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12 Classic IPAs That Still Stand Up Today


May 17, 2019 Drinks By Photo by Chase Pellerin

The IPA is a style that’s hard to wrap one’s palate around. On the popular beer site RateBeer, you’ll now find 15 variations, including the Milkshake IPA, Belgian IPA and Brut IPA. It doesn’t help that these variations taste nothing alike or that many young brewers forgo flagship recipes for limited releases, sometimes brewed with milk sugar, fruit or Lactobacillus bacteria. If you can look past the hype, however, you’ll find plenty of solid IPA offerings from what are now considered big-name brewers. Here are 12 of them, all first brewed more than a decade ago.

Sierra Nevada Celebration

Brewery Location: Chico, CA
Year Released: 1981
ABV: 6.8%

Pale Ale may be the most popular beer from this California-based brewery, but Celebration is notable in its own right. It was one of the first fresh hop IPAs ever widely distributed, and it helped popularize the seasonal IPA variation made with hops shortly after harvest season.

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Stone IPA

Brewery Location: Escondido, CA
Year Released: 1997
ABV: 6.9%

Released in 1997, this beer solidified Stone Brewing as a national name. Stone, as evidenced by their Arrogant Bastard Ale, was among the first IPA producers to continually push boundaries, an idea that’s become a prerequisite for young breweries.

Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale

Brewery Location: Kalamazoo, MI
Year Released: 1997
ABV: 7%

Named after the Two Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this is probably the most universally loved beer of the pack, at least according to the American Homebrewers Association. From 2010 to 2016, the AHA ranked Two Hearted as the second-best beer in America. Then, in 2017 and 2018, it topped the list, beating out Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

Brewery Location: Milton, DE
Year Released: 2001
ABV: 9%

This beer is a double IPA, hence the high ABV. In designing the recipe, its architect, Sam Calagione, used a vibrating, electronic football game to gradually shake hops into the boiling wort at a consistent rate over 90 minutes, thus giving birth to the notion of “continuous hopping.” The result was a mainstream success like that of the hugely hoppy beers coming out of San Diego in the ’90s and 2000s. Esquire once called it “perhaps the best IPA in America.”

Founders Centennial IPA

Brewery Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Year Released: 2001
ABV: 7.2%

The story goes something like this: a friend of Founders’s head brewer, Jeremy Kosmicki, turned down a free keg, preferring his competitor’s beer. Kosmicki then set out to make the best IPA in the world, and did so by tweaking the dry-hopping process by adding hops while the beer was still fermenting. The result was one of the most respected single IPAs ever brewed — for years, it was considered the standard IPA by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

Brewery Location: Longmont, CO
Year Released: 2002
ABV: 6.5%

While this beer is technically a pale ale, the higher ABV and massive hop additions should encourage you to look past the label. When it first debuted in 2002, Dale’s Pale Ale was the first independent beer ever put into cans. It opened up the country to portable beer that was flavorful, a stiff contrast to the macro beers that lined the shelves at grocery stores and gas stations. Today, it’s unusual to see a new brewery putting their IPAs into anything but a can.

The Alchemist Heady Topper

Brewery Location: Stowe, VT
Year Released: 2003
ABV: 8%

In 2003, a beer called Heady Topper popped up at John Kimmich’s seven-barrel brewpub in downtown Waterbury. Word slowly spread of a hazy, tropical double IPA in the far-flung reaches of New England. Soon, Kimmich started catching industrious fans filling bottles of Heady Topper in bathroom stalls with plans to smuggle the suds out of the brewery. The Alchemist had become something of a beer mecca, and it was time to expand production.

In 2011, just two days after The Alchemist Pub and Brewery was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene, the first silver can of Heady Topper rolled off the line. Emblazoned with the now iconic “Drink from the can!” slogan, the 16-ounce cans played a major, if not the largest, role in the popularization of the hazy, New England-style IPAs that dominate tap lists today.

Ithaca Flower Power

Brewery Location: Ithaca, NY
Year Released: 2004
ABV: 7.2%

This is considered the first West Coast-style IPA brewed in the Northeast, and it instantly made the region an IPA contender, even when West Coast brewers were dominating the hop scene. Brewed by the now legendary Jeff O’Neil, who left Ithaca Beer Co. to start his own brewery Industrial Arts, this beer recently ranked among “The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed” by a panel of experts at Food & Wine.

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Brewery Location: San Diego, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 7%

The West Coast IPA has had a tumultuous history. In 2005, Green Flash debuted the now legendary beer. Then in 2011, they trademarked the name “West Coast IPA,” and all others became “West Coast-style IPAs.” So far so good. But then in 2013, the brewery decided to change the recipe, a move that many believe led to their decision, in 2018, to declare bankruptcy. “Green Flash died a spiritual death when they reformulated West Coast IPA,” wrote Food & Wine’s Mike Pompranz.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Earlier this year, in a clear move to reconnect with the beer that built them, Green Flash reverted to the original West Coast IPA formula and began producing the classic once again.

Ballast Point Sculpin

Brewery Location: San Diego, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 7%

Born from two homebrewers who had just started at Ballast Point, Sculpin was supposed to be a one-off beer. But the hype — and awards — turned this into a San Diego staple. The brewing process hopped this beer in five separate stages and pushed other brewers to continue fine-tuning the hopping process.

Russian River Pliny the Younger

Brewery Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Year Released: 2005
ABV: 10.25%

Despite the name, Pliny the Younger is the big brother of 2000’s Pliny the Elder; it’s considered the first triple IPA ever. Its massive hop usage makes it an extremely limited release, with fans trekking to the California brewery every February for its annual release. As Beer Advocate’s top rated American Imperial IPA, it still has a massive cult following, and it was a precursor to the hype-driven IPAs of today.

Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai

Brewery Location: Tampa, FL
Year Released: 2009
ABV: 7.5%

The youngest beer on this list, Jai Alai has had no less influence. Immediately after its introduction in 2009, the beer took home gold at the 2010 Best Florida Beer Championship and introduced Florida, which had been existing in a hop desert, to the citrus flavors possible in an IPA. As the best-selling 6-pack in U.S. grocery stores, according to IRI Worldwide, it’s an easy choice for most Americans.

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