For our companion piece and final conclusions on the style after blind-tasting 324 of these beers, read today’s The State of IPA: Hazy, Juicy, Sludgy and Confused.
How do you introduce the largest blind tasting that Paste has ever conducted? I suppose the answer is “with a little context.”
We have blind-tasted IPAs (that’s “single IPA”) three times, at Paste. The first time was in 2015, and the 116 beers we received then seemed like a staggering, unfathomable figure. It was equally true in 2016 when we blind-tasted IPAs again and received a whopping 247 entrants. And it’s true once again here in 2018, with 324 of them—not far behind the 408 entries (also a record) at the Great American Beer Festival last year. Every time we do this, it seems like the previous mark will be impossible to surpass. Each time, we’re wrong.
The main reason why is the enduring, seemingly ever-strengthening popularity of India pale ale with American drinkers. As the beer geek market has matured, IPA has changed and matured along with it, branching off into numerous offshoots like capillaries splitting from an artery. Since the last time we did this tasting, trends have come and gone, and the pace of adaptation in the market has seemingly only accelerated. Even organizations that are resistant to change, such as the Brewers Association, have had to officially recognize some of these changes such as the normalization of hazy IPAs by stating that 2018’s GABF competition will for the first time divide the IPA field into “hazy” and “non-hazy” camps.
In fact, the question of “What is India pale ale today?” has simply become too onerous and multifaceted to tackle adequately during the introduction of this piece. Thus, allow me to redirect you to our companion piece, The State of IPA: Hazy, Juicy, Sludgy and Confused. In it, I’ve tried to capture the distilled perspective one gains about a modern American beer style while blind-tasting 324 of them over the course of 17 days. Suffice to say, we have some strong opinions, positive and negative, about where IPA is headed.
Some of those opinions will be reflected in the beers you see in the ranked portion of this tasting. Read on, and find out.
As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these IPAs 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.
Obviously, when it comes to tasting IPAs, freshness is a factor that looms large, so allow me to address it directly here. Throughout the many days of preliminary tasting, we attempted to drink daily heats of beer that corresponded roughly to when each beer reached the Paste office. It’s by no means a perfect system, but it’s what we have.
Before the finals tasting, we also reached out to all of the breweries in the top 25 to inform them that their beer had made the finals, and offered them an opportunity to send in fresh beer if they chose to do so for the final.
— This is a tasting of IPAs, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. All beers had to be labeled as “IPA” in some capacity. 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 strict limit of 8% ABV on submissions. All beers under 8% ABV were accepted. All beers of 8% ABV or above were not. Beers labeled as “DIPA” were accepted if their ABV was still under 8%.
— All types of adjuncts and flavorings were allowed. Fruited IPAs, brettanomyces IPAs, etc.
— There was a limit of only 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.
Paste has conducted a whole lot of blind tastings over the years, but never have we organized one where so much great beer—and so many great breweries—ended up in The Field, rather than the ranked portion of the list. That’s just what happens when you end up with 324 entries, but it also speaks toward the need for consistency in beer. There are breweries that ended up in the top 25 final and can also be found here in The Field, as well as breweries that produced multiple beers that almost made the ranked portion, but fell just short.
In general, we tasted a lot of great IPAs in this tasting, but we also tasted a whole lot of bad beer as well. Especially among the hazy subset of IPAs, it was frequently impossible to know what to expect until we stuck our noses into the glass. Some were juicy, bright and welcoming, with balanced sweetness, fruit flavors and “greener” impressions that work together in harmony. Others were sludgy catastrophes that seemingly had more yeast and hop particulate in suspension than they did water. As this substyle has come to dominate the hype cycle as far as IPAs are concerned, there has been a definite tendency for some breweries to get caught up in it to their detriment—stuck in a loop of creating progressively more and more absurdly overhopped IPAs until the result tastes like a puddle of grass clippings and yard waste. We tasted far too many beers of that nature.
Still, simply looking at the names of breweries in The Field, you know there must be a lot of quality here. There are beers here from all the following: The Alchemist, Bale Breaker, Boneyard, Burial, Cerebral, Creature Comforts, Firestone Walker, Fremont, Half Acre, Knee Deep, Night Shift, Noble, Oskar Blues, Societe, Surly, Trillium, Wicked Weed and so many more. On any given day, we’d be thrilled to drink an IPA from one of those places. And yet, when less than a sixth of the entries can make the rankings, things get tough.
As always, the beers listed below in The Field are simply listed alphabetically, which means they’re not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Able Seedhouse + Brewery First Light
Adelbert’s Brewery Travelin’ Man
Against the Grain Pile Face
Alaskan Brewing Co. Juneau Juice
Alaskan Brewing Co. Smash Galaxy
The Alchemist Focal Banger
Ale Asylum Velveteen Habit
Aurora Ale and Lager Co. So Damn Thirsty
Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA
Avery Brewing Co. Go Play IPA
Avery Brewing Co. IPA
Back East Brewing Co. Ice Cream Man
Back East Brewing Co. Intergalactic Lupulinary
Baere Brewing Co. C3(i)PA
Baere Brewing Co. Totes Redux
Bale Breaker Brewing Co. Leota Mae
Bale Breaker Brewing Co. Topcutter
Banded Oak Brewing Co. American IPA
Barley Brown’s Pallet Jack IPA
Bear Republic Hop Shovel
Bear Republic Racer 5
Bell’s Two Hearted
Bhramari Brewing Co. City Gold
Bhramari Brewing Co. Lorelai
BlackStack Brewing Thunder Lizard
Black Shirt Brewing Co. After Party
Black Shirt Brewing Co. Frontman
Blue Ghost Brewing Co. Grapefruit IPA
Blue Ghost Brewing Co. Mango IPA
Blue Pants Brewery Hop Bursted IPA
Boneyard Beer Co. Hop-A-Wheelie
Bond Bros Beer Co. Local IPA
Bootstrap Brewing Insane Rush IPA
Brewery Vivant Hop Field
Brewery Vivant Secret Rituals
Burial Beer Co. Hawkbill
Burlington Beer Co. Single Hop Simcoe
Burlington Beer Co. Uncanny Valley
Call to Arms Brewing Co. Do You Even Juice, Bro?
Cape May Brewing Co. Follow the Gull
Capital Brewery Mutiny IPA
Central Waters Brewing Co. Caught in the Rain
Central Waters Brewing Co. Rift
Cerebral Brewing Rare Trait
Cigar City Jai Alai
Cinderlands Beer Co. Check the Gate
Cinderlands Beer Co. Test Piece: Galaxy
ColdFire Brewing Cumulus
Collective Arts Brewing Ransack the Universe
Common Roots Brewing Co. Good Fortune
Commonwealth Brewing Co. Old School/New Skool
Comrade Brewing Co. More Dodge Less Ram
Comrade Brewing Co. Superpower
Connecticut Valley Brewing A Fantastic Voyage
COOP Ale Works F5
COOP Ale Works Fly Me Away
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Galactic Space Circus
Crooked Stave IPA
D9 Brewing Co. Cryogenic
D9 Brewing Co. Hakuna Matata
Dark Horse Brewing Co. Crooked Tree
Dark Horse Brewing Co. Smells Like a Safety Meeting
Deep River Brewing Co. Chowdah
Deep River Brewing Co. Mango Tango Foxtrot
Dogfish Head Flesh and Blood
Dogfish Head Lupu-Luau
Drake’s Brewing Co. Brightside Brut IPA
Dry Dock Brewing Co. Hop Abomination
Dry Dock Brewing Co. IPA
DuClaw Brewing Co. Enjoy Your Time Away
Due South Brewing Co. Category 3
18th Street Brewery Here Comes the Reaper
18th Street Brewery The Simple SIPA
Elevation Beer Co. Anniversary IPA
Elevation Beer Co. First Cast
El Segundo Brewing Co. Cerveza Fresca
Epic Brewing Co. Lupulin Burst
Eventide Brewing The A
Fiction Beer Co. Don’t Tame the Wild
Fiction Beer Co. Madame Psychosis
Fieldwork Brewing Co. Broken Heroes
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. Crosstown Traffic
Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion #10
Foley Bros. Brewing Big Bang
Founders Centennial IPA
4-Hands Brewing Co. Divided Sky Rye IPA
4-Hands Brewing Co. Incarnation
4 Noses Brewing Orange Velvet
4 Noses Brewing Whimsy
Fremont Brewing Co. Lush IPA
Fulton Beer 300
Fulton Beer Sweet Child of Vine
GoodLife Brewing Descender IPA
Good Nature Brewing Blight Buster
Good People Brewing Co. Hitchhiker
Good People Brewing Co. IPA
Golden Road Point the Way IPA
Green Bench Brewing Co. Sunshine City
Green Cheek Beer Co. Wave Goodbye
Green Man Brewery Tart ‘n Hazy
Green Man Brewery Trickster
Grimm Artisanal Ales Magnetic Compass
Half Acre Beer Co. Vallejo
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery Tropication
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery VIPA
Henniker Brewing Co. Hop Slinger
Henniker Brewing Co. Wait a Minute
Hermitage Brewing Co. Strata
Highland Brewing Co. AVL IPA
Hi-Wire Brewing Hi-Pitch Mosaic IPA
Hops & Grain Brewery Bales of Haze
Hops & Grain Brewery Pellets & Powder
Humulus Project Prodigious
Ipswich Ale Brewery Route 101
Knee Deep Brewing Breaking Bud
Knee Deep Brewing Slow Mo
Kros Strain Brewing Fairy Nectar
Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co. Big Slide
Left Hand Brewing Left Hand IPA
Lift Bridge Brewery Hop Dish IPA
Long Trail Brewing Co. Limbo IPA
MadTree Brewing Entropic Theory
MadTree Brewing Heroes
Mantra Brewing Saffron IPA
Maui Brewing Co. Big Swell IPA
Mill Creek Brewing Co. Transcendent
Mill Creek Brewing Co. Woodshed
Monday Night Brewing I’m Suuuper Cereal
Nebraska Brewing Co. IPA
Nebraska Brewing Co. Mosaic IPA
New Belgium Juicy Haze IPA
New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA
New Oberpfalz Brewing Hopwagen
New Realm Brewing Co. Hoplandia
Night Shift Brewing Santilli
Ninkasi Brewing Co. Prismatic
Ninkasi Brewing Co. Total Domination
Noble Ale Works I Love It
NoDa Brewing Co. Dreamsicle IPA
NoDa Brewing Co. Hop, Drop ‘n Roll
NOLA Brewing Flippy Floppy
Odell Brewing Co. IPA
One World Brewing Claussen Paradise
Oskar Blues Fugli
Oskar Blues IPA
Otter Creek Free Flow IPA
Our Mutual Friend Brewing Co. Time’s Arrow
Perennial Artisan Ales Lascaux
Perrin Brewing Co. 98 Problems
Perrin Brewing Co. North South
pFriem Family Brewers Down Under IPA
pFriem Family Brewers IPA
Port City Brewing Integral
Port City Brewing Monumental
Proof Brewing Co. La La Land
Red Brick Brewing Hoplanta
Redhook Brewery Rye Segall
Red Hare Brewing Soft J
Reformation Brewery Nolan
Reformation Brewery Oren
Relic Brewing Co. Leaf Storm
Relic Brewing Co. The Lee Shore
Resident Culture Brewing Co. Free Skate
Revolution Brewing Anti-Hero IPA
Rhinegeist Brewery Streaker
Rhinegeist Brewery Truth
River North Brewery Colorado IPA
Roadhouse Brewing Co. Mountain Jam Vol. 1
Roadhouse Brewing Co. Wilson
Rockyard Brewing Co. Hopalypto
Rogue Ales Combat Wombat
Rogue Ales 5-Hop IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Art Car IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Not a Collaboration
SanTan Brewing Co. Strata Blaster
Saranac Mosaic IPA
Saranac Tropical Storm
Scofflaw Brewing Co. Basement
Scofflaw Brewing Co. Hooligan
Second Self Beer Co. Triforce
Seventh Son Brewing Co. Gleen
Seventh Son Brewing Co. The Scientist
The Shed Brewery Mountain IPA
Short’s Huma Lupa Licious
Short’s Psychedelic Cat Grass
Sibling Revelry Brewery Dew Brew
Sibling Revelry Brewery IPA
Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing
Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Silver City Brewery Sun Glitter
Sixpoint Brewery Smoothie
Sixpoint Brewery Fruit Smoothie
Sly Fox Brewing Co. Vulpulin IPA
Smartmouth Brewing Co. The Circle
Smartmouth Brewing Co. Prototype
Smog City Brewing IPA
Societe Brewing Co. The Publican
Societe Brewing Co. The Pupil
Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA
Starr Hill Brewery Menage ‘a VA
Starr Hill Brewery New England IPA
Stone Brewing Scorpion Bowl
Stone Brewing Tangerine Express
Surly Brewing Co. Furious
Surly Brewing Co. Todd the Axe Man
Swamp Head Brewery Big Nose
Swamp Head Brewery Han Slow Mo
SweetWater Brewing Co. IPA
SweetWater Brewing Co. Triple Tail
Telluride Brewing Co. Tempter IPA
3 Sheeps Brewing Co. Waterslides
Three Taverns Brewery Rowdy and Proud
Track 7 Brewing Co. Panic
Track 7 Brewing Co. Sukahop
Trillium Brewing Co. A Street IPA
Triple C Brewing Co. 3C IPA
Triptych Brewing Attenuation: Look It Up
Triptych Brewing Join the Circus
21st Amendment Brewery Brew Free! or Die
21st Amendment Brewery Brew Free! or Die Blood Orange
Two Roads Brewing Co. Honeyspot Road IPA
Uinta Brewing Grapefruit Hop Nosh
Uinta Brewing West Coast IPA
Upland Brewing Co. Dragonfly
Urban Artifact Post Card
Urban South Brewery Holy Roller
Variant Brewing Co. Atmosphere
Wasatch Ghostrider White IPA
Westbrook Brewing Co. Rinse/Repeat
Wicked Weed Brewing Astronomical
Wild Heaven Beer Wise Blood IPA
Wormtown Brewery Ales for ALS
Wormtown Brewery Be Hoppy
Worthy Brewing Co. IPA
Worthy Brewing Co. Strata IPA
Wren House Brewing Co. Phoenix Lights
Yellowhammer Brewing Cheating Heart IPA
Yellowhammer Brewing Mosaic Coyote
After we finished tasting all 324 of these beers and I averaged the scores they received, something occurred to me. It was this: With a field this large, I hate to let all of the other great beers past #50 go completely unrecognized. Writing 50 entries (and making them distinctive) is already an extremely difficult task, so I can’t actually take it upon myself to WRITE more entries than the usual 50. But what we can do is list a few more of the beers that just barely missed being in the top 50.
So here you are: 30 more beers, which comprise #80-51 of 324 in the overall average scores. You could consider this section our “honorable mentions” for the tasting. Every one of these breweries made a very, very good beer in order to make the top 25% of all the IPAs we tasted.
80. Fort George Brewery 3-Way IPA
79. Firestone Walker Union Jack
78. Samuel Adams NE-IPA
77. Funky Buddha Brewery Hansel
76. Prison City Hawaiian Trainwreck
75. Station 26 Brewing Co. Juicy Banger
74. Wren House Brewing Co. Robot Grasshopper
73. The Brew Kettle White Rajah
72. Green Empire Brewing Side Business
71. Cape May Brewing Co. Catch the Drift
70. Triple C Brewing Co. Headrush
69. Three Taverns A Night on Ponce
68. Sun King Brewing Co. SKB IPA
67. Wrecking Bar Brewpub Juice Willis
66. Hermitage Brewing Citra
65. Golden Road Brewing Heal the Bay
64. Perennial Artisan Ales Cave Torch
63. Our Mutual Friend Brewing Co. Neon Nail
62. Call to Arms Brewing Co. CTA IPA
61. Boneyard Beer Co. RPM IPA
60. Outer Range Brewing Co. IPA
59. Triple Crossing Brewing Co. Citra Triangles
58. Cerebral Brewing Gamma Knife
57. Ology Brewing Co. Sensory Overload
56. Maine Beer Co. Woods and Waters
55. WeldWerks Brewing Co. Coalescent
54. Old Nation Brewing Co. M-43
53. Fieldwork Brewing Co. Scream, Citra Scream
52. Schlafly IPA
51. One World Brewing Hoppyness Starts With You
City: El Segundo, CA
The verdict: Mayberry is a beer we’ve liked in the past, and it remains an all-around solid representation of an IPA that exists in the middle ground between older and newer styles. Although styled as a “100% Mosaic IPA,” it doesn’t quite pack the assertive tropical fruit/berry character often associated with the varietal. Rather, the profile of Mayberry is nicely balanced and moderate in intensity—pleasant citrus and grass/resin are complemented by clean, crisp malt, in what one taster’s sheet dubbed “modern, non-hazy IPA.” Another taster sort of summed things up on his own score sheet: “At this point, a mildly tropical, crisp IPA like this is kind of a great alternative.” Its presence here speaks to the wide array of IPA substyles that ultimately performed well.
City: Tallahassee, FL
The verdict: One of our biggest sticking points in this blind tasting ended up being tableside discussions/arguments on the nature of descriptors like “grassy” and “chewy.” It has become apparent that these ideas often constitute a dividing line between IPAs we quite like, and ones that we can’t quite handle—beers that are so obsessed with the quest for “juiciness” that they become overly choked with either yeast or hop particulate until they’re overpowered by grassy, green, herbaceous flavors. Proof’s entry here is one that deftly toes that line, without stepping over onto the wrong side. Big citrus (lemon) and tropical (mango) juiciness is buttressed by a whole lot of grass/resin and a very chewy texture, which stops just short of being overwhelming. At the same time, it’s a bit drier than some of the other NE-IPAs, with a nose that combines ripe tropical fruits with huge, dank weediness. It’s one of those beers where it wouldn’t take much for its flavor profile to become too intense to the point of being unappealing, but they wisely didn’t let that happen.
City: Greeley, CO
The verdict: WeldWerks has ascended to the status of one of Colorado’s most hyped breweries, and with good reason—they produce well above-average versions of most of the styles that get beer geeks excited, and especially IPA and imperial stout in particular. Juicy Bits is a beer we’ve had before, but there was a unique wrinkle to its profile this time that none of us could remember tasting in the past. Its expected orange juiciness is there—this beer is packed with it, along with some nice stone fruit peachiness, but our cans also displayed an unexpected, almost “smoked” quality on the nose that was noticed by several tasters. A subtle note that reminded various tasters of dried peppers or smoked paprika, it still didn’t hurt overall appreciation of the beer, especially once the orange juice and resin start popping on the palate. Thick and chewy in terms of texture, it may have been giving tasters some kind of false positive as far as the “smoke” note was concerned, but that very note also engendered a lot of discussion at the table of its other merits.
City: New Orleans, LA
The verdict: In terms of profound takeaways I can list after this blind tasting, the most prominent one is this: A great NE-IPA can come from just about anywhere these days. Yes, it’s equally true that terrible hazy IPAs can also come from any brewery, but just because you might not think of a brewery as an NE-IPA powerhouse ‘ala Tree House or Trillium, that doesn’t mean they haven’t recently discovered the magic formula. Some of them definitely have, and this beer from NOLA is the perfect example. They’re by no means a brewery we usually associate with hazy hop bombs, but this beer was a (shockingly) pleasant surprise. Big, sweet citrus is assertive on the palate, followed by moderate grassiness that morphs into a second wave of peach and pineapple fruitiness and a long, green finish. Juicy and assertive, but still fairly approachable, it inspired the following note from one taster: “It has the viscosity of a Russian imperial stout. If you’re doing beer as juice, this is it.”
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: Oh, and speaking of a brewery you wouldn’t expect to see in a hazy IPA conversation … it’s Widmer! Yeah, that AB InBev Widmer, best known for their iconic hefe. Look, we didn’t expect it either, but this beer is hugely assertive and brings some very interesting flavors into play. It’s a whole lot of things at once—big tropical fruits, some caramel sweetness, some pine and resin, like a miniaturized DIPA. It’s not lacking in juice, but features more biscuity malt balance than the majority of the other IPA entries—you definitely won’t be seeing the words “caramel” or “biscuit” pop up many times throughout these rankings, given the modern IPA landscape. All of the flavors are intense, cranked up to 11, to the point that one taster thought it was almost a bit overpowering, but most tasters appreciate its sheer gusto.
City: Bremerton, WA
The verdict: Mango and pineapple juiciness are the name of the game in this hazy IPA from Washington’s Silver City, a brewery that has popped up highly in a few Paste blind tastings—particularly the annual Christmas beer tasting, where they regularly seem to dominate. This beer, Tropic Haze, is the first Silver City IPA to really excite our taste buds, and it does so by being just a very solid representation of what NE-IPA is all about. The aforementioned tropical fruit juiciness leads off on the palate, although the nose is more dank, with a significant (but pleasant) cattiness. Fairly well balanced all around, it doesn’t get too sweet or syrupy, but just lets its hops run wild to good effect. As one taster literally wrote, “people will like this.” He wasn’t wrong.
City: San Diego, CA
The verdict: As a brewery, Coronado has produced some crystal clear IPAs that quite impressed us over the course of the last few years, but this is the first of their hazy IPAs to catch our eye. Brewed with oats for a creamy mouthfeel, this one is a bit more on the subtle side (at least compared to some of the other hazies), with a nice hop melange that blends tropical fruit impressions with something distinctly melon-like—one taster decided that note was “distinctly cantaloupe.” An easy-drinking, very approachable side of NE-IPA is on display here.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: Final Gravity isn’t a brewery that any of us at Paste had sampled before, but after seeing their overall performance in this tasting, we’re all the more amazed by the sheer glut of amazing IPA breweries in Richmond—to have Triple Crossing, The Veil, The Answer, Final Gravity and even good ‘ole Stone in one city is nothing short of amazing, and that’s still leaving out plenty of others. Sunspots is hazy, but on the more subtle side of the spectrum, with citrus juiciness that is restrained and almost balanced by light maltiness that carries an unexpectedly toasted, slightly bready quality. Multiple tasters praised its easy-drinking demeanor, while one in particular was effusive: “Juicy, complex and well-made. Love everything about this.”
Note: Please ignore that this photo says “The Doppler Effect,” as we seem to have misplaced the photo of Sunspots. Our apologies.
City: Middlebury, VT
The verdict: There are interesting flavors to be gained in combining newer and older hop varietals in modern IPA, and Berner is a good example, where modern favorites like Citra and Galaxy meet classical Cascade (and to a lesser extent, Simcoe). The effect here is a very pretty blending of styles—Berner is scented like orange perfume and wildflowers, and is very soft on the palate, with little bitterness. Effortless in terms of drinking, it combines light pine and resin with subtle hints of sweeter, juicier citrus. It’s a good example of how you don’t need to blow the doors off in NE-IPA to make a nicely balanced, easy-drinking beer—or indeed, how it’s easier to make a balanced beer in this style if delivering MAXIMUM HOPS isn’t your sole goal.
City: Avondale Estates, GA
The verdict: Being based in Atlanta, the beer drinkers of Paste have slowly watched the city’s IPA tastes swing in the direction of hazy/juicy, a few years behind the national curve. There are now a good number of solid hazy options throughout the greater Atlanta area, from the likes of breweries such as Creature Comforts, Torched Hop, Monday Night Brewing, Three Taverns and the Wrecking Bar Brewpub, but Wild Heaven’s Altair is one of the best you’re likely to be able to find in cans on a regular basis. This one is brightly citric and very easy drinking, with clean, punchy flavors of lemon and orange, followed by touches of white grape. As one taster wrote: “Very genuine, bright citrus nose, orangey and floral, easy to enjoy.” From another: “Surprising depth for a very light color, clean finish.” Regardless, it has what is an important quality in NE-IPA, which is drinkability.
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: Freeport, ME
The verdict: In the course of repeating this type of blind tasting multiple times for the same style (IPA), there are classic beers that eventually fall out of favor, usually because they’re simply being left behind by the evolution of personal taste. Another One is not one of those beers. Unlike so many others, it has a way of reinventing itself—not because the beer itself has changed, mind you, but because it’s repeatedly been able to fit into different nooks and crannies of an evolving niche. These days, what you’re most apt to note with Another One is the sheer drinkability of it—the beer is one of the most dangerously “crushable” 7% ABV bottles ever created, which makes the name all the more apropos. Bright, lemon citrus and lightly resinous/grassy hops are perfectly balanced with subtle, crisp, slightly doughy malt in beautiful harmony. It’s a modern classic of the genre, by any definition.
City: Chicago, IL
The verdict: Revolution’s flagship Anti-Hero IPA is a great example of how the IPA market has evolved in the last decade—when I first tasted it in 2010, it seemed like an all-out hop assault, but the same beer today presents itself as much more malt-balanced to the average IPA-drinker palate. The brewery must be well aware of this, and as a result they rededicated themselves to creating a rotating lineup of much more hop-forward “heroes,” highlighting popular varietals like Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic and more. Mosaic-Hero is interesting, presenting less of the tropical fruit/berry notes often associated with Mosaic and instead uncovering a different side of the hop—one that is much more resinous, with an earthy, almost herbal quality that is unique. “Clean, resin and grapefruit zest, West Coast-like but slightly unusual” reads one score sheet. “Good all-around IPA that blends styles,” reads another. “An IPA I would actually order again.” In a landscape of saccharine, one-and-done hoppy beers, that’s a not insignificant bit of praise.
City: Hinesburg, VT
The verdict: Of all the breweries we regularly receive beer from in Vermont, Frost has proven to be perhaps the most dependable of them all, in terms of making the ranked portion of Paste blind tastings—particularly when the style is a hop-forward one. This beer is pretty much on the lowest end of the “IPA” spectrum as far as ABV is concerned, although IPA in the 5% range is seemingly becoming more common. What it’s certainly not lacking in is hop presence, as the aromatics on Ponyboy are explosive, packed with dank, catty and citric notes. Lemon and grapefruit blend with high-octane dankness and mild bitterness, in a package that is still quite easy to drink. Big flavors in a small package—with the decline of session IPA, it seems likely that the style will be largely be absorbed into IPAs that look and feel a lot like Ponyboy.
City: Decorah, IA
The verdict: There’s a valid question to be asked, in the world of hazy IPA, about how much hop flavor intensity is too much intensity. What we do know is this: You can’t simply keep adding hops forever. There exists a definite tipping point, after which the sought-after “juiciness” disappears and leaves you with flavors that are almost exclusively green, grassy and almost corrosive in texture. This IPA from Toppling Goliath is perhaps the closest to that tipping point while also still being one we quite enjoyed—it is SO close to being overkill, but somehow stays barely on the right side of drinkable. It should go without saying that the flavors are all massive—monolithic impressions of resin, grass, intense citrus, sweet onion/garlic and mango, each one bigger than the last. The texture, likewise, is extremely thick and chewy. In short, this is exactly the sort of IPA that is currently dominating the highest rankings on ratings sites such as Untappd, and much of that is due to bombast. A lot of breweries are trying to make hazy IPAs in this mold and failing miserably at it, but we’re not surprised that a place like Toppling Goliath (which also made our #4 pale ale of 151) is doing it right.
City: Braddock, PA
The verdict: Brew Gentlemen is a brewery that has consistently proven itself as among the elite in Paste blind tastings—especially the flagship General Braddock’s IPA, which has now received plenty of attention. Not to be forgotten, though, is Legendary Weapons, the kung fu-referencing little brother to Gen. Braddock, and another very solid NE-IPA. This one is notably full in mouthfeel despite the lower ABV, with a soft, chewy texture and a big nose of dank and resinous notes, which evolves on the palate into a rush of freshly squeezed orange juice. Combined with the texture, it’s definitely reminiscent of full-pulp orange juiciness, all the way. Also notable is the dry finish, which makes this one a bit less sweet and a bit more drinkable than most NE-IPAs with the same sort of texture. Certainly, this displays a lot of brewing skill in more ways than one.
City: Norfolk, VA
The verdict: It really is amazing how eclectically a single hop varietal can present in different beers. There were quite a few single-hop Mosaic IPAs in this tasting, and each of them was like their own little world—from green and grassy, to fruity, to earthy, you never quite knew how any Mosaic beer was going to taste. This one, from rising blind-tasting stars Benchtop, captures a measure of Mosaic’s grass/resin character, and then a whole lot of its bright citrus flavors, to the extent that one taster underlined “BRIGHT” repeatedly. Lighter in texture than some of the other hazies, despite the higher ABV, it impressed tasters with big, bold citrus: “Like an Orange Julius with a slightly musty, tropical finish.”
City: Athens, GA
The verdict: Tropicália was a big beer for Georgia when it arrived a few years ago, heralding the era of “juicier” IPAs infiltrating the Southeast, and it remains a wonderfully well-balanced (but still quite hoppy) daily drinker, a few years later. One drinker called it “a pretty excellent blend of eras,” and that’s what Tropicália has now become—a premier example of what was great in the style just before hazy IPA bulled its way in to take over. Citra and Galaxy work in wonderful tandem in this beer to create a lightly juicy note of sweet mandarin orange and a touch of vanilla, while the malt side of the equation isn’t entirely absent—there’s just a little bit of subtle toast/caramel in here that at least offers a respite from IPAs that solely feature hop flavors. It’s well balanced, approachable and infinitely drinkable. There’s a reason why this beer became so very popular in Atlanta, and remains so today.
City: Everett, MA
The verdict: I’ve already waxed poetic in this ranking about how differently Mosaic can present itself in specific single-hop beers, but Simcoe is another hop varietal in much the same boat. Or more accurately, it’s usually safe to say that there’s a predominantly catty/dank/resinous character to be found in Simcoe in most cases … except for the rare outliers, where it’s super citrusy instead. This beer, from Night Shift, is the latter. Instead of “dank,” what we have here is plenty zesty, with a big, complex bouquet of citrus—orange, but especially lemon and lime zest as well. Low in bitterness and lighter in body than almost all the other hazies, One Hop This Time (undoubtedly one of the best names of the tasting) is simply bright and crushable.
City: Baker City, OR
The verdict: When a brewery has been around for a while, and has a well-earned reputation for a specific beer style such as “West Coast IPA,” it’s difficult to predict how exactly they’ll react to the market when it begins to shift. Some breweries in that situation will simply double down on the beer that made them successful, content that the inherent quality of the product they’re known for will see them through. Barley Brown’s could have done that—their Pallet Jack IPA is well-known and well loved in the Pacific Northwest. But they didn’t rest on their laurels; they started experimenting with hazy IPA as well. And wouldn’t you know it; they figured out this IPA substyle as well. This one has a lovely, soft texture without being unnecessarily “chewy,” and a complex melange of fruitiness that hits notes of mandarin orange, white grape, melon and lemongrass all at once. Subtly sweet, it looks like nectar in the glass, and the taste isn’t far off.
City: Winooski, VT
The verdict: Of all the breweries in this tasting, perhaps none of them raised their stock as much in our estimation as Four Quarters, for reasons that will become apparent as you scroll down this list. These small brewers from “Winooski, VT” have had entries in a few other Paste blind tastings, including an impressive placement in the time we tasted 144 barrel-aged imperial stouts, but their entries in IPA were on a different level, easily surpassing beers from much more heralded VT breweries. Space Face is interesting in several respects—it’s the highest ABV of all the IPAs to approach our 8% cut-off level, and perhaps it’s this beer’s girth that gives it such a luxurious texture. Regardless, this stuff really stands out for its creamy, smooth texture on the palate, which transitions effortlessly into assertive orange citrus, pineapple and mango. There’s some grassy/green notes here as well, but all in all, it’s still very much a fruit bomb. This strikes us as the kind of beer that would probably be rated among the highest in the world, if it came from a brewery with a lot of hype for hazy IPAs.
City: Asheville, NC
The verdict: There’s probably a subset among we beer geeks who would prefer for a beer like Pernicious, from an AB InBev-owned brewery such as Wicked Weed, to have “fallen off” since their acquisition … but the thing is, it simply hasn’t. This beer was great when it first arrived, and it’s still great now—one of the best non-hazy IPAs you can expect to find on the market, especially when fresh. Pernicious is crisp, bright and vivacious, with a punchy hop profile of lemon/tangerine citrus, hints of tropical fruit and grainy malt, and enough bitter, spicy resin for balance. It’s a fantastic representation of “modern” West Coast IPA, and the crown jewel of AB InBev’s acquisitions as far as hops are concerned. If you’re still resisting the pull toward hazy, juicy IPA’s, then beers like Pernicious are a beautiful alternative.
City: Charlton, MA
The verdict: Tree House’s “Curiosity” series of IPAs is about experimentation in “the art and science of brewing,” whether that be with novel hop varietals or other modes of exploration. This one is a blend of two different IPAs with similar hopping, but different “fermentation profiles,” as the brewery puts it. The results are certainly interesting—one of the tasters’ score sheets literally begins with “Well this is different.” Peach, melon and papaya-esque fruitiness all play off one another in a play for dominance, and the resulting beer seems exotic and intriguing as a result. With a decent amount of residual sweetness, it certainly summons some “juicy” connotations, but it doesn’t live and die by them. Compared with more straight-forward Tree House IPAs such as Julius, this one is a bit more of a puzzle to unravel. Regardless, there’s little doubting that Tree House has more than earned its outsized reputation as masters of NE-IPA.
City: Chandler, AZ
The verdict: It truly was fascinating to watch new breweries ascend to higher positions in this tasting than we’ve ever seen them reach before—it would seem that NE-IPA has the capacity to be The Great Equalizer as far as craft beer is concerned. Although there were PLENTY of terrible attempts at hazy IPA from little-known breweries trying to make a name for themselves, some brewers we haven’t associated with IPA in the past have gotten it very right as of late—and SanTan is one of them we’ll be citing as an example from now on. Juicy Jack is a lovely beer, brewed with oats for a full and creamy mouthfeel, and then carpet-bombed with perfumey and tropical fruity hops. As one taster observed: “Delicious tropical juice with even-keeled bitterness on the finish.” There’s even a hint of unusual earthiness that helps set Juicy Jack apart from a lot of the other also-rans. Interesting stuff.
City: Brooklyn, NY
The verdict: Brooklyn’s Threes is another brewery rising quickly through Paste’s blind tastings, especially after placing two different pilsners in the top 25 of our tasting of 134 of them. Logical Conclusion, on the other hand, is a fastball right over the middle of the plate in terms of NE-IPA flavor profiles—it really is close to the platonic ideal of how you would expect a well-rated hazy IPA to taste. Soft, gentle and quite juicy, it has essentially no bitterness and revels in assertive flavors of orange, lemon and hints of pineapple. Refreshing and easy drinking but a touch sweet, it’s honestly one of the more uncomplicated entries in this style, but that’s not a bad thing. This is just easy to love, wish-fulfillment beer at its best.
City: Bloomington, IN
The verdict: We usually think of fruited sours as the big draw when it comes to Indiana’s Upland, but Juiced in Time makes it clear that they’re here to make a statement when it comes to NE-IPA as well. This one actually has some things in common with the Threes beer that precedes it on the list—wheat and oats add texture and a bit of doughy malt presence, while the hop profile veers toward juicy citrus impressions of orange and lemon, with hints of more exotic tropical fruits. It’s another very friendly, easygoing sort of IPA that is indicative of the modern hoppy beer landscape, but done with even more capability than some offerings from breweries that are far better known as IPA producers. It’s an aspect of this style that hasn’t been fully considered: Well-made NE-IPA is allowing breweries not known for “hyped IPA” to undergo a genuine critical re-evaluation.
Note: As explained previously in this piece, after blind-tasting our way through 324 IPAs over the course of 17 days, we re-assembled the top 25 beers into a conclusive FINALS TASTING of epic proportions. The next 25 ranked beers are the result of that tasting, which was conducted in a single day.
Before conducting the finals tasting, Paste contacted all of the breweries with entries among the finalists, giving them an opportunity to send in fresh IPA if they wished—or if they had fresh beer available to send. Most opted to do so, if they were able. So here you are—the 25 best IPAs we tasted out of 324. It should go without saying that making this section of the list means that you are in absolutely elite company.
City: Bridgewater Corners, VT
The verdict: Here’s the thing about NE-IPA these days: When everyone in an area is making it, even really good examples are going to fly completely under the radar. Because breweries like The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s popularized hazy IPA and developed a reputation for it, and because EVERYONE in VT has one of these beers, it’s easy for one from a less hyped brewery to not get the recognition it deserves. That’s the case with Long Trail’s VT IPA, which in all fairness has only existed since the beginning of 2018. But man, they got it right with this one—what one taster’s sheet refers to as a “tropical juice explosion” immediately washes over the palate with big notes of sweet pineapple, mango and orange, followed by a certain bready maltiness. Soft, low in terms of bitterness and generally uncomplicated, it’s simply a very good example of why so many people enjoy NE-IPA. If you blind-pour this beer for someone who likes modern IPA, they’re going to like this.
City: Norfolk, VA
The verdict: There’s something I’d like to call out here, in terms of breweries that had multiple entries in the ranked portion of this list. A good number of breweries placed more than one beer into the rankings, but I have to give props to a brewery like Benchtop that does it with two fundamentally different types of IPA. Whereas their previous Soft Crash was a pretty good mold for what is popular within NE-IPA right now, Proven Theory is instead an evolved form of what we might have once called West Coast IPA, but WCIPA was perhaps never quite this explosive. This beer is massively hoppy, with an eruption of dank, catty and then tropical hop impressions that are almost overwhelming. As one scoresheet reads: “Ultra dank, resinous and weedy, into big grapefruit zest and pineapple juice.” The brewery might not specifically market this beer as 420-friendly, but we’re telling you right now—the potheads in the audience are going to be all about this stuff.
City: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
The verdict: What’s that? Canadian hazy IPA? Yep, it’s here, and it’s pretty great—just more evidence of the fact that good NE-IPAs are now coming from absolutely anywhere. This lower-ABV example of the style drinks as easily as you’d imagine it probably should, although most of your attention would presumably be focused on the pleasantly complex, assertive hop profile of perfumey resin, which slowly morphs into juicy, slightly sweet pineapple on the palate. It passes all the tests you need to put in front of any NE-IPA: Is this dry enough to be fairly drinkable? Is it something you could finish at least 12 oz of? Etc. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that lovely, lovely can. Few pieces of packaging in this tasting were as unanimously praised as the eye-popping designs on both of the Collective Arts entries.
City: Braddock, PA
The verdict: General Braddock’s was quite honestly one of the beers that helped convert us fully to the idea of NE-IPA a few years ago, and it’s still one of the best (and still somehow underknown) examples of the style around today. The flagship IPA of Brew Gentlemen is bombastically hoppy, with a big, tropical blast on the nose that segues mid-palate into plenty of grass and resin. As one taster wrote: “Smells like a fist of fresh hop pellets, tangerine and passionfruit.” From another score sheet: “Lovely tropical fruitiness without the overpowering grass clippings.” Hell, it even has a little bit more hop bitterness than some of the other examples. Brew Gentlemen continue to crank out quality beers in numerous styles.
City: Seattle, WA
The verdict: By just about any estimation, it’s safe to call Fremont one of our favorite breweries—they simply have a consistency across numerous styles that few others can match, whether it’s in a style that typically generates hype or one of the many solid, foundational styles they make with a high degree of quality. They’ve been especially dominant in Paste blind tastings of various stout styles, but we didn’t quite know what to expect from Fremont in the land of IPA … especially given that we’ve never had a hazy IPA from them before.
Clearly, we should have just assumed the best. Shingle Town was one of the most approachable of all the NE-IPAs in the entire tasting, boasting a wonderfully inviting nose redolent in orange/tangerine citrus, along with grapefruit, white peach and plenty of perfumey resin. Fruit forward but still dry and easy to drink, it’s an absolute quaffer of a hazy IPA. If your typical criticism of this style is that they aren’t drinkable enough, then seek this one out and see if it changes your mind.
City: Asheville, NC
The verdict: Burial makes a lot of different IPA’s—it sometimes seems like there’s a new IPA offering from them every week—but they made a wise choice when they anointed Surf Wax as one of the company’s two hoppy flagships. Of all their hoppy, somewhat hazy selections, Surf Wax is the one that covers the most bases at once, with the most exquisite balance between contrasting flavors. It’s a little bit of everything: Orange and pineapple juiciness, florals, grass and resin, and even a bit of sweet malt balance as well. Unlike a lot of the other beers in the final, it’s not trying to completely blow the doors off, either—each of the above cited flavors is measured in terms of intensity, or at least they are when compared with some of the other monstrous, double dry-hopped examples. Surf Wax doesn’t feel like something you’re saving for a special occasion and sharing out in 2 oz samples with half a dozen friends—it feels like something you’d drink a pint of, and then order another. And that’s something, for better or for worse, that is often missing in modern IPA.
City: Eugene, OR
The verdict: This is a slightly confusing beer to look up, as Eugene’s ColdFire originally conceived Tangle of Tigers as a rotating series of IPAs that were color-coded, but our can is from the new “flagship” version of the beer, which was codified into a regular offering thanks to its popularity. And it’s easy to see why this stuff resonated with drinkers—it’s big, bold and delightfully decadent, even among a table packed with other NE-IPAs. Hugely juicy and definitely on the sweet side, there’s a richness to Tangle of Tigers that isn’t commonly replicated elsewhere. The citrus here is vanilla-tinged, with a darkness and a richness that makes one think of blood orange. Beyond that, tasters picked up various notes of melon, papaya and a whole tropical melange, but what stands out most is the chewiness of texture and uniquely rich character. In a lot of cases, “chewy” goes hand-in-hand with NE-IPAs that we find astringent in their grassy intensity, but that certainly isn’t the case here. This one is something unique.
City: Denver, CO
The verdict: The thing that a lot of hazy IPA detractors don’t understand about the style is that “haze” is a spectrum, just like any other beer characteristic. All hazy IPAs are not created alike, and they’re not all trying to achieve the same ends—they’re not all even specifically going for “juicy” above all else. River North’s Mountain Haze is a much more subtle, more crisp, lighter, brighter take on what you can label as “hazy IPA,” and that’s what makes it such a lovely beer. On a table full of ridiculously thick, chewy, yeast-choked NE-IPAs, this one is light and supple in texture, with a nose that hits you with a lovely charge of dank, mildly catty (in a good way) hops that then transition into grapefruit zest and spicy resin. This beer is quite dry, unlike so many of the NE-IPA juice bombs, and each sip ends with lingering resin note and accompanying dry finish that just begs for the next sip. It’s another beer that you can drink multiple glasses of at a time.
City: Charlton, MA
The verdict: If you’d never sampled Green before, it’s sort of funny how the name would probably have you expecting an ultra dank, resinous-type of NE-IPA. Perhaps that was a bit of a joke on Tree House’s part, because the actual beer is one of the genre’s premiere tropical fruit juice bombs, and an understandably legendary product at this point. Fresh Green hits hard in the aromatic department with tons of fresh, juicy pineapple, peach/apricot and passionfruit, which slowly morphs into fresh-squeezed orange juice on the palate. A delicate level of acidity amplifies the fruity impressions in a way that perhaps makes them come off as more genuine, while a substantial amount of residual sweetness makes those fruit flavors seem especially decadent. Texture is another one of Green’s biggest strengths, as it manages to be thick and chewy without being off-putting in terms of its drinkability. There are plenty of reasons why people have been trading to acquire this beer for as long as NE-IPA has commanded hype.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: It’s safe to say that Triple Crossing opened some eyes and made lifelong fans among the Paste staff when not one but two of their beers ended up in the top 5 of our blind tasting of 176 DIPAs. It was one of the most impressive single performances in any Paste blind tasting, and made it only more clear that Richmond, VA is home to some of the best hoppy breweries in the world. For single IPA, Triple Crossing turned to two variations of their intensely dry-hopped “Triangles” series, and although we enjoyed the Citra version, it was the Mosaic Triangles that really spoke to us. As in a few other Mosaic beers in this tasting, it was the greener, danker side of the hop varietal that emerged—or perhaps that was just a factor of what seemed like an outrageous amount of hops. Regardless, this one hits on the nose with a big, perfumey burst of resin, pine needles, grass and grapefruit. Intensely hoppy, with a nose that is immediately distinct, it inspired one taster to write “Woah, huge hops, intensely grassy but actually in a good way.” Another taster in the finals picked up more on the fruity side of the beer, writing the following: “Peach into pineapple into green papaya.” Regardless, there’s no lack of character in this one.
City: Chicago, IL
The verdict: There are very few in the beer world who dependably produce spectacular, non-hazy IPAs with such zeal and creativity as Half Acre. Even as the genre has seemingly left these styles of beer behind, the Half Acre guys refuse to give up on clarity—they just make their non-hazy IPAs better and better, seemingly every year. This one in particular really is a brilliant twist on what you might be expecting. An all-Citra IPA? Sure, everybody has one of those. But an all-Citra IPA brewed exclusively with Vienna malt? Who does that, and who would have thought it would work so well? In a time when breweries are all stripping the malt character from their beers to exclusively leave them as hop delivery vehicles, Half Acre experiments by making this beer notably malty and extremely aromatic on the hop side, all at once. Big, punchy, perfumey hops hit on the nose with lots of sweet pine, grapefruit zest and tropical impressions. On the palate, though, comes the unexpected malt character—lightly toasted and biscuity, which blends beautifully with the prominent citrus, florals and tropical hop notes. As one score sheet calls it: “A delicious blend of old and new.” Another makes almost the exact same observation: “An excellent hybrid of two eras.”
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: What’s that? Two clear IPAs in a row? Yes, it is possible for this to occur, even in 2018 … and especially when the brewery in question is Breakside, one of the first of only two breweries to land both of their entries in the top 25. But first, let’s note something: These guys chose NOT to enter their flagship Breakside IPA, a beer that has racked up numerous awards, including a bronze medal at GABF as recently as 2017. For a beer like that to not be present should be unthinkable, and yet the fact that Breakside decided they’d probably have better luck with two different IPAs is perhaps the most telling sign we’ve seen yet of how this market has completely changed in the last few years. And you know what? They were probably right, given that BOTH of their entries ultimately ended up in the top 14 of 324 beers. How can you argue with that result, right?
As for Tall Guy, it actually shares quite a bit in common with the Half Acre beer that comes before it on the list, being another ode to the Citra hop. This one does a good job of capturing some of Citra’s complexity—which is to say, it doesn’t always taste just like citrus fruits. Musty, exotic tropical fruitiness on the nose evokes notes of mango and guava, while a clean, crisp malt body with low residual sweetness backs everything up and enhances drinkability, ending on just a hint of toasted bread crust. This is the kind of beer where every score sheet includes the word “clean,” because it encourages sip after sip. As one score sheet puts it: “This is basically the classic IPA of the 21st century.”
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: Ah yes, and while we’re on the topic of breweries that landed both of their entries into the finals, and are ALSO from Portland, OR, let’s talk about Great Notion. Yes, that’s right—somehow, of all the breweries that sent in beer for this thing, the only two to get both of their entries into the final both happened to be from Portland—can we officially label it as the IPA capital of the Pacific Northwest? I’m thinking that we probably can.
The first of Great Notion’s beers, Space Invader, is packed with a prodigious quantity of Galaxy hops, as the name would imply. The result: Lovely, sweet, soft apricot stone fruitiness that permeates the beer, creating something that drinks equal parts “effortlessly” and “decadently.” Normally, those two things don’t go together, but they somehow do here. As one tasting sheet says: “Extremely light and airy, and so hazy it looks like Sunny D. Drinks super easy.” With slightly bready, doughy notes (possibly from yeast in suspension?) backing up the sweet, juicy stone fruit, this is a surprisingly approachable beer, despite looking like a glass of full-pulp orange juice.
City: Richmond, VA
The verdict: But really—what’s going on in Richmond, Virginia in terms of its absolute wealth of killer IPA breweries? How did so many of them end up in a city that barely scrapes into the 100 largest in the U.S.A.? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that Final Gravity’s The Doppler Effect is yet another superlative NE-IPA from a town that is absolutely full of them. This one hits with BIG citrus hop aromatics, giving it one of the best noses of all the finalists—lemon, grapefruit and orange are all well represented. From one score sheet: “Perfumey, bright lemon and grapefruit, really crisp for a hazy IPA.” From another: “Massive citrus and tropical fruity nose, into big resin, spicy.” This is a beer that has already won a couple of blind tasting awards among Richmond IPA’s, and we can see why. Even in a particularly crowded, particularly brilliant marketplace, Final Gravity has found a way to stand out.
City: Cincinnati, OH
The verdict: Although it’s likely to be lost in the fervor of hazy vs. non-hazy IPA, this was an interesting tasting to check in with the status of “brett IPA.” There were a handful of these entries, but they varied greatly in terms of quality. The worse examples were overly tart, acidic and abrasive, or lost track of the “IPA” side of the spectrum to the extent that you would think those three letters had simply been added as a marketing device. The best ones, on the other hand, formed a true symbiosis between the assertive, funky characteristics of brettanomyces fermentation and the bright, fruity nature of American hops. This one, from Cincy’s Urban Artifact, plays its cards fairly close to the vest and leans hard on a lovely brett beer structure that does most of the heavy lifting for it. Beautiful, funky aromatics of spice, hayloft and herbal notes create a delicate base for judicious hopping, which adds an additional, complementary layer of lemon zest and resin. It’s a beautifully made beer that displays real skill in brett fermentation while including just enough hops to take it to the next level.
City: Atlanta, GA
The verdict: How fitting that of the two brett IPAs in the finals, they end up right here, next to each other, despite actually being fairly different beers. Where Urban Artifact’s brett IPA is what you might call “classical” in its brett character—you’d drink it and think “yes, that’s what brett tastes like”—Monday Night’s Beyond the Clouds is a bit more rambunctious, fruity and experimental feeling. The brettanomyces here imparts a sweet, inviting note of bubblegum fruitiness, which plays well with the tropical fruit impressions you get from an extensive Citra and Mosaic dry hop. The result is both complex and fun—exotically fruity but also subtle in terms of its spice notes, with something similar to coriander or grains of paradise on the back end, combined with citrus and hints of berry. It’s an adventurous diversion from the path of modern IPA that pays off on pretty much every level.
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: Our second entry from Breakside in the finals tips the scales at a weighty 7.8% ABV, coming within a smidge of our top ABV limit. Despite that, this isn’t really a big and blustery IPA at all; it would probably be more accurately described as one of the better balanced entries to make the finals tasting. Hazy, but not completely and utterly opaque, this beer feels like a blend of IPA brewing styles on both the nose and palate. Aromatically, there’s a very nice, perfumey bouquet of lemon, grapefruit, woodsy spice and dankness. On the palate this beer is nicely balanced, with perhaps just a touch of caramel sweetness that plays nicely with hops that continue the bright, clean citrus themes, with undertows of dankness and more exotic fruitiness—white grape, perhaps? It drinks deceptively easy for being one of the strongest beers of the tasting, making this perhaps the “most dangerous” of all the IPAs that were submitted. Watch out, if you’re trying to polish off a crowler of this stuff like a certain Paste staff writer did after that day’s blind tasting.
City: Canton, MA
The verdict: The stereotype of beers like Scaled—big, thick, chewy, hazy IPAs from breweries like Tree House and Trillium—is that they have zero malt presence at all, but that isn’t necessarily true. Oftentimes they do in fact have some malt character; it’s just hard to notice when you’re being hit over the head with a giant hammer made of juicy hops. That’s sort of the case with Scaled, a lovely NE-IPA that does in fact have a subtle note of toasted malt running through it. But as we said, you’d be forgiven for not really noticing that toastiness, because you’re here for the hops, and they are very juicy indeed. This one packs a wallop of fresh-squeezed orange juice, chased by impressions of pineapple, mango and a bit of vanilla sweetness. There’s also something a bit more herbaceous in there, a grassy character that we tend to find is shared by many Trillium beers, but it’s more subdued here than in a lot of the DDH monsters that get overtaken by their greener flavors. Instead, Scaled is actually very approachable—a juicy, easy to enjoy IPA with minimal bitterness and a whole lot of character. This is one of the best-composed IPAs we’ve had from Trillium yet.
City: Asheville, NC
The verdict: We’ve said elsewhere in this ranking that in order to be great, an NE-IPA doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge, thick, chewy beer that is as much hop particulate and suspended yeast as it is water … but to be great, these beers do need to be drinkable. And Hi-Wire’s wordy entry is the epitome of drinkability in a hazy IPA, a beer that is assertive enough while also being so ridiculously inviting and easily likable that everyone is bound to enjoy it at least a little. Perfumey and citrus-forward on the nose, this one provides plenty of lemon and tangerine notes to tantalize the drinker, with a bit of resin and spice for the sake of complexity, and just a little bit of residual sweetness. From one score sheet: “Super pleasant, gentle citrus nose. Well-balanced orange, lemon and resin make for effortless drinking.” From another: “Love this. Extra bright hops, light body and goes down so easy.” This isn’t quite the type of NE-IPA that is generating the most hype on ratings sites, but perhaps it should be—a branch of hazy IPA that can bring the juice, but also be genuinely refreshing at the same time. We’d be quite happy to see more beers like this on the shelf, and fewer that are seeking peak turbidity.
City: Auburn, NY
The verdict: Oh hey there Mass Riot, how you doin’? We don’t often revel in vindication as far as blind beer tastings are concerned, but we can’t help but be proud of this particular beer’s success. After coming in at #1 in our 2016 blind tasting of 247 IPAs, demand for Mass Riot understandably went through the roof—a boon and a curse for Prison City, a small brewpub in upstate New York that didn’t even have any of the beer available at the time. Since then, Mass Riot has built itself into an East Coast sensation in subsequent releases, generating lines down the block in Auburn and standing in the company of the best from Tree House and Trillium on rating sites like Untappd. So yes, it does feel good to have been able to shine a spotlight on what was (at the time) the most incredible under-the-radar NE-IPA in America.
But this is two years later, and honestly, in IPA, two years is an eternity. The fact that Mass Riot is still here in the top 10 is just about the ultimate mark of quality, but this beer earns it with sheer vivaciousness. On the nose this one is big and complex, hitting hard with sweet tropical fruit notes (pineapple, mango, papaya). On the palate this likewise feels like a bruiser, bigger than its 6.5% ABV for sure, with powerful tropical fruitiness that is actually backed up by a moderate level of malt sweetness—there’s definitely more malt presence in this than there is in a lot of the other finalists. Overall, Mass Riot has a certain richness to its character—it’s an intensely flavorful beer, and it’s easy to see why we were drawn to it as our #1 IPA in 2016. A few years later, it’s just as amazing. Prison City has grown substantially in those years, so let’s hope that Mass Riot sightings continue to become a steadily more common occurrence.
City: Broussard, LA
The verdict: And just in case you thought we didn’t like anything with “DDH” in the title, here’s one that we all loved … unsurprisingly from Parish, who were just outside the top 10 in our blind tasting of 176 DIPAs, and again in the top percentiles of our tasting of 151 pale ales. They’ve been right on the cusp for a while, but it was the DDH Bloom that put them over the top. This is the kind of beer that makes it clear why Parish beers are so sought-after in the Southeast, and also justifies the NE-IPA style itself on many levels—it’s as beautiful in terms of textures as it is in flavors. DDH Bloom is a true juice bomb, hitting hard with impressions of orange, pineapple and peach nectar, before segueing into some seriously dank notes as well, all complemented by a wonderfully smooth, creamy, soft texture that is inviting rather than abrasive. From one score sheet: “Dank, citrusy, peachy and sweet. Intense, huge flavors.” From another: “This one has ALL the fruits, plus plenty of dank.” It highlights the best aspects of a DDH hop rate while avoiding the most common pitfalls of being overly vegetal or gritty. This is a beautiful beer.
City: Winooski, VT
The verdict: In terms of breweries we “discovered” in this tasting, it feels like Four Quarters has a chance to be the breakout “Prison City” of this particular group. A relatively unheralded brewery, landing both of its beers in the top 31 out of 324? That’s pretty good, but when one of those beers is #4 of 324, that’s really something. We have Vermont’s wealth of breweries to thank, but even in some exalted company, Four Quarters really stood out among the rest—and particularly with Phaze. This beer is everything you want in an NE-IPA: Soft, approachable, smooth and slightly sweet, while being packed with fruit. From one score sheet: “Very little bitterness, sweet and creamy, loaded with peach, apricot and passionfruit.” From another: “Chuggable. Beautiful tropical and citrus juiciness.” From yet another: “Just a solid NE-IPA all the way around.” This beer is the result of what happens in a Paste tasting when all the tasters agree on a superlative beer—it ends up with very high scores. We look forward to trying a whole lot more from Four Quarters in the future.
City: Orange, CA
The verdict: If you haven’t heard of California’s Green Cheek Beer Co., it’s not all that surprising—the brewery just celebrated its first anniversary, and has just started gaining attention as of late. But people who are paying attention to the beer industry know what’s up, and have been expecting great things in terms of IPA from this brewery from the very start, thanks to the fact that it was founded by the former brewmaster of Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works, themselves a brewery that has stacked up numerous awards for classic West Coast IPAs.
And to an extent, that’s what Radiant Beauty is—but it’s also so much more than “West Coast IPA.” This is the absolute best clear IPA we sampled in this blind tasting, and it hits the palate with a singularity and clarity of purpose that was unmatched anywhere else—something we noticed when we praised the same beer a month ago at the Firestone Walker Invitational. One of the score sheets describes its flavors at one point as possessing “piercing citrus,” and that’s really the word for this beer—it’s a bright, sharp spearhead that cuts you to the bone with brilliant hop flavors. Hugely tropical and bright on the nose, it possesses intense notes of grapefruit zest, pineapple juice and resin, with a notable amount of bitterness (at least in comparison with most of the finalists). It’s crisp and extremely drinkable while still being informed by everything we’ve learned about using hops in modern IPA brewing. This beer is the ideal clear IPA—assuming you really love a big charge of fruity American hops. And we do, so there. Expect to hear a lot more about Green Cheek and this beer—which also just won a medal at the World Beer Cup a few months ago—in the next few years.
City: Placentia, CA
The verdict: The Bruery’s hoppy spin-off, Offshoot Beer Co., didn’t necessarily get off to the smoothest start. Their first releases didn’t quite set ratings sites ablaze; nor did the beer geek literati seem taken with the idea of a company that had long resisted IPAs dipping a toe into the arena, and starting right away with NE-IPAs. But here’s the thing—it didn’t take long for Offshoot to figure things out. Before long, these guys were releasing very, very good hazy IPAs into the world in limited release, whether people were recognizing it or not. And as of a few months ago, Offshoot made the best decision they’ve made yet as a company by choosing to name Relax [It’s Just a Hazy IPA] as their first ever year-round beer. That could not have been more well-chosen.
This is a lovely beer, and one that encapsulates just about everything we like about hazy IPA. Extremely soft, pillowy smooth and lightly sweet, its hop-driven fruit flavors are to die for, to the point that one taster’s score sheet describes it as “the ideal hazy IPA.” To quote from another: “Velvety smooth, big stone fruit (peach/apricot), orange and pineapple juice, but not sickly sweet.” The mouthfeel here is particularly lovely, perfectly smooth and lacking the grittiness and acidity of similar beers with too much particulate in suspension. One thing we will note: This beer, like so many in the style, is completely different when fresh. After the finals tasting, we had a chance to sample one that was 2 weeks old next to one that was 8 weeks old. The differences were astounding, so we can only urge you to look for freshness dating. But fresh? This one is simply divine.
City: Portland, OR
The verdict: When you conduct a blind tasting of 324 beers, the #1 entry has a tendency not to be something entirely outside the box. Rather, the winner of this kind of tasting is usually the beer that most perfectly exemplifies the qualities prized by the judges—in other words, it’s the beer that everyone can agree on. It’s the beer that everyone wants to drink more of. And in these 324, that was Great Notion’s Ripe, hands down.
Everything I write about it will sound like an echo of the compliments that I’ve paid to other beers through numbers #50-2, and that’s no coincidence—it’s the reason the beer is here. But that doesn’t make them any less true; Ripe is simply everything that you want in a NE-IPA. Loaded up with Citra, it presents a hugely tropical hop nose, with notes of mango, papaya, pineapple and more musky, exotic fruit notes that are difficult to put your finger on. Pineapple juice is huge on the palate, in an initial sweet rush that is particularly decadent, before a subtle bitterness arrives to keep things from getting out of hand. Texturally, it has the softness you want and a degree of chewiness, but it doesn’t feel choked by excessive yeast or hop particulate. One taster who was particularly taken with Ripe declared in his notes that it was “proof text for the style” as a result. Drinking fresh Ripe is a sinfully delicious experience, worthy of a pilgrimage to Portland … where four of the top 25 happen to have originated. If you have regular access to these beers, you are lucky indeed.
And so, we finally draw this remarkable, palate-wrecking tasting to a close. Ultimately, it took 17 separate days of tasting in order to get through these beers, and we’d be lying if we said it was easy or universally pleasant. It was an exhausting, marathon of a tasting—one so large we may never attempt one on this scale again. But at least we achieved some interesting results, right?
Ultimately, does that mean the winner should be considered the end-all, be-all of every IPA in existence? Hardly. Personal taste will always determine your own favorite IPA, and the term “IPA” itself has become so wide-reaching that the experience of drinking a great clear IPA is hardly comparable to the experience of drinking a great hazy. We hope you’ll find the above list useful in tracking down great examples of both—not to mention other spin-offs, like brettanomyces IPAs. In the end, there’s one thing we can say for sure: We love hops—even after drinking 324 IPAs. And that might be the most amazing thing of all.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drink writing.