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The Best Beers For IPA Newbies, Blind Taste Tested And Ranked

IPA is unarguably one of the most popular beer styles in all of American craft brewing. There’s a whole world of IPAs out there to try — New England, West Coast, double IPAs, and so on — featured at over 9,000 breweries and counting in the US alone. In that sea of IPAs, you’ll find some heavy hitters. But you’ll also see plenty of “beginner brews” for hop newbies and anyone who has historically hated on bitter beers.

There’s no hiding the fact that the IPA can be a bit daunting for newcomers to the scene. The classic IPA is often loaded with floral, spicy, resinous, and bitter hops — which can seem a bit abrasive for some palates. Many opt to stay with their tried-and-true lagers, pilsners, ales, or stouts. But the palate is a fascinating thing… it naturally wants to expand and grow.

To help out the IPA curious, I decided to select eight well-known beginner IPAs and blindly taste and rank them. The best part? While these are beginner beers, they’re good enough to keep drinking for years to come. And they’re all available almost anywhere.

Our lineup today includes:

  • Ballast Point Sculpin
  • Brewdog Punk IPA
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack
  • Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
  • Cigar City Jai Alai
  • Bell’s Two Hearted
  • Harpoon IPA
  • Founders All Day IPA

Time for some IPAs!

Part 1: The Taste

Taste #1:

IPA Taste #1
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, I found notable hints of guava, ripe pineapple, mango, sweet, tangy orange zest, and piney hops. The flavor was centered around the aforementioned tropical fruits as well as some more tangerine and passion fruit are also thrown into the mix. The hop presence is fairly bitter but tempered well by the fruity flavors.

Taste #2:

IPA Taste #2
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

A lot is going on with this beer’s nose. The problem is that it’s all dank, resinous pine, and very little else. Maybe a little bit of citrus zest sneaks through, but it’s mostly pine tree car air freshener. The palate is loaded with piney, bitter hops, and slight caramel malts, lemon, and tangerine.

Sadly, the flavor is totally dominated by bitter, piney hops.

Taste #3:

IPA Taste #3
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a complex bouquet of lemon peels, orange zest, grapefruit, sweet malts, and slightly, floral hops. Drinking it reveals notes of wet grass, caramel malts, tropical fruits, citrus zest, and a nice, slightly bitter, sweet finish. It’s a great example of malts and hops working in perfect unison. I would come back for another sample of this beer.

Taste #4:

IPA Taste #4
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The aromas on the nose are surprisingly light with hints of citrus and maybe a little caramel malt presence but that’s really it. It doesn’t have much going on here at first sniff. The flavor is slightly better (but nothing to get excited about) with some more citrus peel flavors and grapefruit along with slightly floral, bitter hops. Again, it’s fairly muted in the flavor department.

Taste #5:

IPA Taste #5
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Taking a moment to nose this beer, I found scents of a vast, lush pine forest, slight bready malts, and orange peels. Overall, it was pretty basic and unexciting on the nose. The palate revealed a little more flavor with grapefruit, orange zest, and bitter, piney hops taking center stage.

All in all, a decent but fairly boring beer.

Taste #6:

IPA Taste #6
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The first aromas I found were those of freshly baked bread, caramel candy, ripe pineapple, passion fruit, and slight, piney hops. Sipping it revealed sweeter, caramel malts, orange zest, lemon peel, grapefruit, mango, and a wallop of dank, resinous pine that brings everything together well.

Taste #7:

IPA Taste #7
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

This beer is highlighted by aromas of lemon zest, ripe grapefruit, tangerine, light caramel, and floral, spicy hops. On the palate, I found bready malts, caramel, light lemon curd, orange zest, grapefruit, and slightly floral, bitter hops at the finish.

Overall, a sweet, well-rounded IPA that I would happily try again.

Taste #8:

IPA Taste #8
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Complex aromas of citrus zest, wet grass, caramel malts, grapefruit, and slight pine greeted my nose right away. The palate is filled with hints of mango, guava, pineapple, citrus peels, slight caramel malts, and slight hoppy bitterness.

From my notes, “This is a very complex, well-rounded, fruity IPA.”

Part 2: The Ranking

Now comes the part of this story you’ve all been waiting for: the rankings. If you diligently read through the first half of this story, you were treated to my tasting notes. Notes that were created by merely nosing and tasting the beers. I had nothing else to indicate which beers I was tasting so the results are purely from my own personal taste.

Keep reading to see how they all stacked up. Where did your favorite beer land on this list?

8) Founders All Day IPA (Taste #4)

Founders All Day IPA
Founders

ABV: 4.7%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

There’s a reason this is called “All Day IPA.” This sessionable IPA is low in alcohol is available year-round. You can crush this crisp, well-balanced, refreshing beer during the fall, winter, or literally any time of year. Not shockingly, it’s one of the most popular IPAs in America.

Bottom Line:

While there’s no doubt this beer is crushable and easy to drink, the flavors are just a little too bland for my taste.

7) Harpoon IPA (Taste #5)

Harpoon IPA
Harpoon

ABV: 6%

Average Price: $11 for a six-pack

The Beer:

Made the same way since its inception in 1993, Harpoon IPA is brewed with 2-Row Pale, Victory, and Caramel malts along with Apollo, Chinook, and Cascade hops. Brewed like an English IPA, it’s known for its hoppy, citrus-centric flavor.

Bottom Line:

If you enjoy your beer to be mostly pine and citrus, this is the beer for you. It’s fairly muted in the flavor department otherwise.

6) Ballast Point Sculpin (Taste #2)

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Ballast Point

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

This is one of the most popular IPAs ever brewed. It constantly finds itself at the top of IPA lists. Named for the Sculpin fish that’s known for its sting, this fruity, citrus-filled beer is well-known for its bitter, hoppy bite.

Bottom Line:

While this is a beginner IPA, it’s also a bit aggressive in the hops department. You might want to try one of the other beers on this list first and work your way to this one.

5) Brewdog Punk IPA (Taste #6)

Brewdog Punk IPA
Brewdog

ABV: 5.6%

Average Price: $12 for a four-pack

The Beer:

Brewdog has really made a name for itself in the last decade with its short-run TV show and its expansion into the US market. The brand’s flagship beer is its Punk IPA. It’s known for its ripe tropical fruit, pine, and malt balance.

Bottom Line:

This is a great beginner IPA. While it has the slightly bitter hop presence IPA fans crave, it also has a nice hit of malts and tropical fruit flavors.

4) Firestone Walker Union Jack (Taste #1)

Firestone Walker Union Jack
Firestone Walker

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $11 for a six-pack

The Beer:

California’s Firestone Walker’s flagship beer is its Union Jack IPA. This seven percent IPA is loaded with hops. First, in the kettle are Cascade, CTZ, and Centennial hops. It’s ramped up by being dry-hopped with Chinook, Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Centennial, and Cascade hops.

Bottom Line:

This is a great beer for beginner IPA drinkers. It’s fruity, filled with citrus flavors, and not uncomfortably bitter. I do wish there was more of a malt presence though, as it’s almost non-existent.

3) Bell’s Two Hearted (Taste #8)

Bell's Two Hearted IPA
Bell

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

Like Ballast Point Sculpin, Bell’s Two Hearted commonly tops “best IPA” lists. Named for the Two Hearted River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this beer was brewed using only Pacific Northwest-grown Centennial hops.

Bottom Line:

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a well-balanced beginner IPA. It was fruity, citrusy, malty, and just the right amount of bitterness.

2) Deschutes Fresh Squeezed (Taste #7)

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Deschutes

ABV: 6.4%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

Deschutes is a big name in the craft brewing world because everything that comes out of this Oregon brewery seems to be a banger. Its Fresh Squeezed is an incredibly aptly-named beer with its use of 2-Row, Munich, and Crystal malts complemented by Citra and Mosaic hops.

Bottom Line:

Sweeter and fruitier than many IPAs on this list, it has complimentary flavors of citrus, tropical fruits, caramel malts, and gently bitter hops.

1) Cigar City Jai Alai (Taste #3)

Cigar City Jai Alai
Cigar City

ABV: 7.5%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

Jai Alai is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. Popular in Florida where Cigar City is located, the beer named in its honor is dangerously delicious and its high rating is proof. This 7.5 percent bold IPA is brewed with six different hops and is known for its complex, well-balanced flavor profile.

Bottom Line:

It will be hard to find a beginner IPA that’s more balanced than this. It feels like the flavors are a 50/50 split between hops and malts.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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