversy to it. It’s all too easy to overlook this type of IPA right now, but the best examples, like this one, deserve plenty of attention and respect.
City: Athens, GA
The verdict: This is a beer we know quite well, given that Creature Comforts’ Athens, GA home is just down the highway from Paste’s Atlanta headquarters. In the last few years, Tropicália has made big waves, becoming what is likely Georgia’s most sought-after IPA. At the same time, it’s continuously a beer that generates discussion and argument in Georgian beer geek circles, who evaluate it batch to batch and proclaim that this one or that one “isn’t the same” as previous batches. Regardless, when fresh, Tropicália is some excellent IPA that combines multiple influences—sort of a meeting place between trends. The hop character sits in the uncanny valley between orange/grapefruit citrus and lightly tropical fruit, and is significantly more explosive when the beer is fresh. Tropicália isn’t purely a hop-bomb, though, as there’s a notable streak of light graininess on the malt side, and just the tiniest touch of caramel as well, bringing its halves together in harmony. As most any Georgian beer geek can tell you, it’s an IPA that drinks very easily, with notably lower-than-average bitterness and a soft mouthfeel. It strikes us as an excellent IPA for drinkers new to the style who have been turned off in the past by bitter, pithy American IPAs.
City: North Olmstead, OH
The verdict: Head Hunter, a beer that has taken home multiple GABF and World Beer Cup awards, is more or less a classic West Coast IPA on steroids. It’s predominantly dry, but throws big, juicy tropical fruit (pineapple, grapefruit, lemon) aromatics at the drinker at the same time. Unlike a lot of the newer East Coast beers, however, it chases an initial wave of fruit with a second wave of intense, resinous hop flavors and accompanying bitterness. In that sense, it’s multiple things at once—fruity, but dry. Zesty, but bitter. Quaffable, but slightly bracing as well, at least to palates that aren’t as prepared for it. It’s probably not a beer that you’d give to someone who didn’t already love IPA, but for drinkers who prefer their IPA to stay dry while also enjoying those big tropical characteristics, it’s a spectacular option. It’s a great, uncompromising IPA.
City: Paso Robles, CA
The verdict: This beer has been such a definitive American IPA since it was released more than 13 years ago that it’s difficult to have a conversation about the style without invoking it in some way. It’s also been a perennial favorite in every IPA tasting we’ve ever done. When we tasted 64 IPAs in 2013, it emerged as #1. When we tasted 116 in 2015, it was #9. And now it’s #28, just outside the finals. You could say that’s a negative trend, but considering that this is now a blind tasting of 247 IPAs, it’s still right around the top 10 percent. Moral of the story: Union Jack is eternal, and it just keeps on trucking. As ever, it’s a well-balanced, hop-forward but not bombastic IPA, featuring clean citrus (orange, lemon) flavors atop a bed of bready and lightly caramelized malt. It really doesn’t neglect the malt side of the equation, instead highlighting in a subtle way that simply makes for a better, more well-rounded beer. We’d be surprised if it was ever considered anything but a great example of American IPA.
City: San Diego, CA
The verdict: Oh, Grapefruit Sculpin … we were all curious where you might end up this year. After all, the single biggest change in the IPA genre in the last 16 months or so since we tasted the 116 has been the overwhelming surge of fruited IPAs on the market, something we’ve written about in detail. When we last tasted IPAs, the candy-sweet flavors they presented were still a total shock to our senses, and we wondered if it was really fair to include them in the same tasting. This year, by comparison, our palates have adjusted. That’s IPA trends for you—things move FAST in this corner of craft beer, and we’re just not as likely to be wowed by the flavors of a random IPA that has an addition of fresh grapefruit, pineapple, orange, mango, etc … unless it’s genuinely great and well integrated. And Grapefruit Sculpin is still really good. In fact, it may still be the best of the fruited IPAs, or at least of the ones we tasted. On the nose, the candy-like grapefruit may come off a little bit like a grapefruit Lifesaver, but the juicy flavors are tempered with just enough sweetness without getting into the realm of ridiculousness. Ballast Point was able to find an ideal middle-ground for this beer—unlike the more syrupy Pineapple Sculpin—that leaves it both decadent and drinkable in equal measure.
City: Brooklyn, NY
The verdict: After Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales dominated in our 115 DIPA blind tasting, we knew we’d witnessed the birth of a serious force to be reckoned with, when it came to hop-forward beers. Unsurprisingly, we expected a lot from them in this tasting, and they ultimately delivered in spades. Of the three IPAs that Grimm entered into this blind tasting, this beer is the lowest-ranked of the three, just barely missing out on joining two others in the 25-beer final. Like one of the others, it has the unusual distinction of being brewed with oats, presumably to achieve a creamier, silkier mouthfeel than one usually finds in IPA. Well-balanced between mildly sweet, juicy tropical hops (mango, passionfruit?) and tactful bitterness, it hovers on the edge of that “northeast IPA” style without getting completely swept up in it. It also inspired some amusing tasting sheet notes, with one taster calling it “in the cool kid style” in reference to those juicy, fruity IPAs. Still, of the three Grimm IPAs, it’s probably the easiest drinking and most reserved of the group.
And here we finally are—the 25 best beers we tasted out of a group of 247 freakin’ IPAs. Suffice to say, an insane amount of time and effort went into all the daily tastings. They stretched through weeks, as some tasters—big surprise—grew very tired of IPA. Some even took days off, to keep their palates fresh. The rest of us soldiered on, and some gained new appreciation for specific hop profiles or sub-styles of the genre. In the end, we learned quite a lot. Try sampling 247 beers in a certain style some time, and you’ll learn a whole hell of a lot as well.
You also can’t help but notice trends as they develop. For example: Two out of three 2015 GABF medal winners are in the top 25, but both of them are on the lower side of the finals group. What does this tell us? Perhaps that the GABF grading structure, with its adherence to BJCP guidelines and stated purpose of determining which beer “fits the style” best, has grown out of touch with the realities of changing consumer taste. Or put simply: The GABF judging doesn’t tend to rate today’s tropical fruit bomb IPAs very highly. You can react to that by calling them out of touch, or you can react to that by calling us trend-chasers, but we’re happy to have popular consensus more or less on our side on this one. All we can say is that they’re the beers that make us desperate to acquire and drink more. Let’s get into it.
City: Paso Robles, CA
The verdict: If the first volume of Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion IPA series was very good, this one may have been even better. You’ve got to love the confidence, by the way, of calling the first two entries of this rotating hop series “001” and “002,” implying that they want to keep their options open all the way up through 999—that would be quite the run indeed. Like the first volume, 002 is also on the lighter side for this style in both body and assertiveness—an extremely drinkable, crisp and sessionable IPA (which probably hurt it when stacked up against the monsters in the finals, more likely than not). Hops are on the floral, lightly piney and lemon citrus side, although there’s also an x-factor of what is perhaps stone fruit operating in the background that gives it something to stand out from the crowd. In the end, though, this definitely falls into the quaffable side of IPA rather than the “challenging” side.
City: Strongsville, OH
The verdict: In 2015, we blind-tasted 116 IPAs and the “relatively” unheralded White Rajah was the beer that emerged supreme at #1. At the time, none of us had ever even had a beer before from Ohio’s The Brew Kettle, but we’ve since come to learn that this is a seriously underrated producer of hop-forward beers. Our #1 pick was validated when White Rajah picked up a bronze medal at GABF this past year in their field of 336—clearly, we were on to something here. This year, White Rajah once again impressed. In a field jammed with tropical IPAs, its profile is fairly recognizable, especially in a smaller tasting: Extremely dank, intensely resinous “green” hops that present big grassy and piney flavors, backed up by lemon and grapefruit citrus. It’s such a clean, piercing sort of statement that it becomes instantly distinctive. It’s also significantly drier than most of the other finalists—one could sort of describe it as a classic West Coast IPA that has then been absolutely supercharged. And there will always be a place for that at our table.
City: Everett, MA
The verdict: Like Firestone’s Luponic Distortion, this beer from Night Shift features a rotating series of hop varietals, and is brewed differently during each batch—the difference being that Night Shift seems to switch things up significantly more often. Props to Night Shift, by the way, for repeated impressive performances in these tastings—they’ve rapidly become a brewery we expect to perform whenever we see one of their distinctive cans. Here, they’re succeeding through sheer complexity—there’s a lot going on in this brew. On the nose, big, funky tropical fruit aromatics blend—almost clash, but not quite—with resin and grassy flavors, supported at the same time by moderately toasty malt character. This was an interesting case of a beer that seemed significantly different even from its first tasting to its appearance in the finals, where the malt was emphasized more strongly on a table of hop bombs. This actually proved quite pleasant, as the combination of malt and citrus/tropical hops made for almost a “toast and marmalade” flavor profile. All in all, Morph proved fascinating in a way subtly different from almost everything else on the finals table.
City: Auburn, CA
The verdict: Hoppy beers from Knee Deep have performed well in almost every tasting we’ve had, so this is no surprise. In terms of character, it actually shares some aspects in common with White Rajah, with an intensely resinous, perfumey aroma that also hits on some clean citrus (lemon, tangerine). It’s a little bit thinner of body and easier drinking than the Rajah, however, and not quite as bitter. Rather, it marries some mild cereal graininess with those big, dank hop overtones to create something that smells like it came from the marriage of an orange grove and a redwood forest. These types of beers seem to be Knee Deep’s bread and butter, and they’re damn good at what they do.
City: Los Angeles, CA
The verdict: Just in case anyone in the comments is already drafting up a “so you ignored breweries owned by AB-Inbev…” comment, you can go ahead and delete it. Whether or not we advocate such acquisitions, credit should always be given where credit is due, and we really love this IPA from Golden Road. It’s not even the first time—we’ve already praised this beer last year in a summer seasonals tasting, and this one only confirmed it. It’s on the lighter side for these finals, with a clean blend of tropical (pineapple) and citrus (lemon, especially) notes on the nose, nicely dry and in great balance. The malt side of the equation isn’t ignored either, with pleasantly bready character that is unobtrusive and provides a perfect canvas for hops. This isn’t a beer that has a big cult following or hype train behind it, so the blind tasting setting might well be the best way to deduce that it truly is near the top of its class. Do your own blind tasting, and you could be surprised—especially if you love clean, citrusy, quaffable IPAs.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: Station 26 is clearly doing some things right in the Denver beer scene these days, giving us a second IPA that ended up in the finals. This is a massive beer, with a big, sweet, tropically charged nose redolent of mango and also apricot-like stone fruit. It’s a viscous, almost syrupy beer with no shortage of sweetness backing those juicy hop flavors—an almost honeyed quality that is hard to resist, but with enough bitterness to balance things out on the back end. It’s certainly indicative of some of the trends that are currently popular in IPA, but it avoids the saccharine or artificial pitfalls that some examples are falling into at the same time. It will be interesting to see how ultra-expressive IPAs in this vein compete against venerable, classic examples in a city such as Denver, which has been a craft bastion for such a long time.
City: Decatur, GA
The verdict: Three Taverns is another brewery we know very well, considering that they’re only a mile or two down the road from the Paste headquarters. Their flagship American IPA, A Night on Ponce, is frankly a beer that we didn’t much care for when it was first introduced in 2015, and it didn’t make the top 50 of the tasting of 116 IPAs. However, since being reformulated and non-filtered in recent months, this beer has transformed into what might be Georgia’s best straight-up IPA, and one that kills in blind tastings. It’s a relatively balanced beer (at least in comparison to the modern genre) that ably mixes old and nouveau influences. Hops are moderately aggressive citrus (grapefruit) and tropical (pineapple), very lightly sweet, and balanced by a faint bit of caramel malt as well. Real crystal malt character is honestly something of a rarity in modern IPA, or it’s fallen out of the vogue, but this is how you do it in a subtle way that doesn’t steal any attention. It’s a well-crafted IPA that has now been honed-in to exactly how the brewery wants it.
City: Bend, OR
The verdict: We’ve already mentioned Boneyard’s consistency with hop-forward beer, but it bears repeating: They’re really good at this sort of thing. This is another beer that sort of straddles the border between old-school and new-school, executing on some classic flavor combinations but doing so with modern panache. Firm hoppiness shines in the nose, with dank, resinous character and some juicy, orangey citrus as well. To quote one score sheet: “Nose like a freshly-mowed orchard.” To quote a different one: “This is what I think of when I think of IPA.” There’s some toast and caramel malt in this beer’s backbone as well, and a moderately bitter finish that reminds you that this is “IPA” and not orange juice. It’s a new beer to Boneyard’s lineup, but you’d believe them if they said they’d been making it for 10 years—and we mean that as a compliment.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: Our second beer from Triple Crossing gets immediate style points for its fabulous Jurassic Park crowler, but it’s doing pretty well from a taste standpoint as well. We can immediately appreciate that it’s a significantly different beer from their Falcon Smash IPA—where that one was dank, resinous and almost hop oily, Clever Girl is soft, with wheat-like bready malt flavors that support a delicious charge of tropical hops. Some tasters mention mango in their notes, describing its tropical impression, while others single out “melon,” in much the same way that one sometimes gets from hop varietals such as Mandarina Bavaria. The word “pillowy” comes up on one score sheet describing the pleasantly soft mouthfeel and correspondingly low bitterness, but the nice thing is that its sweetness is also well within check. This is an IPA made for a very different taste than their Falcon Smash, and it’s doubly impressive that both of them are on point when they’re shooting for disparate substyles.
City: Chicago, IL
The verdict: Chicago’s Revolution Brewing produces a whole range of different single-hopped “Hero” IPAs, each a spin-off of their solid Anti-Hero IPA flagship. Of those, the well-regarded Citra Hero may be the best, harnessing the one-hop complexity of Citra to deliver big on the nose and the palate. Aromatically, you get all the intense tropical/citrus combination you expect out of Citra, a combination of orange and slightly syrupy pineapple that is that hop’s distinctive trademark. This isn’t just a neutral malt profile laden with Citra, though—it also features significantly toasty, slightly darker-than-average malt influences and mild residual sweetness, creating an IPA that no one would reasonably accuse of being one-note. If you bemoan a glut of Citra-style IPAs that have no malt to stand up to their hop rates, then Citra Hero is a beer you should really be seeking out.
City: Asheville, NC
The verdict: 2015’s GABF silver medalist is an angular, focused IPA that zeroes in on a specific flavor profile and then just executes the hell out of it. Clean, distinctive, expressive citrus is the name of the game on the nose here, a tandem of classic grapefruit and tangerine hops that gains just a little bit more richness from an initially hidden touch of pineapple. Still, this is quite a dry IPA compared to some of the other finalists, with a moderate, drying bitterness that makes it very food-friendly. Malt flavors are very minimal, best imagined as a stage for grassy and citrus hop flavors to perform upon. It’s like something you would drink alongside the best ceviche you’ve ever had in your life at a little oceanside restaurant, while feeling energetic enough afterward to frolic in the surf. Yes, I realize that’s kind of a weird tasting note. Alternate note: It would probably make a killer beermosa.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: The Veil is clearly one of several other reasons you need to be visiting the breweries of Richmond, beyond what we’ve already seen in Triple Crossing. This is a big, oily, NE-style IPA all the way, with so many big flavors that it almost becomes confusing. On the nose, you’re gobsmacked with super juicy citrus and tropical fruit—mango, pineapple and orange zest are really only the tip of the iceberg. It’s impressively full in terms of mouthfeel for a beer that is only 5.5% ABV, as if those hop oils are literally buttressing the whole beer and holding it up. Being the double dry-hopped version of their flagship IPA, it’s unsurprising that there’s very little malt to speak of, although you do get a bit of wheaty breadiness that is immediately inundated in the flood of hop flavors. Master Master Shredder Shredder is a decadent beer, and certainly on the sweeter side, with candy-like fruitiness that would likely seem absurd to an O.G. IPA fanatic, but is undeniably satisfying. It makes us desperately want to try the rest of the hop-forward lineup from The Veil, and what better praise can we give than that?
City: Alpine, CA
The verdict: Sometimes in IPA you wonder how certain hop varietals or combinations come into the vogue, but then you have a beer like Duet and realize “Oh, so this is why so many people use Simcoe and Amarillo together, then.” It’s the kind of beer you taste and realize that it’s been imitated so many times, but good luck at surpassing this level of skill and balance, if that’s your plan. In some aspects, Duet is like a “classic West Coast IPA,” but it also features some more modern wrinkles. Sweet, juicy orange and grapefruit candy can be found on the nose, but all in all the beer is more dry than it is sweet. At the same time, both Simcoe and Amarillo contribute grassy, musty and almost woodsy, resinous notes along with their citrus, providing a hop counterpoint to the fruit. To quote one of the score sheets, “Not quite old-school, but the modern version of old-school.” Delicious beer, all in all. (Note: We wish we could also have gotten Alpine Nelson, but the hops are in short supply at the moment.)
City: Monson, MA
The verdict: It’s no secret that Tree House is among the biggest names in IPA these days, and one of the proponents and innovators of the NE-IPA style, so it was more or less a necessity that we acquire some. Most of us had never tasted any of their turbid, milky-looking IPAs before this tasting, but afterward, it was clear that the hype is real. Green is not quite as sought-after as the famed Julius, but it’s an explosive IPA in its own right, with huge citrus impressions of fresh orange juice right off the bat. It’s extremely resinous and super grassy, as one would probably expect from a beer named “Green,” but there’s also some more exotic, unusual tropical characteristics working here under the surface … almost a “bubblegum”-like note, which we picked up in only a few of these beers. From one score sheet: “Citrus overload.” From another: “Tastes just like a mango.” A small amount of booziness even shows up in this one, adding a slight sherry-like impression that was unexpected. Like many of the NE-IPAs, the mouthfeel is notably thick and chewy. If you’ve never had a beer in this style, it’s likely to warp your entire perception of what “IPA” can mean.
City: Chicago, IL
The verdict: I’m not sure I’ve ever had a pale ale or IPA from Chicago’s Half Acre that has been anything less than great—they do several things well, but they do hop-forward beer better than anything else, as Chicago beer geeks know quite well. In terms of character, nearly every score sheet says “crisp,” “clean” or “light” on it somewhere—this IPA is a serious quaffer that features bright fruit flavors without being at all saccharine. Hops are big on the nose, primarily citrus (lemon really pops) and stone fruit (apricot?) which make for an enticingly perfurmey bouquet. It’s very soft on the palate, with low bitterness that makes it quite refreshing—or “hot weather IPA,” as one score sheet points out. From a few other score sheets: “Smells like freshly cut grass” and “goes down so easy.” Especially in a lineup full of bruisers, Vallejo comes out looking like a paragon of drinkability.
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.
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.
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.
(/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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.