Life

The Best Known And Most Imitated West Coast IPAs, Blind Tasted And Ranked

Over the past few years, the definition of “IPA” has evolved in ways that would’ve been unimaginable just five short years ago. The hazy New England-style IPA and milk sugar or lactose-based milkshake IPA are both making a big impact on the scene. But even though you can’t just order an “IPA” and expect one specific thing anymore, your favorite piney, citrus-forward West Coast IPAs remain as popular as ever. And while breweries from Savannah to San Francisco are brewing their own versions of the iconic West Coast IPA on a daily basis, there are a handful of classics that still stand above the rest.

Lagunitas, Stone, Green Flash, Ballast Point — these names are entrenched in the IPA landscape. And today, we’re paying homage to these hoppy, resinous, bitter flavor explosions by finally finding out which of the most popular West Coast IPAs are actually “best” (to my palate!). To do so, I’m turning once again to the blind taste test, ranking eight of the most well-known West Coast IPAs to finally determine which is the undisputed champion of dank.

Keep reading to see how it all turned out!

Today’s Lineup:

  • Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA
  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
  • Green Flash West Coast IPA
  • Alesmith IPA
  • Lagunitas IPA
  • Stone IPA
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack
  • Bear Republic Racer 5

Part 1: The Taste

Taste 1

IPA Taste 1
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Complex aroma of wet grass, ripe pineapple, citrus zest, and herbal, piney hops first met my nose. Sipping the beer revealed a nice mix of bread-like malts, tangerine, grapefruit, earthy grass, and resinous, dank, pine. The finish is bitter, but not overwhelming.

From my notes: “That finish gives the beer a nice crescendo.”

Taste 2

IPA Taste 2
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Aromas of grapefruit, tangerines, apricots, bready malts, and bright pine first greet your nose. Sipping it brings forth notes of orange zest, grapefruit, caramelized pineapple, sweet malts, and earthy, herbal, floral hops. The finish is not as bitter as expected, but still, a nice final note that brings all of the flavors together.

Taste 3

IPA Taste 3
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Grape juice, orange zest, and floral Noble hops are prevalent on the nose. But, as with many West Coast IPAs, there isn’t much else noteworthy. The palate is a little more exciting with lemon zest, ripe pineapple, slight malts, and a very bitter finish.

From my notes: “All in all, it’s a pretty unexciting beer that leans heavily in the citrus and bitterness direction.”

Taste 4

IPA Taste 4
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is slightly fruity with tangerine, pineapple, and grapefruit paired with slight malts and dank, resinous, floral pine. On the palate, I found notes of bready malts, orange zest, grapefruit, pine resin, and floral, herbal, gently bitter hops presence at the very end. A very well-balanced, refreshing IPA.

Taste 5

IPA Taste 5
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Bright aromas of tangerine, grapefruit, herbal hops, bready malts, and dank resin met my nostrils before my first sip. The palate was just as dynamic with a ton of resinous pine, citrus zest, floral hops, caramel malts, and bold, bitter hops. Luckily, the bitterness is tempered by all of the other complex flavors.

Taste 6

IPA Taste 6
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is all pine and citrus without much else sneaking through. While this is expected, it’s kind of underwhelming when there isn’t much more to note. Sipping it was more of the same. There was a hint of tangerine and grapefruit, but the aggressively bitter, resinous pine was fairly overwhelming and took away from the rest of the beer’s flavors.

From my notes: “Too bitter for me.”

Taste 7

IPA Taste 7
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

This nose is classic West Coast IPA with a ton of resinous, dank pine, slight grapefruit, and really nothing else of notes. The palate is more of the same with a ton of pine needles, resin, slight caramel malts, and tangerine, grapefruit, and an aggressively bitter finish.

It’s a little more balanced than some of the beers sampled, but only barely.

Taste 8

IPA Taste 8
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, I found notes of slight tropical fruits, bright citrus, light malts, and floral, slightly spicy, herbal, piney hops. The palate is loaded with pineapple, grapefruit, ripe peach, sweet malts, and floral hops. It all ends with a nice mix of resinous, earthy hops, and light fruity sweetness.

From my notes: “The finish is very bitter, but it ties everything together.”

Part 2: The Rankings

8) Ballast Point Sculpin IPA (Taste 6)

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Ballast Point

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $14 for a six-pack

The Beer:

When IPA drinkers talk about “must-try” beers, they often mention Ballast Point Sculpin. This classic, West Coast IPA gets its name from a stinging fish and you can probably guess why. That’s because, even though it begins with bright citrus flavors, it’s the bitter, hoppy bite that you’ll remember most after sipping it.

Bottom Line:

Ballast Point proves once again that its Sculpin is one of the most overrated IPAs ever brewed. One-dimensional and overly bitter, it’s just a little too abrasive for my palate.

7) Lagunitas IPA (Taste 3)

Lagunitas IPA
Lagunitas

ABV: 6.2%

Average Price: $10.50 for a six-pack

The Beer:

This well-known West Coast IPA gets its bold, piney, resinous, bitter flavor from the addition of Centennial, Chinook, Cascade, and Simcoe hops and its sweet, caramel flavor from the use of Caramel Malt barley. If you’re going to try any of Lagunitas’ other beers, you have to start with this one first.

Bottom Line:

Lagunitas IPA is by no means a bad beer. It’s just not balanced and complex enough — the citrus and pine notes are a little too in your face.

6) Stone IPA (Taste 7)

Stone IPA
Stone

ABV: 6.9%

Average Price: $11.50 for a six-pack

The Beer:

When many drinkers think of West Coast IPAs, they usually think Stone IPA. Available since 1997, this popular IPA was brewed with Magnum, Chinook, Centennial, Azacca, Calypso, Ella, and Vic Secret hops. It’s known for its mix of pine and citrus with long, lingering hop bitterness.

Bottom Line:

Stone IPA is a popular beer among fans of over-the-top bitter beers. Even though it has slight caramel malts mixed in, it’s still a little too bitter and pine-centric for some palates.

5) Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA (Taste 5)

Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA
Fat Head

ABV: 7.5%

Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack

The Beer:

This award-winning IPA is a great example of how bold and aggressive a West Coast IPA can be. Loaded with Simcoe, Mosaic, Centennial, Chinook, and Citra hops, it’s known for its mix of resinous pine, citrus zest, and bitter hops presence.

Bottom Line:

Fat Head’s Head Hunter is one of the most popular West Coast IPAs on the market and for good reason. Even though it’s aggressively bittered, it’s surprisingly well-balanced and flavorful.

4) Alesmith IPA (Taste 1)

Alesmith IPA
Alesmith

ABV: 7.25%

Average Price: $12.99 for a six-pack

The Beer:

One of the OG and most highly-rated West Coast IPAs, Alesmith has been crafting this beloved beer for more than two decades now. Brewed with Columbus and Citra hops, it’s known for its bold, vibrant citrus flavors, caramel malts, and slightly bitter, hoppy finish.

Bottom Line:

While Alesmith IPA’s finish does have the bitterness West Coast IPA fans have grown to expect, it’s less than many others on this list and pairs nicely with the rest of the flavors. It’s very complex and well-balanced.

3) Firestone Walker Union Jack (Taste 4)

Firestone Walker Union Jack
Firestone Walker

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $10.50 for a six-pack

The Beer:

This complex West Coast IPA was brewed with Cascade, CTZ, and Centennial hops in the kettle. It gets extra hop flavor from being dry-hopped with Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo, and Chinook hops. To say this is a hop lover’s dream is an understatement.

Bottom Line:

As West Coast IPAs go, Firestone Walker Union Jack is a little sweeter and fruitier than most and that’s definitely not a bad thing. It still has the heightened floral, piney, hop bitterness West Coast IPA drinkers expect.

2) Green Flash West Coast IPA (Taste 8)

Green Flash West Coast IPA
Green Flash

ABV: 7%

Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack

The Beer:

Green Flash’s take on the West Coast IPA is so good, that the folks at this San Diego-based brewery didn’t even bother to give it an original name. This 7% ABV West Coast IPA is the benchmark that many other breweries strive for. Brewed with five different hops, it’s known for its mix of floral, fruity, and citrus flavors.

Bottom Line:

There’s a reason Green Flash West Coast IPA is an often-imitated beer. It’s complex, bold, and surprisingly well-rounded. It’s an amazing example of the style.

1) Bear Republic Racer 5 (Taste 2)

Bear Republic Racer 5
Bear Republic

ABV: 7.5%

Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack

The Beer:

One of the most awarded West Coast IPAs, Bear Republic Racer 5 is brewed with a base of pale barley malt, white wheat malt, and crystal malt, along with Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, and Cascade hops. It’s bold, brash, and aggressively hoppy.

Bottom Line:

Balance can be hard to come by in West Coast IPAs. Some brewers gravitate towards bitter bombs. Bear Republic Racer 5 has the bitterness that one would expect, but it also has myriad other exciting flavors. It’s possibly the best example of the style available today.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

One of the reasons some drinkers have such a love/hate relationship with West Coast IPAs is the hop bitterness. If they sip a beer and taste nothing but bitter pine and they expect more flavors, they probably won’t go back to that beer again. It’s clear that I feel the same way. All of the beers that fared better were more well-balanced — while still bitter, they had bold citrus, ripe fruit, and caramel malt flavors that added to the overall flavor profile.

Balance is key in life. Apparently in the IPA world as well.

×