IPAs have become a divisive beer as of late. First, you have the ‘Pac vs. Biggie aspect of the style — an West Coast vs. East Coast (New England in this case) battle for supremacy. The west coast variation is a dank-pine-resin-meets-sweet-malt-attack on the senses, whereas the eastern varieties lean more into tropical fruit juices, tinged with a sunny brightness.
Then there’s the abject oversaturation of the craft beer market with IPAs that double, triple, and even quadruple their hops, amping up the bitterness to untenable highs. This technique isn’t just for hopheads, it’s often used to mask mistakes. IPAs offer neophyte brewers the chance to hide their inadequacies by over hopping their sub par beers. It’s kind of like sweeping the imperfections under a giant carpet and hoping no one notices.
Couple all of that with the fact that many brewers serve their IPAs as fresh as possible, which kinda negates the style’s purpose and eschews the crucial mellowing process (this is a beer that’s meant to settle for a few months before it’s consumed), and it’s easy to see why people are turned off of IPAs. Especially now that sour beer is all the rage from coast to coast.
But with all of that said, there are some great examples of both West Coast and New England IPAs out there. Brewers are beginning to celebrate a return to form, where hop and malt are well-balanced and still allow the elements of the beer to shine through. In honor of National IPA day, we’ve listed some of our favorites, below.
HOP SHOWERS — OTHER HALF BREWING
Other Half Brewing makes a lot of points for having great, artistic can designs. And the beer inside those rad cans tends to be pretty spot on as well. Hop Showers is a fruit forward IPA that leans into tropical florals and a lemon citrus finish. It’s refreshingly bright.
FUZZY BABY DUCKS IPA — NEW ENGLAND BREWING CO.
This one certainly wins the title for the cutest name. The beer is an orange citrus forward IPA that balances a sweet biscuit maltiness along with the Citra hops. There’s a solid fruity, almost jammy aspect at play here that’s really interesting alongside the almost scone like quality to the malt. It’s a complex beer that doesn’t overdo any one part.
FOCAL BANGER INDIA PALE ALE — THE ALCHEMIST BREWERY
The Alchemist Brewery is a very lauded brewhouse that specializes in ales people almost universally love. Focal Banger is a big beer with a hefty sweet tropical fruit and citrus orange/grapefruit forward taste that deftly mixes in a slight dank pine flavor — reminiscent of the big West Coast IPAs. There’s an oat maltiness underpinning the whole affair that ties everything together nicely.
SUSAN — HILL FARMSTEAD BREWERY
Hill Farmstead is the Paul Thomas Anderson to The Alchemist’s Michael Bay. Susan is a nuanced IPA that throws out any semblance of ‘style’ and simply makes for a great beer. The IPA is lighter and doesn’t over do the hop bitterness. Everything is mellowed and subtle here. The floral tropicals are hints. There’s a pine resin whisper. There is a hop bitterness, but it’s anchored a sweet maltiness. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet affair… like Punch Drunk Love.
CONGRESS STREET — TRILLIUM BREWING COMPANY
Trillium is another world-class brewery with a great IPA to offer. Congress Street highlights tropical fruits like pineapples and peaches along with the orange citrus that makes for a juicy experience. There’s a small amount of dank hop on the back end along with a sweet biscuit maltiness accenting the whole beer.
JULIUS — TREE HOUSE BREWING COMPANY
Julius is the ultra-hazy big hitter of the New England IPA scene. The beer has a distinct passion fruit and guava fruit juice quality that ends with a hoppy citrus tone. There’s a fair amount of semi-sweet malt in the haze and it all comes together for a refreshingly drinkable IPA.
BLONDE IPA — pFRIEM FAMILY BREWERS
pFriem out in Oregon makes a solid entry point to the West Coast style. The key here is balance: There’s a grassy, pine resin presence that’s tempered by a candied lemon citrus and a hint of tropical florals. Overall, you’ll get the best of both worlds in a single glass of beer.
PIKE INDIA PALE ALE — THE PIKE BREWING COMPANY
This is a classic West Coast beer dating back to the 1980s. The hazy amber beer has a balance of bitter citrus and pine along with sweet malts and herbal florals. Nothing in this beer is overwrought or abrasive. Each element has its place in the taste and finish of the beer without overpowering the other components.
FRESH SQUEEZED — DESCHUTES BREWERY
Deschutes is another West Coast standard-bearer. Their IPA is a dance between pine hoppiness, toasted caramel malt, and grassy florals with a slight hint of stone fruits and sweet citrus. It’s a classic IPA from a classic brewery.
BLIND PIG IPA — RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING CO.
Russian River is the biggest of the big West Coast breweries that put out big beers. Blind Pig is one of those big beers with a heavy dose of citrusy hops that lean into plenty of pine. There’s a soft undertone of toasted sweet maltiness that balances well with the juicy stone fruits, orange, and dank herbal — almost cannabis — hop. It’s safe to say that if you don’t like this IPA, then the style just isn’t for you.