“THE” BEST IPA IN AMERICA

What’s the best IPA in America?  Good God, has there ever been a question posed more often by beer geeks than this one?  The answer of course is as simple as the question: There is no THE best IPA in America.  Does that mean we can’t debate the merits of any single IPA and trash each others’ opinions, and in essence, others’ personal palates?  Hell no.  When we put up our original “Best IPA In America” post last August, it quickly became our most viewed article and still has legs some 10 months later.  Apparently we Aleheads aren’t the only ones debating the issue and certainly not the only ones looking to others for an opinion.  Back then I chose Founders Centennial IPA as the best in the land.  In my opinion, at that point in my life, there was no better American IPA to be had.  Now that we have a wider audience though we thought that a more democratic approach would be appropriate this time around. We polled every Alehead in our ranks and came out with a definitive, be-all-end-all Top 10 list of American IPAs including a concisive “new” Best IPA in America.  Seriously, forget everything you read above, we’ve finally found THE best IPA in America!  Huzzah!

If you take a gander at the sidebar on the right you’ll notice a drop-down titled “Categories”.  Under the section “Best/Worst” you’ll find countless debates, proclamations, and outright biased opinion on what one or many Aleheads considers the “Best” of any number of beer categories.  Top 10 Imperial Stouts, Top 5 beers of all time, best of the worst mass-marketed beers, best beer labels…name any useless beer category and chances are we’ve got something written about it on this site.  We do these posts for two reasons.  First, they bring people to our site and give us a quick way to create an open forum to debate what we feel are interesting topics.  We’re a completely free site with zero revenue so we really don’t care about page clicks or subscriber base, but it’s fun to hear from new people and garner opinions from across the country and often the world.  And second, these Top 10 lists and best-in-class posts are just so damn fun to write.  I, for one, take the rankings and choices seriously when I’m doing up a Top 10 list, but when someone offers up a varying opinion I’m quick to remember how subjective tastes really are.  Add into that geography and limited distribution areas and you’ll soon find out that one man’s Top 10 might not fit into another’s Top 20 and your number one choice almost always differs from all of your readers and friends.  That’s okay though.  As long as you take any Top 10 beer list with a grain of salt and see it for what it is, just a list of beers (and remember, beer is good), I think you’ll find there’s merit in reading just about any list you can find.

As I said before, this time around with the Best IPA in America we’re taking a more democratic approach to the selection process and overall creation of the Top 10.  Our ground rules for these lists were always simple:

  • Only domestic examples allowed
  • Only one beer per brewery, for the sake of variety (more about that later)
  • If you haven’t tried it, you can’t add it to your list
For this IPA list we’re ignoring British IPA’s, Belgian IPA’s, and anything that even sniffs at being an Imperial IPA.  Just domestic IPA’s, simple as that.  The one beer per brewery thing should give you a sense of how little we really care about rankings.  Yes, we realize some breweries are masters at certain styles, but we’ll just pick the best that they have to offer.  To be honest though, we would have allowed multiple selections from a single brewery for this list since we compiled the results of every Alehead that weighed in.  It just didn’t happen.  The last bullet seems simple enough but really speaks to how difficult it is to create a definitive list of top beers.  When I did my original IPA list a specifically left off the Sculpin IPA and Green Flash West Coast because I had never had them before.  I thought I wanted them to be on that list because I had heard so much about them, but you can’t rank based on hearsay.  We’re an opinion blog, it shouldn’t be hard to form our own.
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Now that we had our ground rules it was time to throw the question out to our fellow Aleheads and get a big group of Top 10 IPA lists together to compare (and trash, and tear apart, and ridicule for a misunderstanding of what actually constitutes an “IPA” and “Domestic”).  Most of us Aleheads either met in college, in high school, or in some cases just about the second we were born.  A good chunk of us, including myself (Doc, in case you’re wondering), were either brought up or currently live in the Boston area.  Outside of that we’re literally all over the map…

And by "all over the map", I of course mean, "all over an AMERICAN map."

As you can see, we’ve got a pretty good reach when it comes to geographic coverage of the national beer scene.  If there’s a good IPA to be had, chances are one of us can get it.  That said, we tried to steer away from as many super-regional brews as possible.  Top 10 lists are great, but do you really want me to add something from a nano-brewery in the Northeast corner of Massachusetts that you’ll never have a chance of getting to try yourself?  That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t add something from say, New Glarus, even though their beers are nearly impossible to get outside Wisconsin.  If enough of us have had it and it’s well-known outside of our circle, it’s fair game.

So, you wanna see the list?  I suppose if you’re this far you’re probably expecting a robust list of IPAs that you’ll either agree with whole-heartedly or possibly just wonder why you stuck around this long.  Either way, I think we did a pretty good job this time around coming up with a list of great IPAs, even if you don’t agree with the #1 or the ranking of any other selection.  Like I said, beer tastes are subjective and not everyone looks for the same qualities in their frosty beverage that you do.  Without further ado, here is the official 2011 Aleheads countdown to The Best IPA in America.  Enjoy.
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10. Bear Republic Racer 5: Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial – This beer is the very definition of West Coast IPA.  At 7% ABV and roughly 75 IBU’s, this brew certainly packs a punch and shows you that not every IPA has to have “Imperial” on the label to kick your ass.

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9. Surly Furious: Warrior, Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Amarillo – Those my friends are some powerful hop strains.  Edging close to 100 IBU’s (That’s enamel-stripping bitterness for you newbies), the Furious looks more like a pimped out can of adrenaline pumping taurine than a fine-crafted ale.  Don’t let the pretty package fool you, this is one serious brew (if you can find it)

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8. Lagunitas IPA:  Lagunitas Brewing is THE hopheads’ dream.  They put out some of the finest IPA’s and Imperial IPA’s I’ve ever come across, leaning toward the citrusy grapefruit flavors that I crave.  Their straight IPA is one of the most sessionable IPAs you’ll find.  End of story.

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7. Port Brewing Wipeout IPA:  Have yet to find a beer from Port (or Lost Abbey) that I haven’t liked.  The Wipeout is piney, oily, resiny up front but finishes you off with a splash of grapefruit and pineapple.  Absurdly balanced with a malty backbone.

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5 (Tie). Bell’s Two Hearted: We’ve bashed Larry Bell a few times on these here pages, but there’s no arguing that this IPA stands in a class of its own.  Unique in that it’s like biting into a fresh tangerine – I’ve never experienced anything even close to the Two Hearted in terms of hop profile.  Amazing that they single-hop this with just Centennial.


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5 (Tie). Founders Centennial IPA: Speaking of Centennial, here’s another brew that’s hopped exclusively with this single hop strain.  Founders Centennial IPA was my favorite beer on Earth for many years (Hence the #1 ranking on my original list).  Citrusy, oily, perfect balance of sweet and bitter with an even mix of acidity.  If anyone ever asks you what dry-hopping means, just open a bottle of the Centennial and have them bask in the floral goodness emanating from within.


4. Russian River Blind Pig
:  While their Imperial IPA’s are included in just about any discussion of best beer ever made, I prefer Russian River’s take on the humble regular ole’ IPA.  Luscious hops, lip-smacking citrus, and always fronted by a glorious cloud of white foam.  Just beautiful.

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3. Cigar City Jai Alai
: Mmmm….Cigar City is quickly becoming a favorite of any Alehead lucky enough to get direct shipments from the South.  While never afraid to push the envelope, Cigar City understands balance better than anyone.  For every bitter note there’s usually a malty sweetness to back it up.  The Jai Alai shares many qualities of the traditional West Coast / San Diego IPA (Grapefruit, slight pine), but they add their own spin with a bready, almost roasted malt backbone.  Delicious

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2. Alesmith IPA:
While it didn’t take top prize on this site, the AleSmith IPA might just be the finest interpretation of the American IPA style.  Earthy, piney, citrusy, bready, grainy, grassy.  If there’s an adjective to describe an IPA, you’ll find it somewhere in this brew.  Deceptively light on its feet and dangerously easy-drinking, you’ll barely notice the 7%+ ABV until the very end.  Simply perfect.

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1. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
: This, my friends, is what we Aleheads consider “The” Best IPA in America.  This choice may seem obvious as the Sculpin IPA tops many a list of best IPA’s and even top all-around beers for that matter.  Just because it’s obvious though, doesn’t make this choice any less valid.  7% ABV, 70 IBU’s, this is one of the most fruit-forward beers you’ll ever find.  When we talk about IPA’s and fruit we generally pick out the more tart flavors, like grapefruit and lime, and separate those out from the sweeter fruits, like orange and pineapple.  Or maybe just separate out overall tropical from citrus notes.  This is nearly impossible to do with the Sculpin as there’s a mingling of a multitude of fruit flavors swirling with every sip.  That luscious fruit is balanced by an oily,resiny finish that’s complemented by continuous effervesce.  Those bubbles are what keeps drawing us back in.  From first sip to last your just assaulted by hops that seem to be streaming up from the glass even after you set it down.  I think it’s safe to say that this is what we all want in an IPA.

If you ask me, I truly think that the Sculpin IPA is the best there is in this country.  I buy it all the time (Now that I can get it), I drink it all the time, there’s simply no equal in my book.  Does that mean it should be universally considered THE Best IPA in America?  That’s really up to you to decide for yourself.  In other words, stop reading the internet and go drink some damn beer!

Oh yeah, in case you were curious how we came up with this list and the behind-the-scenes number-crunching, Brother Barley is here to answer all of your questions.**

**Barley’s Note: I know how much our readers love math, so let me share our very simplistic ranking methodology with you. We had 10 Aleheads submit lists of their Top 10 IPAs. Not exactly a mountain of data, but enough to serve our purposes. I assigned 10 points to the #1 beer on each list, 9 points for the #2 beer, and so on. Then I tallied up the totals for each beer across all lists and divided that total by the number of times each beer was mentioned to find an average. As an example, Cigar City Jai Alai was rated on 5 lists in the #5, #3, #4, #1, and #7 positions. Based on the point system we used, that gave the Jai Alai a total of 35 points which, divided by 5 entries, gives it an average of 7 points. Make sense?

I then eliminated any beer that was mentioned on less than three lists. There were two reasons for this. First, many of the beers only mentioned once or twice were local favorites that are too hard to come by for most Aleheads. Second, including a beer rated only once or twice gives far too much weight to one individual’s ranking. Granted, a beer with only three or four ratings ALSO gives a ton of weight to one person, but with only 10 lists’ worth of data, I had to pick a cut-off point. If I had made that point any higher, we wouldn’t have had enough beers to constitute a Top Ten list.

Here are the end results for all beers with 3 mentions or more:

1. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA – 9.80 (5 mentions)
2. AleSmith IPA – 8.33 (3 mentions)
3. Cigar City Jai Alai – 7.00 (5 mentions)
4. Russian River Blind Pig – 6.60 (5 mentions)
5 (tie). Founders Centennial IPA – 6.29 (7 mentions)
5 (tie). Bell’s Two Hearted IPA – 6.29 (7 mentions)
7. Port Wipeout IPA – 6.00 (3 mentions)
8. Lagunitas IPA – 5.57 (7 mentions)
9. Surly Furious – 5.33 (3 mentions)
10. Bear Republic Racer 5 – 5.17 (6 mentions)
11. Ska Modus Hoperandi – 5.00 (3 mentions)
12. Green Flash West Coast IPA – 4.71 (7 mentions)
13. Ithaca Flower Power – 4.33 (3 mentions)
14. Great Divide Titan IPA – 4.33 (3 mentions)

So for those scoring at home, the Centennial, Two Hearted, Lagunitas IPA, and Green Flash were the most “popular” beers…all appearing on an amazing 7 out of 10 lists. The Sculpin was the runaway winner…appearing on 5 lists with a #1 ranking on four of them and a #2 ranking on the 5th. The Centennial and Two Hearted were dead even with 7 mentions a piece and the exact same average score. Interestingly, the Centennial was rated much more consistently (one #2 rating, one #4 rating, three #5 ratings, and two #6 ratings) than the Two Hearted (two #1 ratings, two #3 ratings, one #7 rating, one # 8 rating, and one #10 rating). If you’re curious, there were 38 different beers listed by the Aleheads (although we had to throw a few of those out since some of the beers clearly crossed the line into Imperial IPA territory).

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40 comments

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. Well done Dr. Ripped! I’ve had half of this list, i.e. the Racer 5, Sculpin, Two Hearted, Jai Alai, and the Lagunitas, and they are all delicious. The Sculpin is truly the best IPA that I’ve had so far (have had it from a draught, from a bottle, and even from a Philly Beer Week special firkin last summer), and it’s been spectacular every time. And in case you haven’t had it, please seek out the Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA. They make some really great beers. Just wish more of their stuff would make it to Philly/South Jersey.

    Cheers!
    G-LO

  3. commander · ·

    G-LO, we did try some offerings from Two Brothers. I know their Resistance IPA was on my top ten list. My guess is they’ve been the victim of regional distribution, i.e. most of the Aleheads can’t get their stuff. Kid Carboy Jr and I are both big fans of the Brothers. I find the Resistance extraordinary and unique, though I could just as easily swap it out on my list for the Heavy Handed.

    We may at a later date post about our respective favorite IPAs in our home regions that DON’T have broad disribution. Two Brothers’ IPAs would be very high up my list in the Midwest. I don’t think my typical favorites from Bell’s and Founders really qualify as “regional”, though folks in the Northeast and Northwest might argue that Bell’s does. I look forward to reading the Kid’s list of HIS favorite Midwest IPAs.

    One question I still have about the methodology was whether we effectively disqualified ALL offerings from breweries where one of us ranked one offering and 2 others ranked a second. Barley and Doc? I doubt that created problems for Two Brothers but I’m still interested.

    1. Anonymous · ·

      I gotta wonder where the Floyd’s are at.

      1. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

        As curious as it is to think, they don’t really make any “regular IPAs.” Since this is a list of single IPAs and not double IPAs, there really weren’t any Three Floyds beers to consider.

  4. Commander, you and Herr Direktor were the only folks to list Two Brothers and you both selected the Resistance. The only brewery that had multiple beers listed was Founders. The Centennial was named on 7 lists and the Harvest Ale was listed on 2 more. So the impact of breweries having more than one beer listed was minimal…

    That said, it’s pretty telling that Founders made it on 9 of 10 lists. The only Alehead who left them off was the Captain who was busy filling his list with obscure, local Northwestern beers and Imperial IPAs.

  5. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

    My Founders vote went to the Harvest, which is a bit more my style than the Centennial. Too bad the rest of ya’ll did not feel likewise.

    I was thinking about some of the consequences of this math, and there are some things we may not have fully considered. Specifically, let me use the example of Bells Two Hearted.

    I was the guy who voted for Two Hearted at #10, essentially throwing it a bone at the end of the list. I almost left it off entirely. The interesting thing though, is that with this scoring system, if I HAD left it off, say, calling it “#11″, then it would ultimately have had a higher score, moving it up to #4 overall. By ranking it lower, I would have actually RAISED its average score. Something to consider.

    1. Anonymous · ·

      No Stone IPA or Ruination on this list? Racer 5 is 10?

      1. Stone’s regular IPA didn’t have a lot of supporters among us. To be honest, it’s never been a favorite of mine. Ruination I like a lot, but this is a list of SINGLE IPA’s, not double IPAs. We did a separate list for that, here. http://aleheads.com/2011/08/04/the-best-imperial-ipas/

        Ruination missed the top 10 there as well, I think it was #13.

        And yes, Racer 5 is #10, that’s how the math worked out.

  6. What would the list have looked like if you simply tallied the total number of points each beer garnered and ranked them accordingly?

  7. As I said, 10 entries isn’t exactly a mountain of data. One person raising or lowering a beer a single spot would have had an impact on the end results. We just had to assume that the Aleheads put a decent amount of thought into their lists when we were compiling the end results.

    Ultimately, I think the specific rankings are less important than the fact that if someone is looking for a good IPA, any beer on our Top 10 list will satisfy you. It doesn’t really matter if the Two Hearted is rated #6 or #3…it’s still just a great IPA.

  8. [...] and I mostly agree. However, I haven’t tried their #1 selection, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. Check out the article for some great IPA selections and to see if you agree or [...]

  9. Based strictly on point totals, here’s the Top 10 List:

    1. Ballast Point Sculpin – 49 Points
    2 (tie). Founders Centennial – 44 Points
    2 (tie). Bell’s Two Hearted – 44 Points
    4. Lagunitas IPA – 39 Points
    5. Cigar City Jai Alai – 35 Points
    6. Russian River Blind Pig – 33 Points
    7. Green Flash West Coast IPA – 33 Points
    8. Bear Republic Racer 5 – 31 Points
    9. AleSmith IPA – 25 Points
    10. Port Wipeout – 18 Points

    While the rankings shift around quite a bit based on point totals, the only difference as far as which actual beers are in the Top 10 is that the Surly Furious has been replaced by the Green Flash West Coast IPA. This is actually how I initially ranked the beers, but I quickly realized it gave too much precedence to beers with wider distribution. The average system we used is flawed too, but at least it allows a slightly harder beer to get (like AleSmith IPA) to make its presence known.

  10. I had the Green Flash West Coast ranked at #7 on my list. That’s the one beer that I thought would be on our Top 10 list, even if it was at the bottom. Looking at the list we have though I’m not overly disappointed that it didn’t crack the Top 10. You’ve got to have a cuttoff somewhere, otherwise it’s anarchy!

  11. LovesMustard · ·

    Cool.
    Would have been nice to include Canada too. Or, at least British Columbia, where some of the best North American beers I’ve ever tasted are from (I’m talking to you Driftwood, Phillips and Moon).

  12. Anonymous · ·

    Check out the HopBurst IPA from Madhouse Brewing Company in Newton, IA. It is FABULOUS.

  13. The Captain · ·

    I vote for Lagunitas IPA as the best all around IPA. I have to say I think Jai Alai is overrated. I had it for the first time a few weeks ago and I thought it was good, but blown away by most of the west coast standards (green flash, racer 5, wipeout, etc.). Unfortunately, no opportunity on the Bell’s or Founder’s options.

  14. The Captain speaks!

  15. Awesome list guys – Pretty much matches up with my personal preferences oddly enough – though Racer 5 would spike up much higher… NorCal bias I guess.

    Jai Alai is one of the beers that has really made an impact on me during our beer trip, and both Alesmith and Ballast Point were amazing, but a random IPA on the board at Pizza Port Carlsbad was the best IPA I’ve had on the trip – and the cream ale there was amazing too.

  16. Presumably that’s why they’ve won Best Small/Large Brewpub of the Year at the GABF repeatedly in recent years.

  17. Where’s Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA in this discussion?
    Titan IPA is definitely my favorite. I remembered the taste weeks after I had my first one.

    http://gottale.se/JTF.php is a very objective list of the beers that I’ve rated.

    Best Reg

    –akeh

  18. beer-miester · ·

    I still have to say – Hopslam… enough said!

  19. Titan got some votes, Ake, but fell a little short. Big Daddy didn’t make the board, but that’s definitely a drinkable, session IPA.

    Beer-Miester, we were strictly looking at American IPAs. We didn’t include any Imperial or Double IPAs on the list. While the definitions can be a little vague, the cut-off point is generally considered 7.5% ABV. All of the beers on our list fall under that point (the Jai Alai, at 7.5% is the strongest). HopSlam, with its huge malt backbone and 10% ABV is firmly in the Double IPA camp.

    That being said, it’s a damn delicious beer.

  20. [...] “The” Best Ipa in America (aleheads.com) [...]

  21. It’s a great list, some of the beers are unavailable to me but those I’ve had (six of them), I would agree are excellent IPAs and the others I am anxious to try. This is, of course, the reason for such lists, isn’t it? As for the method of scoring, it leaves much to be desired. I’ll take, rather, the strict “points totaled” list as a better measure, any day.

    Oh, and while I absolutely love Lagunitas (it is one of my top five favorite breweries), their IPA is my least favorite Lagunitas offering. It’s light, a bit too sharp, and not nearly as complex as many others on this list (or many other beers from Lagunitas).

    Thanks for turning me on to Sculpin and Jai Alai. I can’t wait to try them!

  22. [...] familiar with this outfit and their ridiculously well received Sculpin IPA (Picked as #1 in the land by we Aleheads).  The Sculpin may very well be the definition many of us use to describe the West [...]

  23. [...] decided to use this event to unveil our Best Imperial IPAs list. Doc already told you all about the Best IPAs in America (the obvious post for IPA Day) so we decided to use this celebration to tackle Imperials [...]

  24. You’ve obviously never had an Alpha King. To shame.

  25. Alpha King? The best (Not India)Pale Ale I’ve ever had? Yeah, I like that beer.

  26. I can’t believe that Bell’s Hopslam isn’t on your list of IPAs.

  27. Josh: That’s because this is a list of “single” IPAs and not double/imperial IPAs. At 10% abv, Hopslam doesn’t qualify.

  28. Anonymous · ·

    stupid list

  29. Damn, I was so trying to write something un-stupid. Stupid me.

  30. I’m so pleased that we’ve drawn the attention of Anonymous! I just knew we would be next after the federal reserve attack.

  31. [...] ribs with a cool minted yogurt sauce.  This recipe is perfect with a cold IPA in hand.  Check out ten of the very best IPA’s from 2011, courtesy of Aleheads, to accompany a great evening with the [...]

  32. Anonymous · ·

    no stone IPA?

    1. Anonymous · ·

      That’s correct. No Stone IPA.

  33. [...] Most Offensive Beer Labels #2 The Best Beer Labels #3 Labelmania! (i.e. more best beer labels) #4 Best IPA in America #5 The Best Beer [...]

  34. [...] products are shunned and ridiculed? A place where drunk idiots gather on a website to argue about which IPA is superior, or ask brewers nerdy questions through slurred words? A place where you can collect growlers and [...]

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