The IPA — and its various iterations — is one of the most popular styles in craft brewing. If you’re a fan of this hoppy, sometimes overly dank beer, this is good news (if you’re not a fan, well… sorry). There are more than 9,000 breweries in the U.S. at last count, and there’s a solid chance that every one of them currently brews at least one IPA, if not several. That’s an awful lot of bitter brews to sort through!
While it might seem daunting trying to figure out the best IPAs on the market, there are plenty of people eager to help you wade through them all (like us!). One of the most popular beer-endemic sites is BeerAdvocate — where you can easily find a top ten user-ranked IPAs. But while I’ll agree that basing a top 10 list on tens of thousands of palates is an interesting way to do things, I trust my evolved, professionally practiced palate more — so I decided to blindly taste all 10 myself and then re-rank them based on my own palate.
Today’s Lineup (which again, comes from BeerAdvocate):
- Susan Hill Farmstead Brewery
- Nelson Alpine Beer Company
- Axeman Surly Brewing Company
- Yellow Rose The Lone Pint Brewery
- Project Dank La Cumbre Brewing Co.
- The Pupil Societe Brewing Co.
- Sculpin Ballast Point Brewing Co.
- Lunch Maine Beer Company
- Triple Play Lawson’s Finest Liquids
- Tropicália Creature Comforts
Now then, let’s get our highly-ranked drink on!
Part 1: The Taste
On the nose, I find aromas of ripe berries, dank pine needles, toffee-like malts, and some floral hops. The palate is loaded with juicy pineapple, tart grapefruit, more berries, caramel malts, and a nice, gentle level of hop bitterness at the finish.
This beer’s nose is heavy on fruit. I noticed hints of ripe pineapple, orange zest, lime peels, earthy resinous pine, and a sweet malty backbone. This massive flavor profile continues along the palate with notes of mango, passion fruit, tangerine, juicy grapefruit, toffee, and more dank, resinous, subtly bitter hops. It’s juicy, sweet, and has just the right amount of bitterness.
This beer smells like a forest of pine trees. There’s a slight citrus odor and maybe some malts, but really not much else. The resinous dank pine kind of knocks you down. The palate is much more over-the-top sticky pine. I taste some lemon zest, grapefruit, and slight floral flavors, but it’s all dominated by aggressively bitter pine.
Dank pine, ripe oranges, juicy berries, and a little bit of spice are prevalent on this beer’s nose. Sipping it reveals a wallop of grapefruit juice, tangerine, mango, and a very low piney resinous bitterness. In fact, this might be a little light in the bitterness department for some IPA fans.
Wet grass, fresh hay, grapefruit, orange peels, fur tips, and caramel malts — this beer has a truly multi-dimensional nose. The palate swirls with lemon zest, grapefruit, crisp melon, biscuit-like malt, fruit esters, and a healthy kick of piney, resinous, and super dank hops. It ends with a nice mixture of bitter hops and ripe citrus fruits.
A lot going on with this beer’s nose. There are notes of ripe grapefruit, caramel malts, orange zest, and a healthy dose of dank pine. It’s very inviting, to say the least. Taking a sip, I find hints of biscuit-like malts, lemon candy, orange peels, floral hops, and a nice mix of bitterness and tropical sweetness on the finish.
This beer has a ton of citrus on the nose. There are notes of lemon zest, orange juice, and some fruit ester, but not much else. The citrus really dominates. The palate has more tangerine orange flavor as well as some mango and guava, but its overall bitterness is a little too aggressive for me. I’d prefer a little more balance.
This is the kind of beer that requires a longer nosing. First, I notice aromas of sweet honey and baked bread followed by orange peel, lemon zest, an earthy herbal aroma, and just a hint of floral hops. The palate is juicy and citrus-centric with notes of grapefruit, sweet Clementine, cracked black pepper, and guava with slightly bitter and piney dank hops at the end.
The nose is loaded with both dank pine and juicy tropical fruit. It makes me want to dive right in. It definitely doesn’t disappoint with flavors like grapefruit juice, lemon zest, mango, biscuity malts, honey sweetness, and a nice kick of slightly bitter, yet pleasingly resinous pine to tie everything together.
There’s a real herbal/earthy quality to this beer’s nose that demands further exploration. On top of that, I’m greeted by strong scents of grapefruit, orange, lemon zest, and dank pine needles. The palate continues the fruity/tart trend with notes of blood orange, juicy grapefruit, pineapple, mango, light malts, and spruce tips. The finish is a mix of sweetness and bitterness that’s extremely pleasing.
Part 2: The Ranking
10) Alpine Beer Nelson — Taste 7
Average Price: $14 for a six-pack
This seven percent ABV year-round offering gets its name from Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand. It’s well known for its hazy, piney, and fruity flavor and gets added spice from the addition of European rye.
Nelson Sauvin is the name of the game with this beer. If you enjoy these specific hops and you can handle a ton of bitterness on the back end, you’ll enjoy Nelson. Otherwise, a different beer on this list is probably your best bet.
9) Creature Comforts Tropicália — Taste 4
Average Price: $13 for a six-pack
Sometimes brewers choose silly, gimmicky names to get people to notice their IPAs. Other times, the name perfectly describes the liquid inside, as is the case with Creature Comforts Tropicália. This 6.6 percent ABV IPA is known for its mix of ripe tropical fruits and low bitterness.
It’s loaded with ripe tropical flavors, juicy citrus, and some malts. I’d expect nothing less from a beer called Tropicália. It just lacks the bitterness level I crave in an IPA.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #10
8) Ballast Point Sculpin — Taste 3
Average Price: $14 for a six-pack
Ballast Point Sculpin is like the Duke men’s basketball team of beers — always at the top of the rankings if not in the top spot. This award-winning IPA is known for its mix of fruity sweetness and the bite from the bitter hop from which it gets its name.
Ballast Point Sculpin is a beer for drinkers who enjoy slight citrus and malts that are completely overshadowed by almost harsh levels of bitter and dank hops.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #7
7) La Cumbre Project Dank — Taste 6
Average Price: $14 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
La Cumbre Project Dank is a bit of a mystery on this list. Unlike every other beer in the ranking, Project Dank will be a slightly different beer, depending on when you grab a four-pack. That’s because this is a special release from the New Mexico brewery’s “hop laboratory.” Each batch released utilizes different hops and hopping techniques.
This version of La Cumbre Project Dank had a nice mix of tropical and citrus sweetness, caramel-like malts, and nice bitterness. It was almost a little too busy though for my palate.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #5
6) Surly Brewing Axeman — Taste 9
Average Price: $18 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
This beer’s name conjures up a ton of images. I imagine a scowling, bearded lumberjack chugging a frosty hoppy brew. Originally brewed in collaboration with Danish brewery Amager, it’s double dry-hopped with Citra and Mosiac hops to give it an explosion of flavor.
With a name like Surly Axeman, you almost assume this beer would be dominated by one or more flavors. But it was really complex and well-balanced between fruits, malts, and bitter hops. Still, there was better complexity and balance on this list.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #3
5) The Lone Pint Yellow Rose — Taste 1
Average Price: $12 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
This 6.8 percent IPA from Magnolia, Texas’ Lone Pint Yellow Rose gets its name from a famous Lone Star heroine. The beer has a ton of malt and is “massively dry-hopped” with Mosaic hops. The result is a well-balanced, noteworthy beer that consistently ranks with the top IPAs in the country.
This isn’t the easiest beer to find, but if you get a chance to try it, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you’re a fan of Mosaic hops. The fact that it only finished in the middle of my rankings is a testament to how great the beers on the rest of this list are.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #4
4) Maine Beer Lunch — Taste 2
Average Price: $8 for a 16.9-ounce bottle
It might be called “lunch” but I feel like I could drink this IPA any time of the day. Named for a well-known whale that spends its time along the Maine coast since 1982, this IPA gets its hop profile from the addition of Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe hops.
There’s a reason Lunch from Maine Beer is one of the most beloved American IPAs ever made. It’s juicy, hazy, and well-hopped. I’m actually surprised it was beaten out by any other beer on this list.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #8
3) Lawson’s Finest Triple Play — Taste 8
Average Price: Limited Availability
Continuing the trend of big names on the top IPA list, Lawson’s Finest Liquids out of Vermont is the type of brewery that makes nothing but bangers. Its best beer just might be its Triple Play, which gets its name from the three hops with which it’s brewed: Citra, Simcoe, and Amarillo.
This spring seasonal definitely lives up to the hype. It’s juicy, hazy, and filled with tropical fruit flavors. But it also has a nice herbal and malty backbone that gives it more depth and ranks it higher for me.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #9
2) Hill Farmstead Susan — Taste 10
Average Price: Limited Availability
Hill Farmstead is a well-known name in the craft beer world. While you can’t go wrong with any of its brews, there’s no disputing the appeal of Susan (named for the brewer’s grandfather’s sister). Brewed with Yakima Valley hops as well as Riwaka hops from New Zealand, it’s a highly complex and beloved beer.
Beer Advocate Line:
When it comes to complexity, it’s hard to top this special beer from Hill Farmstead. It’s perfectly balanced between sweetness and bitterness. It came close to being my number and I can see how it’s in that spot for a lot of beer drinkers out there.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #1
1) Societe Brewing The Pupil — Taste 5
Average Price: $14 for a six-pack
San Diego is one of the best beer cities in the country. You could fill an entire beer store just with San Diego IPAs with no complaints from IPA lovers. One of this Southern California city’s best beers is The Pupil, from Societe Brewing. It’s a fresh, refreshing, hoppy gem.
Considering how many talented brewers live in San Diego, I’m not surprised an SD brewery took home the top spot. I just assumed it would be Ballast Point. This was definitely a pleasant surprise and well deserved, due to its complex, flavorful, and well-balanced flavor profile.
Beer Advocate Ranking: #6