The India Pale Ale, or IPA, is a polarizing style of beer. To some, it’s a go-to style and is considered great test of a particular brewer’s ability. To others, it can be an overwhelming and otherwise bitter experience. Some people (ie: my girlfriend) find the hop bite to be hard to drink. She says simply too strong for a casual palate. I guess it’s just an acquired taste. Anyways, the recipe comes from 19th century England, and carries with it a widely disputed legend that it was brewed specifically to last longer than normal beer being shipped to India. As it was, typical English porters would last years, let alone a four month or so ship ride to India. The beer proved popular in just about any market it was available. The two most popular styles of IPA are the American and Belgian variations. (The Belgian variation uses Belgian yeasts, as well as being cloudier in appearance and generally higher in alcohol.) As I said before, I wasn’t too fond of IPAs as recently as last year. I was all about stouts. Stouts, stouts, stouts. “This is beer,” I thought. While I was correct (it sure is beer), I eventually grew tired of the same coffee or dark chocolate motifs that fit so well with darker, heavier beers. When I decided to branch out I noticed the IPA style was produced by such a number of breweries, that I had to have been missing something. This would lead to the inevitable discovery of the Imperial or Double IPA style (or DIPA), which is about what it amounts to in recipe and flavor. Generally higher in alcohol content and cranked up on all flavors involved, but mostly hops. Sure enough, the more variations I tried the more I grew to appreciate the strength and big flavors. These days, there’s almost nothing more disappointing than a bad IPA. While ranking them seems meaningless and almost impossible, I decided there were a few that definitely stood out from the rest. I’ll include some Double IPA for those seasoned in the ways of the IPA, but simply wanting more.
21st Amendment Brewing. (San Fransisco, CA) – Brew Free or Die! IPA: Our first selection is also our only selection to be exclusively packaged in cans. I would consider this an everyday IPA. As in, I could drink this every day. It’s refreshing, crisp, and has Mt. Rushmore on it. What’s not to like? It offers more in the way of citrus aroma which I can never seem to get enough of. Along with the patriotic artwork slapped all over the can, it’s an ideal way to keep light out even more efficiently than a brown bottle would. For a long time, craft beer couldn’t be canned because the reaction with aluminum would taint the taste. This is no longer the case, as special can liners were developed. But for goodness’ sake, pour it in a glass you savage.
Rogue Ales (Portland, OR) – Brutal IPA : West Coast IPAs generally get most of the love in the beer communities, and for good reason. Rogue Ales has several offerings in the IPA style, with the more popular being Yellow Snow IPA. While I don’t dislike Yellow Snow, it’s lingering bitterness is sort of a dealbreaker. I much prefer Brutal IPA, which is the angrier older brother of Yellow Snow. It packs a high alcohol content for a standard IPA (8.8%) but drinks very, very easy and clean. It’s cloudier in appearance as well, with just enough hops before it would start to feel oily on the palate. Rogue almost never disappoints, so buy their stuff with confidence.
Brew Dog (Fraserburgh, Scotland, UK) – Punk IPA: I will totally admit to being a huge mark for Punk IPA. Punk IPA semi-recently revamped their recipe, the distinguishing difference being the newer recipe has lower alcohol content (5.6% from 6%) but still delicious. A European take on an American IPA by dudes who are just plain old down for beer. Also heavy on that lovely citrus aroma. I cannot imagine what this tastes like fresh, versus whatever I happen to find here in America. It also looks so cool. Be sure to check your local beverage center’s British selection to find this and other Brew Dog offerings.
Southern Tier Brewing (Lakewood, NY) – Unearthy Imperial: Of course, I cannot go a list without a nod to one of my favorite breweries. I also needed to include my home state of New York, and get on with recommending some DIPAs. Unearthly is very East coast in style, as the amount of hops used in this brew is so great, the natural oils of the hops are very noticeable in the mouth as you drink it. It’s a big beer, and is best shared between two people per bomber. I also say this as it’s a whopping 10% alcohol by volume. If you choose to tackle it solo, may you do so responsibly. Southern Tier bottles and sells an oak aged variation, which takes down a considerable amount of hop and alcohol bite. It pours such a mesmerizing shade of golden orange if you’re into that sort of thing.
Firestone Walker (Paso Robles, CA) – Double Jack: A good friend of mine schlepped this all the way out here from Denver, only to find it in good supply in these parts. No matter, as this was excellent. The beer itself has loads of those delicious citrus and grapefruit notes I so desperately crave in a DIPA. it finishes kind of syrupy, but still one of the better I have had. This seems like a great time to mention that I do not know what lacing is or what it has to do with beer. Does this beer lace? DRINK IT AND THEN GOOGLE IT AND FIND OUT!
Flying Dog Brewery (Fredrick, MD) – Raging Bitch Belgian IPA: I had to think for a minute, but to give you a recommendation on a Belgian IPA is a bit skewed. You see, I apparently have ever only had one. I know. Anyways, behind the Ralph Steadman diarrhea on the label (Time to let HST go, you guys) you’ll find an absolutely wonderful brew. Most Europeans actually think the Belgian style is TOO hoppy, and prefer the American style. I say they need to try some of the stuff coming from California, then talk to me.
Dogfish Head Brewing (Milton, DE) – Burton Baton: I mentioned this earlier when talking about Unearthy, but this is an oak barrel aged DIPA. It is incredibly drinkable for it’s strength. There is a bit of a warming finish which is strange for a DIPA, but the subtle vanilla from the oak barrels really serves to take everything down a notch or two. With breweries like Lagunitas and Stone seemingly trying to outdo each other with intensity and flavor, dialing things back by aging beer is a great idea.
That’s a few with some background for you, here’s a few more worth picking up if you see them while prowlin’ for some new world hop bombs:
- Ithaca Brewery – Flower Power IPA (NY)
- Dogfish Head – 60/90/120 Minute IPAs (DE)
- Russian River Brewing Company – Pliny the Elder (CA)
- Sierra Nevada – Estate Homegrown Organic Ale (CA)
- Sixpoint Brewing – Bengali Tiger IPA (NY)
Hope you found the list helpful. Remember if you’re drivin’, don’t drink. And if you did, don’t drive.