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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).