Mad Hops: The 20 Best American IPAs
Once upon a time, India Pale Ales, otherwise known as IPAs, were brewed incredibly hoppy to accommodate the heat on their voyage from England to India. England would send their beer on a ship to India for their soldiers and colonial citizens, but their standard ales had a tendency to spoil on the voyage. From necessity and a colonized nation’s persistence to continue drinking beer was born innovation.
Modern IPAs contain a variety of hops, with huge variation in terms of flavor profile, employing a wide variety of hop and malt combinations. Recent years have even yielded double IPAs, and some mythical IPAs referred to as “Triple IPAs.” While those IPAs have their virtues, sometimes kicking back with an IPA with more delicate balance, lighter body, and more potential to be paired with food is desirable. Residing on the west coast ourselves, we have absolutely no shortage of IPAs scattered up and down the coast. While we have tried IPAs from across the country, it’s worth noting that the majority of our favorites are going to be right here in our backyards. With that in mind, what follows are 20 of the best IPAs in the United States.
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
When it comes to Single IPAs, Sculpin is a hard one to beat. With huge citrus nodes that make Sculpin drink like a light bodied alcoholic mango nectar. Big hop flavors and perhaps the closest thing we’ve seen to a perfect balance between malt and hops in the Single IPA category make Sculpin incredible.
Oakshire Watershed IPA
Among the great beers in Oregon, Oakshire’s Watershed IPA stands high, competing with nearby brewery Ninkasi in Eugene, Oregon. Big resiny flavors pair well with sweet caramel and citrus nodes.
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
Having been to both coasts, we’ve noticed the considerable difference between the styles of IPAs found on the East and West coasts. Traditionally East Coast IPAs are more malt-forward, and have a larger hop presence in the bitter category, as opposed to the late-boil additions common in West Coast brewing that create floral noses and huge citrus flavors. Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA bucks that trend, and stands up to just about any West Coast Single IPA.
Old Schoolhouse Ruud Awakening IPA
When people hear Washington State, they usually think of two places: Seattle, or Washington D.C. The former, Seattle, has become a beer giant on the West Coast, but Old Schoolhouse’s Ruud Awakening is liquid greatness, created in tiny Winthrop, Washington. Ruud Awakening features big citrus flavors, but doesn’t drown out the crystal malts it is fairly heavy-handedly brewed with.
Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
The little brother of the more potent Hopslam, this honey yellow/orange colored brew pours right into your glass with the perfect foamy head. Floral notes fill the air as soon as the top pops (along with the fruit notes, this is one of the best smelling beers ever). The blend of sweet malt and hops along with that perfect touch of bitterness make it easy to understand why this concoction from the Michigan-based brewery earned itself the number one spot on the list of RateBeer’s best IPAs.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Even as Sierra Nevada has grown as a brewery, one of the truly special things they’ve done is to continue putting out great Celebration Ales. This IPA is brewed only in the late-fall and winter, coinciding directly with the hop harvest. So far as beer cellaring is concerned, Celebration is kind of like the chemistry set our parents bought us as kids. There are certainly beers that are better suited for the cellar, but Celebration Ale is an excellent first cellar beer. Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking that you must wait three years for Celebration Ale to be any good. It’s similarly great just weeks after it is brewed.
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
So far most of what we’ve talked about has some combination of things we like in IPAs a lot: decent bitterness, huge floral and citrus nodes, and malt that’s balanced enough to stand up to the hop profile. Dogfish Head is different. In true East Coast tradition, 60 Minute IPA is best described by its malt complexity, but not without ignoring hops. 60 Minute IPA is famous for its 60 minute boil in the brew kettle which features continuous hop additions.
Green Flash West Coast IPA
Green Flash may not have the same sex appeal as its San Diego brethren (specifically Stone and Ballast Point), but it does produce some of the best beers in town. The company is working towards better branding, and in addition to rolling out new packaging for this classic, Green Flash brew master Chuck Silver has reworked the beer, and as of last month (May 2014), it’s now reached Double IPA status (but we started this list prior). A solid blend of tropical grapefruit zest, pine notes, and plenty of hops, the team struck gold on their quest to brew the benchmark West Coast IPA.
After a recent trip trip to the midwest, a buddy of ours brought back a few cans of this (along with the Overrated West Coast IPA – which we loved as well), and we were definitely impressed. We already knew that this was the brew which all beer loving midwest resident’s measured their IPAs, and now we know why. The Minnesota based brewery has crafted a brew that’s 99 IBU, and features the perfect blend of American hops and Scottish malt, with a nice touch of citrus, pine, and caramel coffee.
In a recent trip to Chicago, we found out that Lagunitas was opening in a brewery in downtown Chicago. This is good news for beer lovers across the country, as Lagunitas has remained inventive and innovative despite rapid growth. Now they should have a larger distribution radius. Originating in California, Lagunitas IPA is full of some of the typical resiny and pine flavors we’ve grown to expect from West Coast IPAs.
Victory Hop Devil
One day we walked into our local wine shop with the idea of finding the perfect red for our significant others. Quickly we were drawn to the wine shop’s limited, albeit of-tremendous-quality beer selection. The beer we chose was Hop Devil, and we were certainly impressed. Bitterness is front-and-center in this IPA, with enough floral nodes to tide us over until the next malty, hoppy swig.
As west coast residents, you didn’t think we’d leave Stone off the list did you? The brand has been expanding rapidly in the San Diego area, having recently opened up a tasting room in Petco Park to help customers get their hands on more of this golden beauty. Citrus, hop aromas, and a subtle malt character make this North County brew nearly impossible not to love. Also if you’re in the local area, do not forget to try the Enjoy By IPA.
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
Often times we’ve noticed that the world’s greatest IPAs are only available in pricey 22 oz. bottles. For the right beer, it takes a very expensive price tag to scare us off. Rarely, though, you’ll find a six-pack of diamonds in the rough, an IPA sold in a six-pack at a price that is close to reasonable. Fresh Squeezed won’t be as cheap as a six-pack of crappy domestic light-lager, but it could be dollar-for-ounce the best IPA on the market, and is probably the best IPA available in a six-pack.
Rhinegeist Truth IPA
Rhinegeist makes two IPAs with opposing names: Truth and Fiction. We like Fiction, but with apologies to A Few Good Men, we can handle the truth, and we prefer it. If you’re in Cincinnati, don’t miss a chance to try Truth. This brew’s big hop-forward flavor opened our eyes to the wonderful world of Ohio’s craft beer scene.
Fort George Java the Hop IPA
With their Vortex IPA on the shelves already, Fort George had to do a lot to outperform one of their great flagships. Java the Hop is unique. Typically a beer infused with coffee is a dark beer, usually a stout or porter. Java the Hop pours very pale, but has a unique coffee flavor that you’d never expect from a beer that pours this light.
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
It’s hard to mention Union Jack without mentioning Firestone Walker’s other variations on the traditional IPA. They’ve got a Black IPA called Wookey Jack, a Double IPA called Double Jack, and a Session IPA called Easy Jack. Despite that, Union Jack may be the best and most balanced of the bunch (though we’ve got a really soft spot for Wookey Jack).
7 Seas Rude Parrot IPA
If you looked at a list of 7 Seas beers through sophomoric humor colored glasses, you may have expected their Ballz Deep DIPA to be on our Imperial IPA list. We prefer their single IPA. Rude Parrot is well-balance with a lot of pine and citrus, with a subtle but present malt profile.
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Another California beer, Racer 5 is more than a hop bomb despite being relatively light bodied and heavily hopped. Big pine flavors and sweet malt make this beer a great choice for any fan of standard West Coast IPAs.
Diamond Knot IPA
With a malt backbone that oozes caramel flavor, Diamond Knot’s citrusy hop aroma and flavor create a great balance. Their standard IPA is delicious, and while not necessarily sessionable in the traditional sense, Diamond Knot IPA will leave you wanting much more.
Ale Smith IPA
A true San Diego classic, and it lives up to the hype – “It’s Pretty Awesome!” Just one whiff of those fresh pine and tropical fruit notes, and your salivary glands will be working over time. Clocking in at 73 IBU, this bad boy has won both Bronze (2005) and Silver (2011) at the Great American Beer Festival, and we think with a bit more refining, they could eventually take home the gold.
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