No beer has had more of an impact on the popularity and excitement of craft beer today than India pale ales. The style is a strong ale with a hoppy flavor that gives your taste buds a menagerie of hoppy character.
The use of dry hopping allows brewers to go beyond the grapefruit zest, tropical fruit flavors, and piney hop flavor to offer the beer drinker aromatic hops exuding from their glass or 16-ounce can. Though bitterness used to be a common denominator for the style, modern versions have pivoted away from bitter kettle hop additions in favor of double dry hopped examples that highlight aroma and a fruity flavor profile.
Ready to see what all of the fuss is about? Here’s a list of the top IPAs to try.
1. Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA
Type: West Coast IPA | ABV: 7.2% | Calories: 237
Named after the custom piece of equipment that Sierra packs with whole cone hops, Torpedo is an explosion of citrus and plenty of hop bitterness from classic American varieties, including Crystal, Magnum, and Citra hops. “Damn the torpedoes, Full hops ahead!”
2. Stone IPA
Type: West Coast Style IPA | ABV: 6.9% | Calories: 200
Crack open a Stone IPA and breathe in the hops’ fresh and intense lemony aromas. This classic California craft beer is loaded with half a dozen hop varieties to give beer lovers that all-important American IPA experience. Stone IPA is an excellent choice if you’re into big flavors of citrus, pine, and tropical fruit.
3. Fat Heads Headhunter IPA
Type: American IPA | ABV: 7.5% | Calories: 225
Great IPAs aren’t exclusive to the US coasts. The Midwest knows a thing or two about infusing hoppy flavor into beer. Look no further than Ohio’s Fat Head’s Brewery for Headhunter IPA, a double dry hopped No-Coast India Pale Ale brimming with Chinook, Citra, Mosaic, Centennial, and Simcoe hops. This beer brings some serious flavor and has the hardware to prove it. Headhunter has won medals in every National beer competition you can think of—definitely one of the best IPA beers to hunt down.
4. Nelson IPA Alpine Beer
Type: Double IPA | ABV: 7% | Calories: 210
New World hops aren’t relegated only to the US Pacific Northwest. In recent years, Southern Hemisphere hop growers have developed highly sought-after hop varieties. These types are known for their intense tropical fruit notes like the passionfruit that comes from the Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand. The hop is showcased in the appropriately named IPA from Alpine Beer Co. Nelson. Despite its high abv, this beer is a smoother take on the aggressive West Coast style IPA.
5. Kern River Citra Double IPA
Type: West Coast Style IPA | ABV: 8% | Calories: 240
Double dry hopped with Amarillo and Citra hops, Kern River Citra is a burly yet very approachable IPA offering tropical notes of mango and pineapple. The crew at Kern carefully creates the perfect malt sweetness in this hop forward beer that yields a clean malt backbone to deliver the sweet citrus to your nose and taste buds.
6. Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
Type: American IPA | ABV: 7% | Calories: 212
While many of these beers listed have updated their hop bills with new hop varieties, Bell’s Two-Hearted remains committed to just one classic variety, Centennial Hops. Two Hearted is brewed with 100% centennial hops, which gives this beer its smooth, hoppy punch of grapefruit, citrus rind, and pine. Unlike many other IPAs, it is well-balanced with bready malts. While malt isn’t the draw with IPAs, the mastery of its use when it comes to Bell’s Two Hearted Ale can’t be overstated. The beer consistanly was chosen by readers of Zymurgy magazine as America’s favorite beer. That’s right! Not just favorite IPA, but favorite beer overall. Not bad, right? Today, Two Hearted Ale has been spun off into a variety of brand extensions, but nothing will beat the original in my book.
7. Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder
Type: Double IPA | ABV: 8% | Calories: 240
The original American Double IPA, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, is a West Coast IPA on steroids. Pliny is packed with Simcoe, CTZ, Centennial, and Amarillo hops for an elevated yet drinkable IPA experience. Most breweries that make a double IPA add too much base and specialty malts, resulting in a malty sweetness that overwhelms bitter flavor and citrusy, piney, and tropical aromas; a big beer like this is meant to celebrate. Pliny avoids this by avoiding a rich malt backbone and using a once craft beer taboo, turbinado sugar, as a fermentable.
8. Weldwerks Juicy Bits
Type: Hazy IPA | ABV: 6.7% | Calories: 197
Colorado craft beer darlings Weldwerks have made a name for themselves with massive, barrel-aged stouts and highly sought-after beers of nostalgia. However, their award-winning Juicy Bits rounds out their portfolio with a dash of citrus and tropical fruit. Juicy Bits uses El Dorado, Citra, and Mosaic hops to create a complex yet approachable beer-drinking experience. The palate is soft and elevates the citrusy flavor of Citra hops and tropical notes from the El Dorado and Mosaic hops.
9. Tree House Brewing Co. Julius
Type: Hazy IPA | ABV: 6.8% | Calories: 205
The flagship beer of the modern East Coast IPA torchbearers, Julius exudes with tropical fruit aroma. Hazy IPA breaks from its West Coast IPA cousin with a soft malt body on the palate, allowing the selected hops to shine with less biting bitterness. If you’re not a fan of the traditional style, this double dry hopped tropical fruit bomb is sure to change your mind about the India pale ale.
10. Odell Brewing IPA
Type: American IPA | ABV: 7% | Calories: 210
Odell IPA combines orange citrus sweetness with pungent, piney hops for the perfect blend of flavor and bitterness. In its first year, Odell IPA took home gold at the Great American Beer Festival and continues to be a gold standard when it comes to this classic American IPA style. This hop forward IPA is an absolute classic take on the IPA that will never fall out of style.
IPA Beer Guide
What Defines the India Pale Ale Style?
Hops. India Pale Ale is a celebration of hops. An IPA can refer to any hop-forward beer. If my definition seems broad, that’s because the popularity of IPAs has broadened the understanding of what an IPA can be or should be.
Historically, the IPA was a strong, top-fermented beer that was remarkably bitter compared to beers of the same time period. IPA beers started to get recognition around the turn of the 20th Century. Despite what you may have been told that the beer was developed to survive the long journey by ship from England to Colonial India, that isn’t entirely true. The style became known as an India Pale Ale years after the beer started being exported.
While increased hops certainly may have aided in preserving a beer in barrels on a long journey, there are plenty of records that other styles of beer were exported to the colony and arrived in good condition.
The IPA style was reinvigorated in the 80s and 90s with the craft beer revolution, where upstart craft brewers aggressively hopped with American hop varieties that imparted bitterness as well as pine and citrus flavors. As the popularity of IPA beers grew into the 2000s, brewers went from the pungent aroma and high bitterness to hop schedules that favored less hop bitterness and increased hop flavor and aroma.
There are numerous IPA subcategories and new takes on the style being introduced yearly. IPA strength can be high or low, the beer’s color can be light or dark, and the bitterness can be extreme or barely noticeable, but the one underlying characteristic they all share is the generous use of hops.
What should an IPA Taste Like?
Since India Pale Ales vary so greatly, knowing precisely what an IPA is meant to taste like can be challenging. The typical American IPA will taste different from a classic hazy IPA. One will be dry, crisp, and bracingly bitter, while the latter will burst with tropical fruit notes and citrus flavors, lend a soft mouthfeel, and finish with low hop bitterness.
One thing I think can be agreed on is that IPAs should never have sweet, malty flavors. A well-balanced IPA always lets the hops shine, whether it is the citrus aromas in a West Coast IPA or the bright tropical fruit of a New England IPA. Malts of all kinds work well in these beers: pilsner malt, European rye malts, and even caramel malts provide a toasty counterpoint, but the malt should never be overbearing.
When drinking a classic hoppy IPA, look for tons of hoppy flavor, be it tropical fruit flavors or floral and citrus notes that combine to create juicy flavors. However, make sure the beer leaves a refreshing taste that is neither harsh nor overly sweet.
What Should I Drink an IPA with?
I love to pair IPAs with food mainly because I love to drink IPAs, but also because the style is quite versatile. You can pair a West Coast style IPA with everything from salads to desserts. I love a blue cheese salad with pecans and craisins with an American IPA. I’ve also paired hazy IPA beers with tropical flavors and sweet malts with doughnuts, creme brulee, and even ice cream.
Where IPAs really shine is in the main course, particularly with pork. A double IPA with a tomahawk pork chop, some bitter greens, and apple relish is outstanding.
As a pairing tip, keep in mind that bitter hops cut through the richness of fat. This allows the meat and hoppy goodness to elevate each other. The beer’s carbonation then helps scrub the richness in time for another bite.
What is a West Coast IPA?
The West Coast IPA is a take on the IPA that brewers on the American West Coast made famous. The American Northwest is hop country, and the brewers were keen to use the pine and citrus flavors of the local hops grown there. These beers have stripped-down malt profiles to highlight the hops and are dry hopped to impart an even fresher grassy hop aroma to the beer. At the time, this was in contrast to IPAs being brewed in the Eastern portion of the United States, which used more malt, different hops, and fruitier yeast profile.
In recent years, this clean, bracingly bitter IPA style had fallen out of favor for new IPA trend hailing from the, ironically, the Eastern United States that favors late hopping to impart fruity sweetness from hops like freshly squeezed juice. However, it seems the West Coast IPA is making a comeback with creating the Cold IPA out of where else but the American Pacific Northwest.
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