As we’re all stuffed behind our desks at Aleheads HQ, trying to meet deadlines and up our word counts to outdo our colleagues, we sometimes forget just who we’re writing for. We like to keep our readers up to date on changes and innovations in the beer world. For instance, some breweries now like to use cans over bottles while others prefer to stuff their beverage into small rodents. I say, to each his own. What’s more, we like to give our readers a sense of the best and worst of the beer world. We’ll write on and on about Beer Advocate ratings and changes in the “Top Lists”. We’ll employ our vast team of interns to conduct research on the best X beer in the world and tell you just what you should be drinking on any occasion. Sure, our readers want to know about these things and they want facts to back them up. So, fellow readers, who do I write for? I’d like to say I write for you or even for my fellow editors at Aleheads, but to be honest, I write for me. I’d hope that by writing some passages about my favorite brews, I might some day come back to this website and actually recall how much fun I had drinking good beer. I have a great memory when it comes to beer and I can usually remember tastings notes from years past, but when it comes to rankings and what I like better than the next, my brain turns to mush. So, here’s my attempt to remember what I like most about beer. I love IPA’s, so here lies my Top 10 List of the best IPA’s in America.
To give credit where credit is due, I need to point out that a fellow beer advocacy blog called TheFullPint.com recently conducted a poll to determine the best IPA in America. Their readers chose San Diego’s Ballast Point Sculpin IPA as the best in the land, a pick that few would argue. I thought about simply re-posting their results since it’s really a fantastic list of IPA’s, but remember that I write for me and me alone. I’m assuming that you’d rather read an exhaustive list of great beers, ranked by people just like you, but it’s my site so you get to read about MY top 10 favorite IPA’s. Enjoy the list if you want, that’s up to you, but like the Talented Mr. Roto says I’ve already got your click anyway so I’m good from here.
For my list I’m using a similar formula as TheFullPint with a few twists. Only domestics, No Double/Imperial IPA’s, no English or Belgian IPA’s (The styles, not the countries), and it has to be a beer that I can regularly get without too much trouble (Even if it’s not distributed locally in my area). These are just straight-up American IPA’s, nothing more and nothing less. If you need a bit of a refresher on IPA’s, feel free to check out my primer that I wrote a few months back. And away we go…
9. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA – I know, I was surprised as anyone to find Sierra on the list of best IPA’s. What can I say, this beer is awesome and shows just how incredible an old salt like Sierra can be. Classic West Coast hop aroma.
8. Victory Hop Devil – Victory may be one of my favorite breweries, but it was tough to get the Hop Devil into this list. It’s a pretty astringent IPA and leans way more to the bitter side than most. Toss up between this and their Yakima Twilight, which is a more approachable IPA but doesn’t have as much “Oomph” as the Devil.
7. Sweetwater IPA – Thank you to Brother Barley for introducing me to Sweetwater. Although I can’t get their beer in New England, my Southern connection keeps me well stocked whenever I need a good jolt. Just a touch of citrus in the finish makes this one of my new favorite beers. Incredibly refreshing for an IPA.
6. Ballast Point Big Eye IPA – I’m sure the Sculpin IPA is better and I’m sure it would top my list, but like many West Coast beers (Especially limited editions), I simply can’t get my hands on it. I did however find a bottle of the Big Eye IPA the other day and was struck by how complex a brew I had found. Floral, bitter, grapefruity, with a hearty malt backbone.
5. Smuttynose IPA “Finest Kind” – Weird, stoners in NH. I would have never guessed. Always enjoyed the Big A IPA from these Portsmouth lads, but seeing as this is a “Single” IPA list and not a “Double”, I’ve got to give it up to the Finest Kind. Surprisingly enough, there’s some suitable IPA’s in New England and while the region still can’t compete with the West Coast or even some Midwest stalwarts, I’d put Smutty’s IPA up against anyone.
4. Bear Republic Racer 5 – Once upon a time this was the Baron’s favorite brew, but I think some years in the Midwest may have changed his mind (See Bells, Founders, and Three Floyds). For my money, you really can’t beat a 6-pack of Racer 5 if you’re an IPA lover. The Hop Rod Rye actually gets a better rating on BA for the American IPA category, but I prefer the Racer since it’s not quite as dry and smacks you in the face way harder with spicy, citrus hops. If someone asked me why West Coast IPA’s are better than East coast, I’d probably point directly to Racer 5. I may be wrong, but oh well, it’s my site.
3. Alesmith IPA – I did a tasting note on this IPA back when Aleheads was in its infancy. I’ll simply post this quick excerpt from my passage, which explains perfectly my love for the 7.75% ABV Alesmith IPA:
It’s nice to get into something without “Extreme”, “Double”, or “Imperial” on the label that can still deliver on some boozy goodness.
2.. Bell’s Two Hearted – Little background. Before the Aleheads were “The Aleheads Dot Com”, I took a little trip out to Chicago with Brother Barley so we could visit our dear friend Sudsy von Brüe. This was roughly a year and a half ago when beer-bashing and brewery comments were relegated to email strings and drunken dinner parties. I let slip that I had never experienced anything from Bell’s Brewery, one of the best regarded breweries in the country and a brewery that’s consistently recognized for their IPA’s. Within minutes of landing in sub-freezing temperatures I was whisked away to The Map Room and “Forced” to sample everything that Bell’s had to offer. While I immensely enjoyed some of their more potent offerings, I kept going back to the flavor profiles found in the Two Hearted. I had never found a beer that had a little bit of everything I love about all beers in general. Touches of spiciness, citrus, bitterness, sweetness, all balanced out with a fantastic level of carbonation. Perfection in a glass. For the rest of the weekend I started off every session with a Two Hearted and since that trip I’ve prayed to the Gods that Bell’s will one day find its way into the land of the Masshole.
1. Founders Centennial IPA – Yup, I know. The second that any fellow Alehead pulled up this post and saw it was from me they’d know that Founders Centennial IPA would be tops on my list. I’ve said on multiple occasions that this is my favorite beer in the world, nay, I’ve said it’s the best beer in the world. It goes without saying (Although I’m saying it), that if this is the best beer in the world it’s clearly the best IPA in America. Sure, it’s currently rated #26 on BA for best American IPA, but it’s still #1 in my heart and mind. It does get 98 points from Rate Beer though so clearly people like this IPA a whole bunch. You really have to like the citrusy, oily characteristics of Centennial hops to enjoy this brew. It won’t suck your face in, which is a good thing for a 6-pack, but it certainly packs a punch. 7.2% ABV, 65 IBU’s, this is the perfect recipe for an everyday IPA that will blast you with flavor but won’t throw you to the floor. I’m so happy just writing little bits of notes about this brew. I’d tell you more, but a full tasting note is in order and I wouldn’t do it justice by rambling on in this space. Just know that the Founders Centennial IPA is the #1 IPA in America according to Dr. Ripped Van Drinkale III. If that means something, great, but if not I’m still a happy man.
Clearly this list isn’t exhaustive. You’ll notice that some of the best IPA’s in America were left off the list, but that’s your opinion and I don’t really care (OK, I care, that’s what the comment section is for). Before I started this post I racked my brain for my favorite IPA’s, cross-referenced with Beer Advocate to make sure they fit the category (Apparently I like a lot of Double IPA’s that I thought were just regular IPA’s), and came up with roughly 50 of my favorite IPA’s. Crossing out 25 of those entries was pretty easy, but the remaining half were really tough. For example, here’s the last 5 bubble teams that didn’t make the list:
– Boulder Beer Mojo IPA
– Great Divide Titan IPA
– Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
– Rogue Brutal Bitter
All of those IPA’s are fantastic and shouldn’t be missed, but I needed to pare down my list to what I really wanted in an IPA. Sessionable, strong, hoppy in both the nose and the finish – These are the attributes that I favor most in my American IPA’s. At the end of the day the list is subjective so go right ahead and bash my list as you see fit. Yes, I left off Russian River because I can’t get their beer. Are they amazing beers? Sure. I just have no opinion on them. Surly, Deschutes, Green Flash, Minneapolis Town Hall – All great breweries. Love em’. For me though, my top 10 represents me and when I look back at this site in 5 years and want to see what “I like”, I’ll have a little place on the web to hold my thoughts. I think that’s pretty cool. Let the critiquing begin!
7/1/2011 Update: Please remember to check out our updated post on this subject, “The” Best IPA in America”, to see the new list of Top IPA’s. As with any list on great beers, these lists should and will change as time goes by.