THE 50 BEST IPAS IN AMERICA – NUMBERS 50-26
50. Cast Out
Crux Fermentation Project (Bend, Oregon)
It’d be tough to select a more perfect beer to kick off our top 50, as Cast Out represents the best of several worlds. It’s heavy on the alcohol (7.6% is right near the 8% cutoff, above which we’d classify it as an imperial IPA) but drinks like a session beer. It’s heavily hopped with Galaxy, an in-vogue Australian hop that here contributes tropical melon and pineapple at first whiff, then sweet tangerine underlined by green grass and sweaty onion. It’s even illustrative of another growing trend among brewers: trademark issues. (When the beer launched in 2012, it was called Outcast; Crux ran into a conflict with a California winery and was forced to change the name in January 2016.) But mostly, it’s the handling of the bitterness that earned Cast Out its spot. While present enough to balance the malt’s graham flour sweetness, the hop bite is clean as an operating room. We could drink this all day long.
49. Art Car IPA
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (Houston, Texas)
Each spring, the streets of Houston—Saint Arnold’s home base—fill with spray painted, retrofitted, Dr. Seuss-ified automobiles for the annual Houston Art Car Parade. The brewery’s even commissioned local artists to create several cars of its own. But when this IPA debuted in August 2015, it quickly became our favorite art car of all. The nose is like cutting into a fresh grapefruit—sunny zest, tangy juice—while sitting on a patch of grass and orange blossoms. That grapefruity tang also tugs the tongue after each swallow, but smooth apricot, hints of pineapple and soft clover honey top notes add complexity to the citrus before clean, medium-low bitterness flicks the tongue at the quick finish.
48. Toole Avenue IPA
Borderlands Brewing Co. (Tucson, Arizona)
For a long time, Borderlands’ best beer was an above-average vanilla porter called Noche Dulce; the brewery remained off most drinkers’ radars when it came to hoppy beer. That changed when Landon Swanson took over head brewing duties for the Tucson brewpub in March 2016. His Starkiller Base was one of the best beers we tried during Arizona Beer Week, and Toole Avenue continues the trend. Bold tangerine zest leads the flavor—it’s a pretty intense citrus experience, actually—but segues late in the sip into fresh, green grass and pine. Swallows are warm, and paired with the creamy, soft-as-a-fleece-blanket body, this almost drinks like a double IPA. It has the citrusy vigor and biting bitterness of a West Coast IPA, but the creamy body and soft wheat character of a New England version.
47. Slammin Bones
J. Wakefield Brewing (Miami, Florida)
Jonathan Wakefield’s known best for Florida weisses (a fruit-stuffed, usually neon-hued subset of Berliner weisse that he helped create) and sugary imperial stouts slathered with everything from maple syrup to Nutella. But as you’ll see throughout the top 50, no one is safe from the hazy allure of New England IPA. Brewed for Union Beer Store in Little Havana, Slammin’ Bones gets a pungent lime zest, mango pulp and nectarine nose from Citra and Columbus hops, while wheat and oats provide notes of whipped cream and wheat thins to support mango and Mandarin orange flavors. The bitterness has a slightly grungy, leafy character, but it’s soft relative to the juicy fruits; it provides balance and gets out of the way.
46. Mystic Mama
Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery (Athens, Ohio)
Jackie O’s flagship IPA has been tweaked several times since its 2009 launch. The most recent update saw the removal of caramel malts to cut back on sweetness and a boost in the dry-hopping rate by nearly a pound per barrel. The result, as one of our judges said, can best be described by the phrase, “Come to daddy.” Sweet sliced onion and clementine intertwine atop oyster crackers in both the aroma and flavor, though it’s the citrus that takes the lead on the tongue. Moderate dried herb bitterness brings even balance to the swallow, while gentle mintiness lingers through the finish. It doesn’t have a ton going on, but what it does have is enjoyable and perfectly portioned.
45. Teton Range IPA
Grand Teton Brewing Co. (Victor, Idaho)
Grand Teton’s beers have always been solid during our blind tastings—good, not great—but this IPA seems to indicate a new direction for the brewery. The nose is like a basket of fruits and flowers, with lavender and lilac swaying above lemon zest, tangerine, papaya and a hint of Pixy Stix. Sips are more malt-focused, as biscuits and slightly toasty bread crust match the woody hop character that contributes sawdust and a twist of black peppercorns at the swallow. While the bitterness is on the low, low end of what’s acceptable for IPA—this could almost pass for a pale ale—it’s also very clean and enables those complex malts to shine through. Another reason to like it: A majority of the barley and hops used were grown in the brewery’s home state of Idaho.
44. Aroma Coma
Drake’s Brewing Co. (San Leandro, California)
This IPA is Drake’s summer seasonal and has been since 2009, back when huge hoppy beers were the new hotness, but it’s still as fresh and exciting as the first time we tried it. The eponymous aroma radiates with really, really, really sticky weed and tangerine sprinkled with onion powder and cracked black pepper; on the tongue, a hint of caramel paves the way for a parade of grapefruit, fresh-cut grass and brushes of pine. Bold bitterness nods to the IBU wars of days past (may we remember but never repeat them), but a pleasantly light mouthfeel keeps the beer easy-drinking.
43. Bingo Bango Bongo
The Shop Beer Co. / Modern Times Brewery (Tempe, Arizona/San Diego, California)
The Shop was named the best new brewery in Arizona at this year’s Ratebeer Best awards; Modern Times made our recent list of 25 breweries that are just crushing it. Turns out when you get two demonstrably outstanding breweries working together, they can create some demonstrably outstanding beer. Denali, Idaho 7 and Ekuanot hops added during whirlpool and dry-hop additions infuse this IPA with an aroma of peach pulp, tangerine and mown grass, each in equal proportion and interlocking like puzzle pieces, while the supportive malt base alternates between baked wheat bread, vanilla beans and flaky, honey drizzled pastry crust. (That peach note gets huge if you let the beer warm up a bit, which we suggest you do.) Sips lead with tangerine zest sprinkled over grass blades as subtle green pine needles poke at the edges of the tongue. A small amount of smooth peach juice and a large amount of chewy wheat dough immediately softens these bold hop notes at the swallow, though moderate pithy-piney bitterness does linger long after the beer’s gone. Bitterness at first seems a bit lacking, but it’s just not punctual; it arrives late in a big way and, like the creamy body, seems to mold itself to the tongue’s every contour like memory foam. Bingo bango.
42. Todd the Axe Man
Surly Brewing Co. (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
The Axe Man cameth to the pages of DRAFT last year, when our judges gave the Citra- and Mosaic-hopped IPA first brewed in collaboration with Amager Brewery in Denmark a 94 out of 100. Their notes from that tasting still apply: “This slightly hazy pour offers up onion and garlic in spades, ornamented with tropical melon. More sweet white onion leads the front of the sip, layered over pastrylike malts before a surprising pop of grapefruit juice. Subtle tropical notes of papaya and guava emerge to add even more depth as the beer warms, surfacing just before the smooth, bitter swallow.” The only thing that’s changed? The IPA is now available year-round.
Wren House Brewing Co. (Phoenix, Arizona)
Full disclosure: DRAFT is based in Arizona. With three Grand Canyon State brewers in the top 50, an argument could be made that proximity gives locals an advantage in a tasting focused on fresh flavors. But here’s the counterargument: Arizona’s brewers are just crafting some really great IPAs right now. Spellbinder is made Northeast-foggy through additions of wheat and oat milk, plus Loral lupulin powder and Citra hop whirlpool additions and triple dry-hopping with Citra and Mosaic lupulin powder. The result: a dynamic aroma that covers honeydew rind and mown grass with shots of mango, orange pulp and dank weed. The flavor’s milder and more focused on the citrus, though huge grassy notes do float above the palate; soft swallows are like spoonfuls of oatmeal followed by a slow fade of moderate grassy bitterness.
Boneyard Beer (Bend, Oregon)
Boneyard’s RPM has been a longtime favorite around the ol’ DRAFT office, but it was Hop A Wheelie—shipped to us in a crowler—that really revved our engines. Grapefruit zest and tangerine pulp spin out on the tongue and leave behinds mango, dried vanilla and a teeny hint of underripe banana. Though slightly softened by appearances of wheat bread and warm vanilla, the grapefruit-pith bitterness is high—it’s as if all the bitterness missing from the NEIPAs on this list rolled down into this one.
39. Jai Alai
Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
What can be said about Cigar City’s flagship IPA that hasn’t been already? It’s the beer that made Florida a drinking destination rather than just the state to visit if you wanted to meet Mickey Mouse. It was also among the first IPAs to begin the shift away from the overgrowth of pine flavors and focus more fully on citrusy, tropical hop notes. That hasn’t changed one bit: The aroma still bursts with juicy orange, melon and pineapple; the flavor still deftly balances sugar-covered tangerines and caramel with bold, resiny bitterness. Closing in on a decade since its launch, Jai Alai’s greatness continues to impress.
38. Young Lions
The Veil Brewing Co. (Richmond, Virginia)
Trendy-as-hell newbie The Veil sent us three IPAs for this grand project, and in tasting them our judges became Beer Goldilocks. With a somewhat weak finish to go with its low ABV, Brozbrozdayday was too subtle; Master Shredder³, triple dry-hopped to the point it tasted like hop rub, was too intense. Young Lions, however, was just right. Subtle melon rind and flower stem fragrances meld with Mandarin orange, dry wheat stalks and vanilla in the nose; orange Creamsicles, sticky orange zest, pineapple skin and a gentle wheat thin note delight the palate. The highlight, however, is Young Lions’ whipped velvet body—it caresses the tongue with soft, supple bitterness and lays it to rest on a bed of IPA mousse.
37. India Pale Ale
Marble Brewery (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Marble should submit a photo of this beer for the next edition of Webster’s; it’s pretty much the epitome of American IPA. To wit: Bold orange zest intermingles with dried mango strips, dried grass and onion powder above a soft, angel-food-cake base in the nose, while tangerine, grass blades and mango strips up front in the flavor give way to yellow onion and crackers through the finish. Pithy bitterness (a little low, but we’ll allow it) settles into the sides of the tongue several beats after the swallow. These hop flavors are classic but not outdated; 50 years from now, this will still stand its ground among whatever new geographical subcategory of IPA has taken the country by storm. Gulf Coast IPA, probably.
36. The Pupil
Societe Brewing Co. (San Diego, California)
Whenever a former Russian River brewer heads out of Santa Rosa to do his own thing, it’s a good bet that the IPAs coming out of the new spot are going to be top-notch. Such is the case here. Societe cofounder and head brewer Travis Smith was Vinnie Cilurzo’s first production hire at the Russian River brewpub and was promoted to full-time brewer within a year. Brewing batch after batch of Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig clearly had an impact: The IPAs Smith develops at Societe are as clean, crisp, balanced and clean. In the case of The Pupil, the purity is actually visible—the beer is clear enough to read a newspaper through. A huge, fluffy off-white head emits subtle aromas of clementines and wet, mown grass, with hints of dried oregano and clean, minerally soil playing backup. There’s more malt than we were expecting on the palate; the sweet-ish finish has slight caramelized onion and a bread crust character that emerges at the swallow to balance leading notes of grapefruit and orange pith. Bitterness is a bit rough around the edges, but the balance and cleanliness are immaculate, and the soft dried papaya note that lingers after the swallow is that X-factor that only a skilled brewer of IPAs can draw out.
35. Clear & Present Dankness
Modern Times Beer/Cellarmaker Brewing Co. (San Diego, California/San Francisco, California)
“Dankness” is the proper term to use here: This collaboration between Nor- and So-Cal hazy IPA practitioners smells and tastes like a bag of sticky weed, though digging deeper reveals more Northeasty notes likes dripping wet peaches and cantaloupe dipped in sweet cream. Citra, Simcoe, Galaxy and Nelson hops—plus a giant whirlpool addition of Citra lupulin powder—imbue each sip with sticky pot leaves and pine up front, soft pineapple and pastry midpalate, and grapefruit juice and pith toward the back. While bitterness is super-duper low, there’s a fair amount of grapefruit twang present to make up for it, and noticeable alcohol warmth adds its strength to the intense hop character to make it seem like you’re drinking a double IPA.
34. Suicide Squeeze 2017
Fort George Brewery & Public House (Astoria, Oregon)
Located in Astoria—a sleepy port city near the northern tip of Oregon best-known as the place where some of the greatest movies of all time (“Short Circuit”, “The Goonies”, “Kindergarten Cop”) were filmed—we think this brewery is one of the best IPA producers in Oregon, which is saying something. This IPA, first released as a session IPA in 2014 to help Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records celebrate their 20th anniversary and revamped in later years with a higher ABV, backs up our assertion. Wet lawn clippings, a hint of white peppercorns, soft melon and a whiff of sticky weed swirl in the nose, while sips deliver more chlorophyll and mown grass up front. A beautiful melon note bursts onto the scene at the swallow, like the firm edge of a honeydew slice, and the bitterness is smooth, wiping the tongue clean like a squeegee. Bonus: The snake on the can responds to warmth, showing green with pink eyes at fridge temperatures and fading to gold above 50 degrees.
Penn Brewery (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
In a time during which getting your hands on the most popular IPAs in the country requires camping out overnight for the opportunity to pay $20 for a single four-pack, it’s refreshing to find a stunner that’s both relatively cheap and available all year long. And for it to come out of Pittsburgh’s oldest brewery—one that’s been mostly focused on German styles since opening in ‘86—is even more delightful. Passionfruit, mango, lemon zest, sugar cookie dough and just a hint of scallions zip around the nose like hummingbirds, while the flavor displays all of the above with an easy grace. The pastrylike malt base is supportive, but the focus is on the hops and clean, moderate bitterness. A light, silky body and bone-dry finish make this an easy quaff.
Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. (Fort Worth, Texas)
Speaking of tasty, readily available IPAs: Have you tried Dadgum? Citra and Lemondrop hops deliver notes of dandelion, saltine crackers and a light grassiness to the aroma; sips give up a bit of caramelized onion up front, which combines with the crackers for a pleasant crostini note, and mild floral bitterness is just enough to balance the plain malt character. There isn’t a ton going on, but it’s clean and well-built, balanced and snappy.
31. Hazy Train
Fieldwork Brewing (Berkeley, California)
With taprooms operating in Berkeley, Napa and Sacramento—and two more set to open in Monterey and San Mateo any day now—Fieldwork is quickly taking over Northern California, and we have no problem with that. Head brewer and co-owner Alex Tweet (formerly of Modern Times and Ballast Point) has made NEIPA a focus at his two-year-old brewery with an admirable philosophy: “I want the flavor profile to so closely resemble fruit juice without using any fruit [in the beer]. If you taste it and say, ‘Did Dole open a brewery?’—that’s a success.” Hazy Train, one of the five or so hazy IPAs Fieldwork rotates and releases regularly, is a bit more herbal than fruity, however. Tangelo, thyme and lemongrass tickle the nose, while the flavor switches the script to purple onions, sauvignon blanc and crunchy baguette, with the bread taking over toward the finish. A hint of basil at the swallow gives the impression of herbed crostinis, and the beer remains drinkable and interesting to the last sip. All aboard!
30. Cheat Code
Cerebral Brewing (Denver, Colorado)
Denver has suddenly become one of the best cities in the country for quality examples of Northeast IPA, and Cerebral can be congratulated (or blamed, depending on your feelings toward the substyle) for inspiring a fair amount of the shift toward cloudiness. The brewery sent us four hazy IPAs for this tasting, and while all scored in the upper third of the total, only Cheat Code powered through into the top 50. Wheat and flaked oats give the beer a sweet, squishy base of plain glazed doughnuts to play upon, but it’s the juicy hop character—courtesy of Galaxy, El Dorado, Mosaic and South African N1/69 hops—that’s the focus, as orange and mango pulp meld with peach and a mild orange rind bitterness. Subtle chive floats in the mouth between creamy sips, and there isn’t even a hint of the 7.4% ABV.
Community Beer Works (Buffalo, New York)
Community is a small-batch brewery. Like, really small: The brewhouse is only able to put out 1.5 barrels (about 47 gallons) of beer at a time. There are some homebrewers operating on a larger system than that. Nonetheless, the hoppy stuff head brewer Robert Turley, Jr. and his gang are able to churn out is beloved by locals, and Interrobang shows why. Above a near-perfectly clear liquid bright as a gold brick, the aroma is a quiet melange of vanilla yogurt, mango and crushed Wheat Thins. Sips are similarly subtle, but clean, with pine needles and a sprinkling of lawn clippings tempering the sugary mango yogurt. The malt base—like springy wheat dough—is supportive but stays out of the way, while green grass lingers on the sides of the tongue through the finish. Despite a light appearance, the beer’s body is surprisingly thick and chewy; perhaps that’s why it’s named for the grammatical mark that combines a question mark and an exclamation point. Turley, Jr. says the confusion and surprise it represents—Whaaa?!—sums up the average drinker’s reaction quite nicely.
28. Space Grass
Angry Chair Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
It’s probably safe to say hoppy beers are not what put Angry Chair on the map. The brewery’s most popular bottles are all some version of sugary dessert stout: German Chocolate Cupcake Stout, a milk stout with coconut, Madagascar vanilla beans and cacao nibs; The Awakening, a milk stout with cocoa, vanilla and coffee; Fudge Bucket, whose additives you can probably guess. But Space Grass shows they can handle hops just as well as they can fudge. The aroma’s like vanilla pudding and clementine on a field of fresh grass; the flavor spreads orange marmalade on lightly toasted Wheat Thins. Soft and chewy, flavorful and balanced, big but drinkable, it’s built with a measured hand that, while far from what we love about Angry Chair’s stouts, is much appreciated in IPA land.
27. Maui Waui
Altamont Beer Works (Livermore, California)
Altamont shipped four crowlers of IPAs for this tasting; this single-malt, Mosaic- and Citra-hopped submission was far and away our favorite. One big reason for that: The nose’s lovely malt character, which slides Triscuit crackers and warm pancakes under soft dried orange and caramelized onion. The flavor’s dense, with mown grass leading to more onion and sweet tangerine atop a crisp, crackery malt base, and the swallow tips the balance toward the malt so each sip is toasty, crisp, clean and balanced.
26. Breakside IPA
Breakside Brewery (Portland, Oregon)
Remember how we said earlier that Fort George was one of the best producers of IPA in Oregon? These are the guys doing it the best. Breakside sent five beers for our tasting, and not a one of them scored below an 80 with our judges. One even made our top 10—but we’ll get to that later. This beer is Breakside’s flagship, launched in 2010 with a hop bill featuring Citra and Chinook and mostly unchanged since. And why would the brewers tweak the recipe? This thing won gold in its category at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. You don’t mess with success. Its cohesive, dense flavor is like a bag of weed next to bag of sweet onions, though soft grapefruit pulp and puffs of mango emerge midpalate for balance. Clean, moderate, leafy bitterness is in near-perfect proportion with the toasted-cracker malt character. Really well-constructed.