When you think of your favorite IPA, what time of year do you imagine? There’s a very strong likelihood you picture a warm (maybe even hot), hazy, humid, sunny summer day. You probably don’t envision a dark, frigid (possibly snow-filled) winter’s eve or even a chilly, leaf-covered autumn afternoon. But while the warmer months are filled with days and nights when West Coast IPAs, Hazy IPAs, and milkshake IPAs make complete sense, there are actually plenty of IPAs made specifically for the fall and winter.
While not a designated style per se, there are myriad cold weather (or winter IPAs) on the market that are perfectly suitable for seasonal drinking. While many still have the heavy, floral, resinous, bitter hops presence of their warm-weather cousins, some also have more malt presence, contain wintry ingredients (like spruce tips or spices), and have a higher ABV than summery IPAs.
Since it’s only a matter of time before the season of winter IPAs is upon us (and many of these seasonal beers have already become available) I figured the time was right to rank eight of our favorites from the likes of Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and others. And of course, the only true way to rank them would be to once again set up a blind taste test.
Part 1: The Taste
Below, you’ll see the eight beers I selected for this blind test:
- Sierra Nevada Celebration
- New Belgium Accumulation
- Alpine Windows Up
- Alaskan Hopothermia
- Upslope Spruce Tip IPA
- Troegs Blizzard of Hops
- Peak Winter IPA
- Five Boroughs Winter IPA
Let’s get our wintry IPA drink on!
Aromas of tangerine, lemon zest, dank pine, and caramel malts greeted me before my first sip. This was followed by flavors of fur tips, grapefruit, pineapple, floral hops, caramel, and subtly bitter hops. All in all, this is a very complex, well-rounded winter IPA.
This beer is bursting with tropical fruit aromas like mango, pineapple, guava, grapefruit, and slightly bitter, floral hops. On the palate, I found juicy pineapple, ripe mango, melon, caramel malts, and dank resinous pine that tied everything together nicely.
All in all, it’s an exceptional winter IPA.
Aromas of guava, pineapple, orange peels, and slightly herbal, floral hops are all present on the nose. Sadly, the palate isn’t as impressive as the nose. It does have flavors of tropical fruits, ripe oranges, bready malts, and slightly bitter hops, but not much else.
Overall, a decent, not overly exceptional beer.
On the nose, you’ll find light caramel malts, slight resin, and just a hint of pineapple. That’s about it. The palate is surprisingly light with hints of citrus zest, tropical fruits, and slightly bitter hops. The finish is dry, crisp, and bitter. Not a bad beer, but not a very exciting one either.
A lot is going on with this beer’s nose. First, I noticed aromas of pineapple, mango, and other tropical fruits as well as tangerines, grapefruit, citrus zest, wintry spices, and piney hops. The palate is loaded with more citrus flavors, juicy tropical fruits, bitter, floral hops, and a nice hit of caramel malt at the finish.
On the nose, I found scents of Christmas trees, orange peels, baking spices, and slight caramel malts. Sipping it revealed notes of toffee, bready malts, tangerine, orange peels, pine needles, and a wallop of slightly bitter, dank hops. It pretty much tastes like winter in IPA form.
Complex aromas of tangerines, grapefruit, baking spices, and slight hops met my nose before my first sip. The palate is surprisingly bitter, but not unlikeable. There’s a ton of dank pine flavor that pairs well with caramel malts, citrus peels, and slight spices.
It’s big, bold, and highly drinkable.
Notable aromas of orange peels, dank pine, and caramel malts are prevalent. Sipping it revealed notes of grapefruit, a forest of pine trees, pineapple, and bread-like malts. It all ends with a nice mix of caramel malts and floral, resinous, bitter hops.
Overall, a fairly well-balanced winter IPA.
Part 2: The Ranking
Now comes to actual ranking. The taste test was done completely blind. I didn’t know which breweries I was tasting so I was able to simply nose and taste each selection to rate and rank them. I looked for subtle nuances, complexity, and balance of the use of hops, malts, and various other wintry flavors.
Keep reading to see how everything turned out.
8) Peak Winter IPA (Taste #4)
Average Price: $12.99 for a six-pack
When it comes to winter IPAs, you probably don’t think of New England-style IPAs. But Peak wants to change that idea with its Peak Winter IPA. Brewed with Calypso, Simcoe, Citra, and Azacca hops, it’s known for its juicy, hazy, hoppy flavor created to make you forget about the cold weather outside your windows.
I didn’t hate this beer. It’s just not as flavorful as I would like for a wintry IPA. I can’t imagine pairing it with rich, wintry meals.
7) Alpine Windows Up (Taste #3)
Average Price: $13 for a six-pack
This year-round expression might not technically be a “winter IPA”, but just because it doesn’t have this official designation, doesn’t mean it can’t fit the bill. Otherwise, why would they make this Mosaic and Citra-hop, citrus-centric IPA available in the middle of winter?
Maybe I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole but this beer was a bit of a disappointment, as the nose makes you believe you’re in for a fruity flavor bomb. The palate is slightly lacking. But I’d definitely try this one again and see if I enjoy it more the second time around.
6) Alaskan Hopothermia (Taste #8)
Average Price: $9.99 for a four-pack
A play on hypothermia, this double IPA is brewed with a deluge of hops including Nugget, Apollo, Amarillo, Citra, and Centennial hops. The result is a potent, 8.5% ABV beer known for its citrus, spice, and malty flavor created to stand up both to the elements and seasonal dishes.
While not perfect, this beer has a nice mix of malt and hops. Complexity and balance are what I’m looking for in a great winter IPA.
5) Troegs Blizzard of Hops (Taste #1)
Average Price: $14.99 for a six-pack
With a name like Blizzard of Hops, you pretty much know what you’re getting into with this beer. This seasonal beer is brewed with Pilsner malt, un-malted wheat, white wheat, ale yeast, and Centennial, Chinook, and El Dorado hops. It’s known for its complex, hoppy, malty flavor.
I really enjoyed this winter IPA. It had the right ratio of citrus, tropical fruit flavors, caramel malts, and nicely bitter hops.
4) Five Boroughs Winter IPA (Taste #2)
Average Price: $15 for a six-pack
This 6.8% citrus-driven winter IPA gets its seasonal flavor by being brewed with 2-Row, Carared, Carafa II malts, and flaked oats as well as Citra, Ekuanot, Simcoe, and Cascade hops. It’s malty, hoppy, and a great complement to the seasonal feasts to come.
Some winter IPAs lean too heavily on hops. This beer managed to mix the hops side with a ton of other maltier flavors. It can definitely stand up to rich, savory winter foods.
3) Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop (Taste #7)
Average Price: $12 for a six-pack
Sierra Nevada is well known for its iconic pale ale, but it’s also known for its fall seasonal Celebration Fresh Hop IPA. Brewed with Caramelized malts and Two-row Pale malts as well as ale yeast, and Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook hops, it’s a beer worth waiting for every year.
This is a flavorful, impressive beer. It’s loaded with flavors that work perfectly in cooler weather but is bright and crisp enough to make you feel like you’re enjoying it on a warm, summery day.
2) New Belgium Accumulation (Taste #5)
Average Price: $13.99 for a six-pack
This hazy, winter seasonal is the kind of beer that makes a drinker stop questioning the appeal of a mid-winter IPA. This 6.5% ABV winter IPA begins with a base of ale yeast and pale wheat malt. It gets its spicy, piney hop presence from the addition of Strata, Mosaic, Lotus, and El Dorado hops.
This is the type of winter IPA I’d drink from now until April (and probably beyond). It’s vibrant, fruity, and has just enough of a malt backbone to remind me that it’s not summer anymore.
1) Upslope Spruce Tip IPA (Taste #6)
Average Price: $9.99 for a six-pack
There are few scents more reminiscent of late fall and winter than pine. That’s why the folks at Upslope Brewing drops its Spruce Tip IPA every year in late October right about the time the weather begins to change. This 7.5% ABV beer is brewed with American malts as well as Simcoe and Cascade hops but gets an added kick from the addition of fresh pine needles.
When it comes to the hierarchy of winter IPAs, this one is hard to beat. It’s obvious this beer includes pine flavor as well as the resinous flavor of the included hops. This duo makes it a highly memorable, drinkable seasonal brew.
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