Chances are, your first craft beer was an IPA. The hop-heavy beer gets its name from its first major market, India, which necessitated a long ocean voyage, leading brewers to exchange the sweet, malty ales, which would spoil faster, for more bitter, lighter ales, which would last longer. Today, the style, with its characteristic piney, fruity aroma and juicy, bitter taste, is a crowd favorite — the safe bet for any house party. In the past, this magazine has covered double IPAs and juicy IPAs and the entire lineup of Dogfish Head IPAs, not to mention some session IPAs and our standout favorite IPA. Now it’s time we dig into the normal, regular, knows-what-it-wants, confident but not cocky, standard American IPA. Read on to see our selections for the best IPAs in the American South, West, Midwest and Northeast, along with comments from expert brewers on what makes this style tick.
Amarillo: Found growing wild. Intensely fruity (citrus, melon, and stone fruits), well suited for American “hop bombs.” — Alpha Acid Content: 8-11%
Cascade (US): May not be classified as special, but its bold, floral, citrusy aroma and flavor began to change the definition of “hoppy.” Most widely grown American “aroma” hop. — Alpha Acid Content: 4.5-7%
Centennial: Has been called “Super Cascade,” and recent demand has skyrocketed right along with increased sales of IPAs. Uniquely floral. — Alpha Acid Content: 9.5-11.5%
Chinook: The piney, resinous aroma it delivers when used in dry hopping has become a hallmark of hop-centric American beers. Bred for bittering and still used for that, but now known for complex, fruity-piney contributions. — Alpha Acid Content: 12-14%
Citra: Poster child for “flavor” or “special” hops, and in demand well beyond the United States. Rich in passion fruit, lychee, peach, gooseberries and a laundry list of other unusual (for hops) flavors. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-13%
Columbus: Often used for bittering, but aromas differ. Columbus hops are often brightly fruity and spicy. — Alpha Acid Content: 14-16.5%
Galaxy: Australian variety that helped inspire the term “flavor hop.” High in alpha but used mostly for late/dry hopping. Rich in passion fruit, citrus, apricot, melon, black currant. Can be intense, even pungent. — Alpha Acid Content: 13.5-15%
Mosaic: Available in quantity for the first time after 2012 harvest. Still known to many as HBC 369. A daughter of Simcoe crossed with a disease-resistant, Nugget-derived male. Rich in mango, lemon, citrus, pine, and, notably, blueberry. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-13.5%
Nugget: — Released by the USDA in 1983 to meet demand for higher alpha hops, and remains a staple for Oregon farmers. Pleasant herbal aroma. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-14%
Descriptions taken, with permission, from For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus.
From Ohio to Kansas to North Dakota
Huma Lupa Licious IPA, Short’s Brewing Company
ABV: 7.7% | IBU: 96 | Brewery Location: Bellaire, Michigan
Beer Advocate Rating: 90 | Hops: Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, Palisade
Despite being named after the scientific name for the hop plant, Humulus lupulus, the story here is the malt. A little chocolate on the nose tips off the roasted malt character of this beer. It’s sharp, rather than bitter. A definite crowd favorite.
Top Rope, Tallgrass Brewing Company
ABV: 6.0% | IBU: 80 | Brewery Location: Manhattan, Kansas
Beer Advocate Rating: 85 | Hops: Nugget, Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus
A nod to the glory days of professional wrestling, this reddish IPA packs big bitter flavors. It starts with notes of cut grass and sweet, funky fruit before giving way to a dry IPA with a clean finish.
Todd the Axe Man, Surly Brewing Company
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Beer Advocate Rating: 99 | Hops: Citra, Mosaic
Named in honor of Surly’s head of brewery operations, Todd Haug, whose first career was as a thrash metal guitarist, The Axe Man smells deceptively like pineapple, mango and sweaty socks, but the flavors are drier, starting smooth and ending bitter. Hard to stop drinking.
Masala Mama IPA, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery
ABV: 6.3% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Beer Advocate Rating: 96 | Hops: Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood, Citra, Exp. 342
Masala refers to Indian spice blends, so this is a “spicy mama.” Darker, with a sweet maltiness, the hops balance caramel with earthy hops and a bit of light fruit. Hard to come by, but worth the search.
Incarnation IPA, 4 Hands Brewing
ABV: 6.5% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Saint Louis, Missouri
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A | Hops: Mosaic
For the brewers, Mosaic hops brought to mind stained glass, which resulted in “Incarnation.” This beer is super bright, fresh-cut grass and white grapefruit rind. It’s not as aggressive as some other IPAs, but that’s a welcome change.
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: This always depends on a couple of factors. The first is personal taste. Some people prefer fruity IPAs and some people prefer IPAs with more piney and citrusy notes. Beyond people’s personal tastes, though, are things like the quality of fermentation, hopping times or rate and malt bill design. A clean, healthy fermentation will always be very important because sluggish, unhealthy fermentations will result in off flavors and under-attenuated beers. Hopping rate and times will always play a big roll. To make big aromatic IPAs you need to be generous with the hops and use them at the right times. Lastly, you need to make sure your malt bill complements your hopping profile.
John Kimmich, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: That’s a very tricky question to answer. I consider an IPA to be great when I can’t stop drinking it and I have no problem getting through my entire serving. If I feel compelled to order the same thing again, that, in my opinion, is a great IPA.
Marks Lanham, Brewmaster of Comrade Brewing: We are looking for the malt, hop aroma, hop flavor and bitterness to complement each other, and not have one overwhelm the other.
From Pennsylvania to Maine
Legitimacy, Hill Farmstead Brewery
ABV: 6.7% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Greensboro, Vermont
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: Simcoe and others
This beer is fresh and juicy, with a yellow color to match the citrus notes. It’s grassy, piney and bitter orange rind on the nose, and the taste is more of the same. Extremely dry and drinkable.
Galaxy, Other Half Brewing Co.
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Brooklyn, New York
Beer Advocate Rating: 92 | Hops: Galaxy
A single-hop IPA named for the star of the show, Galaxy was a crowd favorite. Kiwi, mango and papaya on the nose, with a great mouthfeel and a funky, highly drinkable IPA.
IDIPA, Carton Brewing
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: 70 | Brewery Location: Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
Beer Advocate Rating: 91 | Hops: Simcoe, Equinox, Amarillo, Exp. 07270
One in a lineup of IPAs: Id, Ego and Superego. Like in psychology, the id is simple. In this case, it’s just pure dankness. Mango, pineapple, passionfruit and weed. A mouthwatering beer.
Focal Banger, The Alchemist
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Waterbury, Vermont
Beer Advocate Rating: 100 | Hops: Citra, Mosaic
Nearly impossible to get a can of this outside of a Vermont bar or restaurant, The Alchemist will begin selling Focal Banger out of their visitors center when it opens later this summer. Truly the little brother of Heady Topper. Smells wet and dank, then it hits the jowls with nothing super fruity, or super bitter — just a perfect IPA. You don’t need to know much to know this is one of the best IPAs in production today.
Mo’ Shuggie Soulbender IPA, Singlecut Beersmiths
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: 123 | Brewery Location: Queens, New York
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin
Named as a tribute to R&B songwriter Shuggie Otis, who recorded “Strawberry Letter 23,” this hazy, straw-colored IPA smells like sour raspberries and rhubarb pie. The taste is tangy and bitter with a lot of dark stone fruit. Definitely one of the most unique IPAs made.
Augie Carton, Founder of Carton Brewing: The original American IPA comes from Colorado and the Pacific Northwest by way of northern California. A current example is Avery Maharaja. Giant malt bills to balance tons of hops from early in the boil through late dry hopping. Next are the California IPAs. Pliny the Elder is a good example. Hops are pushed later in the boil to play a more aromatic roll, lessening the bitter characteristics. This allowed the malt bill to lean out and become a little more yellow and drier. On the East Coast — a good example being Dog Fish Head 60 Minutes — the hop additions were spread more equally from early to late, finding the balance between bittering to aromatic with a more amber/orange malt bill. And finally New England moves most of the hopping to the end for almost entirely aromatic hopping. This changes mouth feel from the balanced tension of alcohol warmth, malt astringency and hop bitterness to unctuous with the use of things like wheat, oats and lactose. They fade the fastest but by playing entirely to the accentuation of aromatics they have the most oomph when fresh. A good example would be Heady Topper.
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: The most common ways to describe IPAs now is to call them West Coast or East Coast style. People make East and West Coast style IPAs everywhere, but it is indicative of where the style originated. West Coast style IPAs tend to be more bitter, contain some crystal malt, use piney and/or citrusy hops, and use clean low-ester yeast strains, while East Coast-style IPAs tend to be more focused on hop aromatics, rarely contain crystal malt and are driven by fruity, estery yeast strains.
John Kimmich, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: I get asked that question quite often. In my opinion, we are all just doing a different take on a classic style of beer. I don’t believe a certain style of IPA is dependent on the region, any more than I believe that quality is dependent on the region.
Marks Lanham, Brewmaster of Comrade Brewing: Traditionally, we think of “West Coast-style” IPA as having less malt character and showcasing the flavor and aroma of the hops, while a “East Coast-style” IPAs are darker in color, have more caramel malts, use non-proprietary hop varieties with less hop flavor, less hop aroma, and less bitterness than West Coast style. Today we can find both styles and even more variations on IPAs all across the country.
Our guide continues on the next page