Chances are, your first craft beer was an IPA. The hop-heavy beer gets its name from its first major market, India, which necessitated a long ocean voyage, leading brewers to exchange the sweet, malty ales, which would spoil faster, for more bitter, lighter ales, which would last longer. Today, the style, with its characteristic piney, fruity aroma and juicy, bitter taste, is a crowd favorite — the safe bet for any house party. In the past, this magazine has covered double IPAs and juicy IPAs and the entire lineup of Dogfish Head IPAs, not to mention some session IPAs and our standout favorite IPA. Now it’s time we dig into the normal, regular, knows-what-it-wants, confident but not cocky, standard American IPA. Read on to see our selections for the best IPAs in the American South, West, Midwest and Northeast, along with comments from expert brewers on what makes this style tick.
Your Hop Cheat Sheet
Amarillo: Found growing wild. Intensely fruity (citrus, melon, and stone fruits), well suited for American “hop bombs.” — Alpha Acid Content: 8-11%
Cascade (US): May not be classified as special, but its bold, floral, citrusy aroma and flavor began to change the definition of “hoppy.” Most widely grown American “aroma” hop. — Alpha Acid Content: 4.5-7%
Centennial: Has been called “Super Cascade,” and recent demand has skyrocketed right along with increased sales of IPAs. Uniquely floral. — Alpha Acid Content: 9.5-11.5%
Chinook: The piney, resinous aroma it delivers when used in dry hopping has become a hallmark of hop-centric American beers. Bred for bittering and still used for that, but now known for complex, fruity-piney contributions. — Alpha Acid Content: 12-14%
Citra: Poster child for “flavor” or “special” hops, and in demand well beyond the United States. Rich in passion fruit, lychee, peach, gooseberries and a laundry list of other unusual (for hops) flavors. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-13%
Columbus: Often used for bittering, but aromas differ. Columbus hops are often brightly fruity and spicy. — Alpha Acid Content: 14-16.5%
Galaxy: Australian variety that helped inspire the term “flavor hop.” High in alpha but used mostly for late/dry hopping. Rich in passion fruit, citrus, apricot, melon, black currant. Can be intense, even pungent. — Alpha Acid Content: 13.5-15%
Mosaic: Available in quantity for the first time after 2012 harvest. Still known to many as HBC 369. A daughter of Simcoe crossed with a disease-resistant, Nugget-derived male. Rich in mango, lemon, citrus, pine, and, notably, blueberry. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-13.5%
Nugget: — Released by the USDA in 1983 to meet demand for higher alpha hops, and remains a staple for Oregon farmers. Pleasant herbal aroma. — Alpha Acid Content: 11-14%
Descriptions taken, with permission, from For The Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus.
From Ohio to Kansas to North Dakota
Huma Lupa Licious IPA, Short’s Brewing Company
ABV: 7.7% | IBU: 96 | Brewery Location: Bellaire, Michigan
Beer Advocate Rating: 90 | Hops: Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, Palisade
Despite being named after the scientific name for the hop plant, Humulus lupulus, the story here is the malt. A little chocolate on the nose tips off the roasted malt character of this beer. It’s sharp, rather than bitter. A definite crowd favorite.
Top Rope, Tallgrass Brewing Company
ABV: 6.0% | IBU: 80 | Brewery Location: Manhattan, Kansas
Beer Advocate Rating: 85 | Hops: Nugget, Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus
A nod to the glory days of professional wrestling, this reddish IPA packs big bitter flavors. It starts with notes of cut grass and sweet, funky fruit before giving way to a dry IPA with a clean finish.
Todd the Axe Man, Surly Brewing Company
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Beer Advocate Rating: 99 | Hops: Citra, Mosaic
Named in honor of Surly’s head of brewery operations, Todd Haug, whose first career was as a thrash metal guitarist, The Axe Man smells deceptively like pineapple, mango and sweaty socks, but the flavors are drier, starting smooth and ending bitter. Hard to stop drinking.
Masala Mama IPA, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery
ABV: 6.3% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Beer Advocate Rating: 96 | Hops: Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood, Citra, Exp. 342
Masala refers to Indian spice blends, so this is a “spicy mama.” Darker, with a sweet maltiness, the hops balance caramel with earthy hops and a bit of light fruit. Hard to come by, but worth the search.
Incarnation IPA, 4 Hands Brewing
ABV: 6.5% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Saint Louis, Missouri
Beer Advocate Rating: N/A | Hops: Mosaic
For the brewers, Mosaic hops brought to mind stained glass, which resulted in “Incarnation.” This beer is super bright, fresh-cut grass and white grapefruit rind. It’s not as aggressive as some other IPAs, but that’s a welcome change.
What distinguishes a great IPA from simply a good IPA?
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: This always depends on a couple of factors. The first is personal taste. Some people prefer fruity IPAs and some people prefer IPAs with more piney and citrusy notes. Beyond people’s personal tastes, though, are things like the quality of fermentation, hopping times or rate and malt bill design. A clean, healthy fermentation will always be very important because sluggish, unhealthy fermentations will result in off flavors and under-attenuated beers. Hopping rate and times will always play a big roll. To make big aromatic IPAs you need to be generous with the hops and use them at the right times. Lastly, you need to make sure your malt bill complements your hopping profile.
John Kimmich, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: That’s a very tricky question to answer. I consider an IPA to be great when I can’t stop drinking it and I have no problem getting through my entire serving. If I feel compelled to order the same thing again, that, in my opinion, is a great IPA.
Marks Lanham, Brewmaster of Comrade Brewing: We are looking for the malt, hop aroma, hop flavor and bitterness to complement each other, and not have one overwhelm the other.
From Pennsylvania to Maine
Legitimacy, Hill Farmstead Brewery
ABV: 6.7% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Greensboro, Vermont
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: Simcoe and others
This beer is fresh and juicy, with a yellow color to match the citrus notes. It’s grassy, piney and bitter orange rind on the nose, and the taste is more of the same. Extremely dry and drinkable.
Galaxy, Other Half Brewing Co.
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Brooklyn, New York
Beer Advocate Rating: 92 | Hops: Galaxy
A single-hop IPA named for the star of the show, Galaxy was a crowd favorite. Kiwi, mango and papaya on the nose, with a great mouthfeel and a funky, highly drinkable IPA.
IDIPA, Carton Brewing
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: 70 | Brewery Location: Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
Beer Advocate Rating: 91 | Hops: Simcoe, Equinox, Amarillo, Exp. 07270
One in a lineup of IPAs: Id, Ego and Superego. Like in psychology, the id is simple. In this case, it’s just pure dankness. Mango, pineapple, passionfruit and weed. A mouthwatering beer.
Focal Banger, The Alchemist
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Waterbury, Vermont
Beer Advocate Rating: 100 | Hops: Citra, Mosaic
Nearly impossible to get a can of this outside of a Vermont bar or restaurant, The Alchemist will begin selling Focal Banger out of their visitors center when it opens later this summer. Truly the little brother of Heady Topper. Smells wet and dank, then it hits the jowls with nothing super fruity, or super bitter — just a perfect IPA. You don’t need to know much to know this is one of the best IPAs in production today.
Mo’ Shuggie Soulbender IPA, Singlecut Beersmiths
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: 123 | Brewery Location: Queens, New York
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin
Named as a tribute to R&B songwriter Shuggie Otis, who recorded “Strawberry Letter 23,” this hazy, straw-colored IPA smells like sour raspberries and rhubarb pie. The taste is tangy and bitter with a lot of dark stone fruit. Definitely one of the most unique IPAs made.
How do IPAs differ, region to region, in the US?
Augie Carton, Founder of Carton Brewing: The original American IPA comes from Colorado and the Pacific Northwest by way of northern California. A current example is Avery Maharaja. Giant malt bills to balance tons of hops from early in the boil through late dry hopping. Next are the California IPAs. Pliny the Elder is a good example. Hops are pushed later in the boil to play a more aromatic roll, lessening the bitter characteristics. This allowed the malt bill to lean out and become a little more yellow and drier. On the East Coast — a good example being Dog Fish Head 60 Minutes — the hop additions were spread more equally from early to late, finding the balance between bittering to aromatic with a more amber/orange malt bill. And finally New England moves most of the hopping to the end for almost entirely aromatic hopping. This changes mouth feel from the balanced tension of alcohol warmth, malt astringency and hop bitterness to unctuous with the use of things like wheat, oats and lactose. They fade the fastest but by playing entirely to the accentuation of aromatics they have the most oomph when fresh. A good example would be Heady Topper.
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: The most common ways to describe IPAs now is to call them West Coast or East Coast style. People make East and West Coast style IPAs everywhere, but it is indicative of where the style originated. West Coast style IPAs tend to be more bitter, contain some crystal malt, use piney and/or citrusy hops, and use clean low-ester yeast strains, while East Coast-style IPAs tend to be more focused on hop aromatics, rarely contain crystal malt and are driven by fruity, estery yeast strains.
John Kimmich, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: I get asked that question quite often. In my opinion, we are all just doing a different take on a classic style of beer. I don’t believe a certain style of IPA is dependent on the region, any more than I believe that quality is dependent on the region.
Marks Lanham, Brewmaster of Comrade Brewing: Traditionally, we think of “West Coast-style” IPA as having less malt character and showcasing the flavor and aroma of the hops, while a “East Coast-style” IPAs are darker in color, have more caramel malts, use non-proprietary hop varieties with less hop flavor, less hop aroma, and less bitterness than West Coast style. Today we can find both styles and even more variations on IPAs all across the country.
Our guide continues on the next page
From Delaware to Florida to Oklahoma
Tropicália, Creature Comforts
ABV: 6.5% | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Athens, Georgia
Beer Advocate Rating: 96 | Hops: Centennial, Citra, Galaxy
Named for Head Brewer David Stein’s love for Tropicália music, particularly Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, this beer is all about the tropical fruit. The biscuity maltiness is light, and serves only as a backbone to a fruit salad on the nose and the tongue. A must for poolside drinking.
Hopsecutioner, Terrapin Beer Company
ABV: 7.3% | IBU: 71 | Brewery Location: Athens, Georgia
Beer Advocate Rating: 86 | Hops: Warrior, Chinook, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade
The story goes that Spike, the founder of Terrapin, was drinking by the pool with one Johnny Dollar. Drunk and smoking cigars, Johnny gave Spike the name “Hopsecutioner” for his next hoppy beer, on the condition that he put a dollar sign on the label to acknowledge the ingenious name. To this day, there’s a small golden dollar sign on every can. It’s bitter and a little roasty, with pine and some citrus on the tongue.
Hop Gun, Funky Buddha
ABV: 7.0% | IBU: 80 | Brewery Location: Oakland Park, Florida
Beer Advocate Rating: 86 | Hops: Centenial, Cascade
A pun from and for children of the ’80s, this is a funky brew. Smells like sour yogurt and white wine, which gives way to grapefruit, pine and biscuits.
Hop, Drop ‘n Roll, NoDa Brewing Company
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: 81 | Brewery Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Beer Advocate Rating: 94 | Hops: Citra, Amarillo
Definite floral notes on the nose, with some grape present. Its pleasant hop bitterness is balanced with some banana bread flavors. Definitely a great everyday IPA.
IPA, Westbrook Brewing Co.
ABV: 6.8% ABV | IBU: 65 | Brewery Location: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Beer Advocate Rating: 91 | Hops: a blend of four American hop
Fresh-cut grass and nuttiness on the nose. The flavor is savory and roasty, with flavors reminiscent of sesame and nutty Thai food.
Increasingly, cans and bottles are advertising the exact hops present in the beer. How does one hop differ from another? How do you decide which to use?
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: Hops are bred by crossing different varieties with each other. It takes close to a decade from the start of breeding a new hop until it is commercially available. It’s like any other plant; different varieties of tomatoes have different flavor and aromatic qualities, and so do hops. There are lots of different hop descriptors, like spicy, floral, citrusy, piney, stone fruit and tropical, just to name some of the most common. Brewers decide which to use based on personal tastes.
Jim, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: So much of the character of an IPA is driven from the choice of hops. There is an almost endless choice of combinations. I decide on which hops to use in a beer by using the hops, and relying on my palate to determine what I’m going to use. Some hops may work wonderfully alone, only to be totally different when combined with another hop. It comes down to trial and error and personal taste.
From New Mexico to Montana to California
Superpower IPA, Comrade Brewing Company
ABV: 7.5% ABV | IBU: 100 | Brewery Location: Denver, Colorado
Beer Advocate Rating: 93 | Hops: Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo
God damn this is a good IPA. Tropical notes on the nose grow into a super-fruity IPA with great mouthfeel. It’s soft and easy to drink, and a standout in the West.
Fresh Squeezed IPA, Deschutes Brewery
ABV: 6.4% ABV | IBU: 60 | Brewery Location: Bend, Oregon
Beer Advocate Rating: 93 | Hops: Citra, Mosaic, Nugget
This amber-colored IPA tends toward a hoppy red ale, than an IPA. The nose is mostly caramel, with overripe banana and sweet candy apple on the tongue. The hops are used to balance the sweetness, and not the other way round.
Union Jack IPA, Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
ABV: 7.5% ABV | IBU: 70 | Brewery Location: Paso Robles, California
Beer Advocate Rating: 94 | Hops: Magnum, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Chinook, Simcoe
This is the originator of the “Jack” IPA family at Firestone, named for the colonial origins of the IPA style. Double dry-hopped for grapefruit and citrus, on the tongue there’s a lot of orange and orange zest. Easy drinking and widely available.
Is there a benefit to leaving IPAs unfiltered? Why are some IPAs clear and others cloudy?
Samuel Richardson, Brewmaster at Other Half Brewing: Filtering IPAs tends to strip out some of the finer aromatic qualities of hops. However, the downside to not filtering is that it can be off-putting to some consumers to get a murky beer. Again it always goes back to the taste of the brewers making the beer. There are lots of great filtered and unfiltered IPAs on the market and murky or clear doesn’t necessarily indicate whether or not a beer will be good.
John Kimmich, Founder of Alchemist Brewery: There are many factors that go into determining the clarity of a beer. Most haziness is ingredient driven. Personally, I like my IPAs unfiltered and unpasteurized. I like to experience the evolution of flavors that are only possible in an unpasteurized and unfiltered beer. Once a beer has been filtered, it is essentially dead. We work very hard to pack all of that hoppy goodness into our beers, why on earth would we want to filter that out?
Marks Lanham, Brewmaster of Comrade Brewing: Filtering can reduce hop flavor and aroma. Clarity is a much-debated issue with too many factors to consider. The choice of grain in the malt bill, the flocculation of different yeast strains, filtering or clarifying and turnaround time from brew day to glass.
Duet, Alpine Beer Company
ABV: 7.0% ABV | IBU: N/A | Brewery Location: Alpine, California
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: Simcoe, Amarillo
The nose is dank and pineapple, but the taste is much drier and delicate. A great, nuanced IPA for a style that can be dominated by too many competing flavors.
IPA, Alesmith Brewing Company
ABV: 7.25% ABV | IBU: 73 | Brewery Location: San Diego, California
Beer Advocate Rating: 95 | Hops: Blend of nine American hops
The uneventful name is bit of a holdover from the founder’s home-brewing days, when he always named beers by their style alone. Smells super floral, like walking through a field of wildflowers, or a fresh carwash. The mouthfeel is its strength, with good carbonation and not too much alpha acid, despite the huge array of hops used. A clean finish with a biscuity aftertaste.
And Finally, the Noteworthy Exclusions
Because every list is finite, and some IPAs were unavailable during our reporting time frame, we unfortunately had to leave off a few great representations of this style. If you can find the following, you most certainly won’t be disappointed.
Lunch by Maine Beer Company in Maine — 7.0% ABV, BA: 96. Learn More.
Yellow Rose by The Lone Pint Brewery in Texas — 6.8% ABV, BA: 97. Learn More.
Julius by Tree House Brewing in Massachusetts — 6.5% ABV, BA: 100. Learn More.
Elevated IPA by La Cumbre Brewing Co. in New Mexico — 7.2% ABV, BA: 96. Learn More.
RPM IPA by Boneyard Beer Company in Oregon — 6.5% ABV, BA: 95. Learn More.
Jai Alai IPA by Cigar City Brewing in Florida — 7.5% ABV, BA: 94. Learn More.
The Corruption by DC Brau Brewing Co. in DC — 6.5% ABV, BA: 87. Learn More.
Billy Half-Stack IPA by SingleCut Beersmiths in New York — 6.6% ABV, BA: 91. Learn More.
Soul Style IPA by Green Flash Brewing Co. in California — 6.5% ABV, BA: 88. Learn More.