I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, but I’ve been getting really into IPAs over the past few months. High on hops, they’re definitely not for the faint of heart. But, they’re driving much of the American craft beer movement and, not for nothing, knowing a little bit about them may secure you some street cred with the beer snobs in your social circle.
If you’re new to IPAs, I’d recommend you start with the (typically) milder English- and Belgian-styles. Despite the name, many great European-style IPAs are produced in the US. The best ones are often produced by small breweries, although the giants have gotten on the IPA bandwagon to mixed (and often watery) results. Keep in mind, if you brave American-style IPAs, East Coast ones are often a little milder than their West Coast brothers.
So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my (current) top 8 IPAs…
NOTE: I’m sure there are TONS of IPAs out there I’m missing, but I only wanted to include stuff I’ve personally tried.
1) Tramp Stamp Belgian India Pale Ale (Clown Shoes Brewery, Ipswich, MA) – I’m biased since Clown Shoes is so close to where I live. I can’t speak to how widely available their products are outside of New England, but I’ve seen their stuff stocked in New Jersey and Florida, so that’s encouraging. In addition to being a great, balanced example of a Belgian-style IPA, how can you resist the name?
2) Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA (Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD) – Anyone else noticing that the names for Belgian-style IPAs are delightfully anti-PC? This one is no exception. I had this one paired with a plate of stinky cheeses as part of a dessert course. Like other Belgians, it goes well with really dark chocolate.
3) Sculpin IPA (Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, CA) – It’s hard to find a lot of fruit characteristics in IPAs, but this one definitely hits those notes. A perennial pick on top IPA lists, it’s easy to drink and easy to find. Can’t argue with that.
4) Jaipur IPA (Thornbridge Brewery, Derbyshire, UK) – Sticking with moderately-strong IPAs, this one from the UK is great with Indian food. It’s a little stronger than most European-style IPAs, but doesn’t come close to the intensely hoppy American ones.
5) Heady Topper American IPA (The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT) – Another New England example, this time of an American Double IPA. I should preface this recommendation by saying that Waterbury, VT has a special place in my heart. Heady Topper is hard to get your hands on unless you’re in VT, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Sadly, the brewery is no longer open to the public. But, there’s a Cabot cheese shop with endless free samples not far down the same road. Stock up on beer and cheese and head over to Stowe for a picnic. And on your way back to Interstate 89, hit up the Ben & Jerry’s factory. You’re welcome.
6) Torpedo Extra IPA (Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA) – Hands down one of the easiest IPAs to get ahold of. Hoppy, but balanced. Definitely woodsier than the Sculpin, but not nearly as strong as the Imperials. A good mass market IPA.
7) Believer (Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene, OR) – Confession: I am not a huge fan of Red IPAs. They’re a pretty pour and I totally get why people like them around the holidays, but they’re really not my thing. That said, this one’s worth trying twice.
8) 120 minute IPA (Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, DE) – It’s hard to even call this one a beer. Like many other examples from the Imperial IPA/American Double category, it’s definitely not recommended for newbies. If that’s you, DH’s 90 minute IPA may be more your style; the hops in that one are a little more balanced than in the 120. Try them side by side to get the idea.
Honorable mention: Harpoon IPA is on draught at a ton of bars in New England. I personally think it’s the Coors Light of IPAs, but if you’re options are limited, it’s a solid choice. I personally like it with spicy Asian flavors, like a Thai red curry.
Please sir, can I have some more?
• Want more IPA suggestions? This list from First We Feast may be up your alley.
• “Why does every single IPA make my gut bubble like a Jacuzzi full of soup?” For the IPA haters out there, check out this diatribe.
• If you have a Total Wine store near you, I highly recommend their beer, wine and spirits classes. Run by incredibly knowledgable staff members who genuinely love the products they peddle, they’re organized by theme, run for about 2 hours and cost $15-20 apiece. I’ve never felt pressured into buy anything, but after two hours of tasting, you’re almost guaranteed to walk out with something you want to bring home.