Love them or hate them, IPAs are here to stay and represent one of, if not the largest styles of beer made today. The name originates from ales which were heavily hopped in order to preserve them on their long trips overseas from the British Empire to India and other Eastern areas. This was found to actually improve the quality of the beer and produce desirable flavors.
In modern times, India Pale Ales are typically brewed with a healthy dose of hops that vary in style and flavor. Flavors’ descriptors range from “juicy” to “harshly bitter” to “earthy,” “floral,” and “spicy.”
There are quite a few subsets to this style, though, and we’ll go over one of the best IPA in the world in each category. Each one is wholly different, so if you hear someone say the dreaded words “I just don’t like IPA’s,” hopefully this will help them understand that that’s almost equivalent to saying “I just don’t like food.” The style typically has something that will appeal to almost everyone.
Heady Topper – The Alchemist – Stowe, VT
Juicy. Fruity. Tropical. Piney. All of these words, even when combined, cannot fully express the flavor explosion that is Heady Topper.
It is known as being one of the original beers and one of the world’s best IPA beers. Heady Topper started the hazy New England IPA (NEIPA) trend that swept across the United States for the past few years. It is a classic and perfect example of a juicy “hop bomb.”
The beautiful combination of flavors, along with the limited quantities available, make this a beer that has people lining out the door on release days in order to snag a four-pack. The beer is only distributed within a small radius of the brewery, but its world-class flavor has spread its notoriety across the country.
Upon your first sip, you’ll taste a myriad of fruits: mango, passion fruit, orange, pineapple, and guava. After the initial wave of juicy tastes, you’ll experience a sweet, nutty maltiness.
Eventually, a slightly bitter, piney aftertaste follows. The slight heat (this brew clocks in at 8% ABV) is accented by the heavy body and high carbonation levels present. The entire time, you’ll feel like you were drinking liquified fruit and hops.
The Alchemist has been very adamant about keeping its beers at an affordable price for everyone, regardless of scarcity. So, a four-pack will only set you back $10.
If you are anywhere near this area in your east coast travels, you owe it to yourself and your palate to stop by and snag a pint of this delicious beer just to say that you have, and inevitably grab some to take back home with you. There’s a reason people treat this beer like liquid gold: because it is.
Brut IPA – Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Chico, CA
Once the New England IPA craze hit the height of its frenzy in the United States, west coast breweries started contemplating what their counterpoint beer would be. What’s something unique that could stand head-to-head with the juicy, hazy hop bombs of the east coast? Enter: Brut IPAs.
Taking their name from “Brut” sparkling wines, these beers are exceptionally dry. So much so that they are reminiscent of their vinous champagne cousins.
The brewing process is what makes them unique: special enzymes are introduced (typically Amyloglucosidase), which break down some of the more complex starches/carbohydrates during the mash process. This allows the yeast to munch on sugars they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to and convert them into alcohol. The result is a very dry, fully-attenuated beer without much leftover sweetness.
Sierra Nevada’s Brut IPA is a perfect example of this. Malty notes are starkly missing and are instead replaced with crisp, clean, refreshing citrus flavors. Pear, tangerine, lemons, and grapefruit dance on the palate. Hints of pine linger at the back end.
Due to how dry and sparkling this beer is (accentuated by a high level of carbonation), you’ll be left wondering if you even drank beer at all after your last sip. The light body, medium alcohol level (6.2% ABV) and low bitterness make this an easy concoction to toss back at a warm summer event.
It will also pleasantly surprise even the most hop-hesitant of drinkers. And at $7.99 for a six-pack, it’s easy on the wallet, too.
Burton Baton – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery – Milton, DE
What happens when you take an American Imperial IPA and an English-style old ale (similar to a Barleywine), blend them together and then age them in Oak barrels for a month? Pure, boozy, delicious beer, that’s what.
Burton Baton is a beautiful mix of styles and flavors. Oak-aging takes what would have been a very hop-forward ale and turns it into something much more rustic, woody, and vanilla-laden. Honey-like and malty-sweet tasting notes are accentuated by oak and dark fruit flavors of figs and plums stemming from the old ale side of this brew.
Caramel, light floral and tobacco aromas, and a warming heat from the 10% ABV (well-hidden, though, and not abrasive) make this a beer to settle into a plush leather chair by the fireside with. There are also slight whispers of hemp and pine present from the heavy dose of hops used in the IPA side of the blend.
A thick mouthfeel and heavy body make this a brew to sip contentedly. This malty, hop-forward, wooden and vanilla menagerie of tastes is a tad on the expensive side – $14.99 for a four-pack – but well worth the cost. It’s a true winter-warmer of an Imperial IPA.
Two Hearted Ale – Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo, MI
With a hearty malty backbone and a robust hop profile stemming from a single hop variety – Centennial – Two Hearted Ale is a staple of the IPA world. It represents the highest-rated IPA of the American IPAs, with a perfect balance between fruity, resinous flavors and a healthy dose of bitterness.
Two flavors stand out significantly: grapefruit and pine. These are quickly followed by bready malts and a slight aftertaste of sweet honey. For as malt-forward as this beer is, it is very evenly contrasted by medium IBUs and a crisp, clean finish.
Put simply, this beer is the perfect representation of your everyday IPA that most beer drinkers tend to think of when they hear the style mentioned. And at $11 per six-pack, it’s the perfect, easily-affordable addition to that same beer-drinker’s fridge.
De Ranke XX Bitter – Brouwerij Brasserie de Ranke – Mouscron, Belgium
Belgian IPAs are not very common, but they have a unique flavor profile that deserves attention. XX Bitter is no exception.
Tons of Hallertau and Brewers Gold hops are added that give this ale a taste true to its name: bitter. But following that strong bitter taste are notes which are not common in other styles of IPAs.
Bready, toasty notes, bits of lemon and citrus, and a strong, spicy, phenolic character are prominent. This manifests itself in a yeasty, almost bubble gum flavor that is par for the course in Belgian ales.
Earthy floral notes hang around the edges, along with fruity esters that are also common in Belgian styles (typically created by a combination of that particular yeast strain and fermentation at higher-than-normal temperatures). These can include but are not limited to: peaches, berries, oranges, and apples. There is even a slight funky tartness that presents itself, but it’s subdued at best.
The beer has a medium body and a balanced level of carbonation. The finish is dry and bitter, coming full circle from the initial tastes.
The bitterness is not overpowering but is definitely indicative of the style that this beer represents. The brew clocks in at 6% ABV and is enjoyable to all but the bitter-sensitive palate.
At anywhere between $3.49 and $4.99 for an 11-oz bottle, it is also something which is meant to be drunk on special occasions. This is definitely one to place on the more bitter end of the spectrum of beers for those looking to sample the wide gamut of tastes available.
Blackheart – 3 Floyds Brewing Co. – Munster, IN
Blackheart falls back to the traditional English style of malty, very hop-forward ales. In this case, it also does that by sticking to only using English Malts (Simpsons), English Hops (UK East Kent Goldings and UK Admiral), and English Yeast. The beer is also aged on toasted oak to give it more of that “just came over in an oaken cask on a 19th-century British sailing ship” feel.
As is typical from many varieties of English hops, earthy, spicy, and slightly smoky flavors assail your taste buds right away with the first sip. The mouthfeel is heavy on the body.
Resinous, sticky, biscuity, and caramel notes can be picked up. Blood orange and citrus flavors are slowly replaced by wooden, oaken ones, and a sharply bitter finish rounds the entire sip out.
The beer is complex, with a variety of tastes swirling in suspension, and enjoyable to the last drop. It’s also definitely on the “Imperial” side, at 8.5% ABV, but there is little to no heat present from the higher alcohol levels.
If a punch in the face of hops and malt is what you’re looking for, that’s exactly what you’ll get in this bottle! You may have a hard time finding this one in your local grocery store. But if you do, it’d be well worth your hard-earned $8-$10 for a 750ml bottle of it.