THE 50 BEST IPAS IN AMERICA – THE TOP 25
25. General Braddock’s IPA
The Brew Gentlemen (Braddock, Pennsylvania)
The Brew Gentlemen get a lot of hype for their New England-style hoppy ales, and every bit of it is warranted. We seriously enjoyed Overgrowth, the brewery’s springtime pale ale, and the General here is nearly as impressive. Hugely aromatic, the beer’s bouquet blends pineapple, Orange Julius and a hint of chopped garlic, while smooth sips follow up tangerine zest with pineapple and chewy wheat dough at the sweetish swallow. The light-as-a-feather body smooths the cohesive flavor across the tongue like the settling of a just-fluffed blanket; this is a pleasure to drink.
24. Diamond Dust
Pure Project Brewing (San Diego, California)
If you’re not yet familiar with Pure Project, here’s the gist: The brewery’s located in SD’s Miramar area, inside a turnkey brewhouse set up by a local property developer as part of what it calls the “Brewery Igniter” program—basically, the company builds out a space with a fully functioning brewery, then leases it to new or growing breweries, circumventing the massive start-up costs many breweries spend years climbing out from under. It’s helmed by Winslow Sawyer, former head brewer—at age 22, no less—of Boulder Creek Brewing Company in Cali’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Unfortunately, that brewery burned down in March 2015, but the fire became the impetus for Sawyer’s move to SD and his eventual landing at Pure Project. And a little more than a year after opening, he’s doing amazing things in the leased-out space. In Diamond Dust he’s able to ply Cashmere and Mosaic hops for an aroma that lays bright papaya, blood orange and fresh grass clippings above doughy malts. Bold tangerine zest and baked pineapple pop up alongside lemon pepper midpalate, while mild hop spiciness tingles the tongue through the NEIPA’s soft, white-bread finish.
23. Gold Digger
Auburn Alehouse (Auburn, California)
Sometimes a beer hits you at just the right moment with just the right flavors; such was the case here. After a slew of duds, Gold Digger appeared before our judges with a brilliant aroma twirling passion fruit, sweet white onion and dried pine atop an oyster cracker dance floor. (One of them even exclaimed “Oooh!” after taking a whiff. He’s a grown man.) The fruit and allium continue their graceful waltz across the palate, popping quickly with passion fruit and orange zest before eventually bowing toward flaky pastry crust and a supportive crackery snap at the dry swallow.
22. Dankosaurus IPA
Cedar Creek Brewery (Seven Points, Texas)
The stickiest and ickiest of any of the beers we tasted, Dankosaurus combines Apollo, Bravo and Eureka hops for an aroma like a bag of weed big enough to knock out a Triceratops. Caramelized garlic, mandarin oranges and oyster crackers provide a base across which the dank notes drift—we might call this “stinky” if we didn’t find all these aromas so pleasant. And the flavor follows through on the nose’s promise: Black garlic and cannabis burst on the tongue before a hint of spearmint settles in. Post-swallow, a more classic tangerine and mint combo lingers, which is probably a good thing. While the finish is a little sweet, the hop flavors are so bold and interesting, we don’t really care.
Back East Brewing (Bloomfield, Connecticut)
Let’s take a second to marvel at Back East, for of all the breweries who were part of this tasting, they alone had three beers make our top 50. And those were the only three beers they sent! In sports, they call that “batting a thousand.” Rakautra is an India wheat ale (meaning its grain bill includes more malted wheat than your typical IPA), is brewed with Rakau and Citra hops (its name is literally just a combination of the two) and it was the first New England-style IPA made at the brewery. Rakau is a hop of New Zealand origin, but Back East cofounder Tony Karlowicz says he’s getting his from Massachusetts because he thinks the ones grown stateside are better. We can’t argue with results: Those hops imbue the aroma with piles of mango and mandarin orange atop a base of cantaloupe and glazed breakfast pastries—the beer smells like brunch. There’s a bigger, sweeter melon character on the palate, like juicy cantaloupe slices and lawn clippings with a bit of vanilla and a hint of lemon. The beer may finish a little sweet, but that hop character is A-plus stuff. Don’t sleep on this brewery.
Fulton Brewery (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Ah, Mosaic. Has there ever been a hop more appropriately named? The patchwork of flavors and fragrances that can be gleaned from the sought-after variety seems to be ever-expanding, and beers made primarily with it—like this one here—are always a little bit different. In 300, Mosaic imbues the aroma with just-mown grass, juicy nectarine and a hint of blueberry skin, then tessellates the tongue with ground-up weed and tangerine zest; a burst of sweet apricot midpalate cedes to bright, green lime and grass all the way through the finish. It’s easy to see why Fulton decided to make this beer year round rather than let it remain a lost-to-history one-off brewed to celebrate the 300th batch.
19. Insufficient Clearance
Sketchbook Brewing Co. (Evanston, Illinois)
Back in the day, Sketchbook’s location in the Chicago suburb of Evanston was a parking garage for taxis; the “Insufficient Clearance” sign that warned cabbies of roof-scraping now sits above head brewer and co-founder Cesar Marron’s desk. It’s also a perfect name for this NEIPA brewed with Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe: The huge tropical flavor—like a mango-guava-pineapple smoothie topped with Cool Whip—seems to have been squeezed into a space almost too small to hold it. The soft pastry dough base and hint of wheatgrass provide balance for the fruits while low, clean bitterness leads to a dry, even finish, but the beer is still intensely tropical. Each glass should come with a tiny umbrella.
Mother Earth Brew Co. (Vista, California)
It’s no surprise that BooKoo made it this high in the rankings—it’s earned an impressive 97-point score from our judges in the past. Everything that wowed us then is still present now: Mosaic and Simcoe hops deliver a pleasant, interlocked blend of chopped garlic, apricot and lime juice. Clementine and dried mango strips emerge midpalate; mild malts and low bitterness lead things to a soft, easy finish. Super-clean and crystal-clear, this is a beer that’s beautiful inside and out.
Switchback Brewing Co. (Burlington, Vermont)
A classic West Coast IPA made in … Vermont? Believe it. What impressed us most about Connector was its cleanliness—the beer’s flawless in both flavor and appearance, and the moderate bitterness cuts like a katana, quick and clean. Sugary tangerine up front gives way to the brighter lemon zest and green grass of the nose, while unobtrusive malts bring the swallow to an easy, balanced close. It’s named after the Southern Connector, a Vermont road bureaucrats have fought over for so long that an artist erected the world’s tallest filing cabinet near it to represent said bureaucracy (Switchback’s Connector tap handles actually mimic this filing cabinet), but the name could just as easily refer to the beer’s West Coast connection.
16. Intergalactic Lupulinary
Back East Brewing (Bloomfield, Connecticut)
We’ve arrived at the second of Back East’s Cinderella-story IPAs, and unlike the special release brews like #21 Rakautra or its other IPA (coming up higher in the rankings), Intergalactic Lupilinary is available year-round. Brewed with a bunch of Galaxy hops (hence the name), this one has that “juicy” character for which NEIPAs are so beloved. Orange Julius, juicy peach, muddled mango and lemon meringue pie all make appearances on the tongue, shooting through a lovely pine needle/grass blade blend to land atop a flaky pastry base, which combines with the melange of fruits for something like orange cream pie.
15. Elevated IPA
La Cumbre Brewing Co. (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Four out of five beer judges agree: Elevated is dank. That’s “dank” in both the “smells like good weed” sense and in the “high-quality” sense the kids these days use to describe their memes. Other aromas we agreed on include juicy grapefruit, mint, rock candy and a splash of sugar-dusted mango. In the flavor, the 2011 Great American Beer Festival gold medalist follows up burnt sugar with grapefruit pith, pine needles, wet grass and a subtle tropical note, all of which gives way to moderate bitterness in the finish. Though among the more intense IPAs we tasted, Elevated backs up its forcefulness with complex hop character and deft balance.
14. Thought Process
Angry Chair Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
IPAs are primarily hop-focused beers, but what really sold us on Thought Process was its massive malt aroma replete with notes of yellow cake, French vanilla and sweet cornbread. (It was one of the few IPAs in our tastings brewed with lactose, which may have led to some of these fragrances.) But the hops also played their part: On the tongue, Nugget and Citra lent a butter-smooth, tropical sweetness that reminded us of starfruit and Juicy Fruit gum (for those first three seconds, obviously). Delicate freshly cut grass and a little pineapple emerge with further inspection, and the with a sweet, lactose-driven finish, the overall impression is like a dram of fruit juice followed by a bite of bread.
13. Heal the Bay
Golden Road Brewing (Los Angeles, California)
We know what you’re going to say: “But but but GOLDEN ROAD IS NOT CRAFT BEER!” Stop. Ownership is beside the point for the purpose of this tasting; good beer is good beer, and Heal the Bay is exquisite. Its pungent aroma puts chopped scallions, mandarin orange and mango in a blender and presses “puree,” while the flavor adds a clean, subtle cracked peppercorn notes and a bagel-like malt character to the affair. Citrus pith bitterness is mild while the beer’s on the tongue but crescendos dramatically after the swallow, and the body is like silk. Plus, a portion of Heal the Bay’s sales go toward the charity organization of the same name, which works to clean and protect the Santa Monica Bay and other parts of the California coastline. You got a problem with charity, too?
12. Pulp Friction
RaR Brewing/Civil Society Brewing (Cambridge, Maryland / Jupiter, Florida)
Around the time the New England IPA was beginning its takeover of the hoppy beer kingdom, a bunch of breweries seemed to have the same idea at once: “This beer looks and tastes like orange juice; let’s call it Pulp!” The name’s been used by Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co., Verdant Brewing Co., Fieldwork Brewing Co., RaR and Civil Society. But when those last two discovered there were other Pulps out there, they decided to join forces. Enter Pulp Friction. True to its name, the beer rubs the tongue with the flavors of squeezed oranges and Orange Julius smoothies, while pineapple chunks and a hint of garlic powder linger at the edges of the palate. It’s this beer finish, however, that makes it King of the Pulps: It’s like doughnuts drizzled with orange glaze and served warm, right off the line.
11. 3-Way IPA
Fort George Brewery & Public House/Great Notion Brewing/Reuben’s Brews (Astoria, Oregon/Portland, Oregon/Seattle, Washington)
Each year, Fort George invites two breweries known for their hop mastery to visit Astoria, join hands, sing kumbaya and brew an awesome IPA. This year’s invitees, Reuben’s Brews and Great Notion, have both created some of our favorite hoppy beers of the past year; they were solid picks, and the beer the three were able to create is an incredible example of an NEIPA. Imagine a Venn diagram composed of many circles: One circle shows tangerine, one contains mango, another has peach, and yet another has lychee. And at the center of them all, there’s this beer. Each sip of the fleece-blanket-soft brew is smooth, compact and pleasant, with each fruity node leading into another. Funky wet grass and yuzu arise at the finish; steel-cut oats and almond milk linger on the palate between sips. As Tenacious D would say, that’s fucking teamwork.
10. Minute Man
Three Notch’d Brewing Co. (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Of the cloudy IPAs with names meant to evoke oranges and orange juice, none was more clear about its similarity in flavor (and appearance) to OJ. Citrus drips all over the aroma, blanketing subtler notes of chopped white onion, dank weed, tangerine, Kentucky bluegrass and Triscuits. On the tongue, the onions become sweeter and caramelized, and the malt more bready, like baguette, while a bold, bright grass and tangerine finish makes each swig like that of a glass of full-pulp Minute Maid.
9. Melvin IPA
Melvin Brewing (Jackson, Wyoming)
We’ve come a long way since the year 2000, when Melvin Brewing was but a tiny 20-gallon homebrewing setup inside the Thai Me Up restaurant in Jackson. Today, Melvin operates a taproom in Alpine, Wyoming, as well as a brewpub in Bellingham, Washington, and ships cans to six different states. The brewery’s also won a half-dozen GABF medals since 2012, including gold for this beer in 2016. We can see why it won: The aroma offers every color of the hop rainbow, with squeezed tangerine, super-dank weed, Creamsicles and fresh pine needles all appearing on different visits. That complexity carries into the flavor, where an orange thread runs through the middle of guava, mango and grass. It finishes a little on the heavy side, with agro bitterness waiting until the very end of the sip to kick in and balance the big fruits, but the hop flavor is absolutely killer.
Belching Beaver Brewery/Half Door Brewing Co. (both from San Diego, California)
Man, do we enjoy what some well-selected Southern Hemisphere hops can bring to a beer. In this collaborative—and clear!—IPA, Nelson and Southern Cross deliver an aroma like the inside of a flower shop cooler: damp rose petals, wet stems and leaves. Hints of bay, dried onion and oyster crackers can be found below the foliage. The nuanced flavor shifts with each sip, vacillating between snappy green onion, rose hips and lemon marmalade. A supportive, crackery malt base provides just enough sweetness to balance out the hops, while clean bitterness lingers long after the swallow. It’s a thirst-inducing beer, like you can taste the salt on the saltine. A true West Coast IPA for a haze-weary world.
7. Wombat vs. Wallaby
Like we said above: We really enjoy what Southern Hemisphere hops can bring to a beer. Wombat vs. Wallaby combines New Zealand-grown Nelson Sauvin and Waimea with Australian Galaxy, throws in a little American-grown Citra and Mosaic, and voila: greatness. Pinecones, guava and fresh, dank weed give the aroma a little punch, while hints of honey and a soft mandarin orange sweetness round off the rougher edges. The chewy body gives up flavors of tangerine marmalade on saltines with pine needles sprinkled atop. More than anything, though, the beer just tastes fresh—and since it’s a small draft-only release at Breakside’s brewpub in Portland’s Slabtown neighborhood, that’s the way it’s going to stay.
6. Double Dry-Hopped Congress Street
Trillium Brewing Co. (Boston, Massachusetts)
To our palates, this is the best beer Trillium makes (and they make a lot of excellent beer) and one of the very best IPAs on the planet. The double-dose of dry-hopping slams the nostrils with well-knit bubblegum, pineapple, strawberry and peach, but as it settles, the overwhelming impression is of cantaloupe rind and dry cannabis. Fresh-cut, funky chive scents provide additional intrigue, and neutral biscuity malts allow the dynamic hops to shine; the aroma feels new each time you return to it. On the tongue, metric tons of melon rind and tangelo citrus pith surge, with funky garlic flashing before the close. A dab of peppery heat (likely from the hops) and full-pulp orange juice tang (definitely from the hops) linger after the swallow.
5. Ice Cream Man
Back East Brewing (Bloomfield, Connecticut)
The sleeper hit of the tasting, Ice Cream Man is an NEIPA (Back East is good at those) brewed and dry-hopped with 100% Citra. It was first brewed taproom-only as a fundraiser for the Jason William Hunt foundation, which supports youth through outdoor education, but earned its way into cans after drinkers went nuts for it. Nowadays, Back East zooms through a couple hundred cases of the beer within an hour each time it’s released. We don’t blame the locals for buying them out one bit: We’d chase an ice cream truck for miles just for a chance to sniff this beer’s bouquet of pureed peach and mango with just enough dank, resinous weed at the edges to temper the fruit sugars. There’s even a noticeable baked wheat bread quality to the base, with attendant soft vanilla. Softer fruit characters appear in the sip; the peach is milder, the mango more like mango rind, and there’s an additional hint of tangerine. Wheat brings cohesion to the blend, and a wave of dank weed and earthy onion peel crests just after the swallow. Also, fun fact: The artwork on the can was actually drawn by the 4th-grade daughter of Back East’s graphic designer. They chose her rendition over several others he drew. This tickles us to no end.
Tree House Brewing Co.
Julius’ position in the top five of our tasting should surprise precisely nobody. It’s the highest-rated IPA on both Ratebeer and Beeradvocate, and number 2 on Untappd, behind only JJJULIUSSS, a version of Julius that pushes the 1.6-ounce-per-gallon hopping rate (that’s more than three pounds of hops per barrel, which is … a lot) even higher. Why is the beer so popular? “I get a lot of feedback in my email and on Twitter, and people enjoy Julius for many, many reasons,” Tree House co-owner Nate Lanier told us last year. “I think the prevailing reason is that it’s packed with flavor and very pleasant to drink. To me, I like it because it’s incredibly hop-saturated while maintaining softness on the palate. I like the term ‘fluffy’. You can enjoy pungent citrusy hop flavors without astringency, lingering bitterness, or alliaceous notes that can easily pervade a heavy-handed hoppy beer. It’s very easy to drink, and for me, it improves in the glass and with subsequent glasses—a character I try very intently to refine in all of my beers.” We can’t argue with any of that, but for our judges it was the way the beer beams its spectrum of distinct hop flavors—tangy nectarine flesh, sweet orange marmalade, pine resin and earthy hop spice—seamlessly across the palate that kicked it into the top 1% of all the IPAs we tried.
3. Virtual Planetoid
Fieldwork Brewing (Sacramento, California)
The hop character on this Citra- and Mandarina Bavaria-hopped NEIPA is big enough to have its own weather system. We’re not kidding; the aroma of onion, garlic, lemon zest and wheatgrass (which is a much better combination than it sounds like) is absurdly pungent. The flavor, meanwhile, is like Sputnik: spherical, but quite pointy in parts. Chopped, sweet white onion and chives comprise the corners; sweet Lemonhead candies and uncooked Pillsbury biscuit dough provide the roundness. Most impressive, however, is how the beer handles its alcohol content—though right on the edge of being too high in ABV to even be included in this tasting, it drinks like a session IPA. It’s both flavorful and drinkable enough to make us cry ourselves to sleep on our huge pillows.
2. Fashionably Late
Offshoot Beer Co. (Placentia, California)
“We promised never to make an IPA,” Patrick Rue, founder of famed Belgian and barrel-aged beer producer The Bruery, told Beeradvocate back in 2010. But he didn’t say anything about starting up a side project to make them. Offshoot, which opened in April, is that side project, and Fashionably Late is the first canned IPA to come out of it. Talk about auspicious beginnings: The beer’s Walla Walla onion, cantaloupe, fresh green grass and pastry dough aroma alone was enough to bring tears to our eyes. But then there’s the flavor, which sticks sweet pineapple and mandarin orange inside raw cookie dough, dusts the concoction with lemon zest, then rolls it across a grass field like a croquet ball. After the perfectly proportioned bitterness slides slowly off the palate at the swallow, you’re only left with only one question: Why couldn’t these guys have been making IPAs sooner?
1. Stay G-O-L-D
Burial Beer Co./Interboro Spirits & Ales (Asheville, North Carolina / Brooklyn, New York)
How fitting that our top finisher—the very best of the 387 IPAs sent our way—has the word “gold” right in its name. How fitting, also, that it’s a collaboration not just between brewers, but between brewers and musicians—the rap group Run the Jewels helped brew the beer and named it after a track on their newest album. What does Run the Jewels have to do with beer? Plenty. Before founding Interboro in late 2016, Jesse Ferguson managed the influential underground hip-hop label Definitive Jux, which he started with Jaime Meline, AKA El-P of Run the Jewels. (You can read more about Ferguson’s journey from hip-hop to hops right here.) This isn’t the first time Run the Jewels has collaborated on a beer, either; they cooked up a dry-hopped Belgian wit with Goose Island in 2013.
But the music/beer connection isn’t why Stay G-O-L-D earned our top spot. Here’s what is: The flavor is juicy as squeezed mandarin oranges, mango and peach, with soft baking bread and a layer of vanilla giving the impression of an Orange Julius. Deeper sips reveal marmalade-glazed pastry crust, pine needles and even a little pineapple; thanks to hopping with Citra and Mosaic, and a double dry-hop dose of Mosaic lupulin powder, there’s a ton going on here. The beer’s obviously bitter, but the actual bite of the hops is so clean and smooth you hardly notice. And that’s the thing: Of all the beers we tried, Stay G-O-L-D kept everything—the hop flavor, the bitterness, the malt support, the body, the booze—balanced and in its proper place. And if this tasting revealed anything to us, it’s that such perfect equilibrium is rare. You don’t strike gold often, or always in the places you’d expect, but as El-P would say: All that’s gold is not gold that glitters.
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