Distinctive and assertive, IPA is emblematic of the modern beer revolution. These hopped up ales reign supreme in craft brewing. India Pale Ale has transformed, evolved, and been re-invented continuously throughout its history. What was once a bitter, copper English ale, IPA is now a beer style – a movement even – with limitless boundaries.
IPA’s popularity has been explosive recently. Countless new breweries have opened up only brewing this style. Because of this, there are thousands of IPAs on the market today. It can be overwhelming and confusing to sort through all the options. We list our top ten favorite IPAs and explain what makes them amazing. We hope you’re inspired to seek them out!
The origin of India Pale Ale (IPA) is often attributed to British traders sending beer to India during their colonial presence in the late 1700s. Tales of hopped-up beer casks spending months at sea create romantic visions loved by beer marketers. The truth is, the history might not be as storied and fabled as it’s often made to seem.
We don’t want to get deep into the history here. What you need to know is that IPA originated in England as a pale ale brewed with extra hops. These hops provided an assertive bitterness and floral, herbaceous aroma and flavor. Over the years, the style’s popularity and definitions have fluctuated. It wasn’t until the American craft beer revolution in the 1990’s that IPA began its rise to world-dominance.
At the beginning of the craft beer boom, American curiosity started to push the limits of what an IPA could be. In the early ‘90s, homebrewers and professionals alike started brewing with more and more hops. With the proliferation of citrusy hops, like Cascade, from the Pacific Northwest, IPAs started to become fruitier. The balance of aggressive bitterness and aromatic, fruity hop character clicked with consumers. This modern style of IPA quickly gained nation-wide and international success.
This constant experimentation has caused certain trends within the world of IPA and has helped redefine the style to what it is today. American IPA has more or less taken over the general moniker of IPA. And even within IPA, there are West Coast and New England extremes. A West Coast IPA is typically a clear golden copper color with assertive bitterness and citrusy, piney hops. A New England IPA is normally an opaque, hazy yellow-orange with more tropical and juicy flavors. West Coast IPAs are dry while New England versions are softer, and creamier.
We think the best IPAs embody elements from both of the extremes and the best brewers know how to blend styles to brew the greatest beer possible.
Generally speaking, an IPA should range from a pale yellow to an orangey amber. They can be either clear or opaque. West coast IPAs tend to be clear while New England IPAs tend to be hazy. Admittedly, these days, the lines are blurred. Bitterness ranges from assertive to restrained.
The unifying factor of all IPAs is the prominent hop character, both in aroma and flavor. Alcohol content should be between 5 to 7% ABV. Anything above or below is generally considered “session” or “imperial/double” respectively.
IPA is a broad style. Ranging from extremely bitter to very sweet, from herbal to juicy, from citrus to stone fruit, India Pale Ales aren’t easy to box in.
There are a few factors that separate a normal IPA from the world’s best.
If you drink a lot of hoppy beer, you know that all breweries tell you to drink the beer as fresh as possible. IPAs are definitely best when consumed fresh. Due to the quantity of hops packed into a modern IPA, they’re susceptible to oxidation. This causes the beautiful hop character to spoil, making the beer taste cloying and stale. The best breweries know how to limit oxygen exposure but it’s still advised to drink IPAs within the first 2 or 3 months after packaging.
IPAs can be hazy or crystal clear. The color should be bright and inviting. Any brown-tinged beer is usually a sign of oxidation. Along with destroying hop character, oxidation also causes browning of beer. Much like an apple will oxidize and brown when sliced, hoppy IPAs suffer the same fate when exposed to oxygen.
There are about 150 different varieties of hops in the world. Each with their own unique characteristics that can provide a huge range of aroma and flavor in beer. A great IPA should amplify the characteristics of the hops used. Whether it’s citrus, tropical, or dankness, IPA should be bursting with hoppiness.
Malt and yeast derived flavors also play a huge contribution to aroma and flavor of great IPAs. The malt needs to work in harmony with the hops to provide a strong backbone to ensure the IPA is balanced. Brewers also have a range of choice with yeast selection. Fruity yeast strains can be used to make IPAs juicier and fruity. Neutral yeast strains can be used to let the hops and malt shine on their own.
Mouthfeel is how the beer feels in the mouth, across the tongue, and as it passes down the throat. IPA should be full-bodied to balance hop bitterness. However, they should not be cloying. Sweetness on the tongue is desirable but overly sugary or syrupy beers become heavy and take away from the hop character. A dry finish is desirable to keep you coming back for more, sip after sip.
Brewing IPA can feel limiting to brewers. How can they differentiate their beers by using the same 4 ingredients as everyone else? The greatest IPA brewers use what they have, and use it to their advantage. It could be a unique water profile, a proprietary house yeast, or a secret ingredient or process. The best IPAs come from creative brewers who know how to control their system.
Here are 10 of the best IPAs in the world. We selected these IPAs with a focus on flavor. But also on the beer or brewery’s influence on IPA in general.
Hype and trends come and go. These beers are timeless, elegant, and game-changing.
Blind Pig is a classic. Originally brewed at the Blind Pig Brewing Company, in Temecula, California, Blind Pig IPA is now a staple at Russian River Brewing Company. Vinnie Cilurzo developed this beer in the mid-1990’s when he owned and operated Blind Pig Brewing. After that closed, he moved on to work at Russian River and brought the delicious Blind Pig IPA with him.
This is the benchmark for West Coast IPA. Dry and assertively bitter, yet balanced with citrus, pine, and fruitiness from the Simcoe and Amarillo hops. A snappy carbonation makes Blind Pig IPA infinitely drinkable, refreshing, and delicious.
Other Half has grown into the most important brewery in New York City. Founded in 2014, they set out on a mission to make great quality beer with high drinkability. Their early beers were heavily hopped, bitter, and juicy. Over the years, their style has evolved but they have always been committed to getting the best out of hops.
Hop Showers is the most accurate name a beer could ever have. Imagine standing in a downpour of fruity, tropical, citrusy hops. This beer engulfs you. Brewed with Ahtanum, Amraillo, and Citra, this American IPA drenches you in citrusy, juicy, dank hops.
Other Half has many great IPAs. They release two or three a week all worthy of waiting in line at their Red Hook brewery. Hop Showers is the original, the spark that lit their flame, and our favorite.
As our first IPA from New England on the list, Bissell Brothers’ The Substance Ale isn’t a typical NEIPA. Balanced, bitter, pungent, and dank, this 6.6% IPA toes the line between juiciness, bitterness, and herbaceous hoppiness.
Bissell Brothers have an attention to detail and pursuit of excellence that’s second to none. The Substance Ale is a product of years of iteration, experimentation, and neuroticism in seeking the ultimate hoppy beer.
The mix of fruity and dank hops propped up a full and malty body are allowed to shine by the use of a neutral american yeast. We can’t get enough of this beer.
Often standing in the shadows of the world-famous Heady Topper, The Alchemist’s Focal Banger deserves an equal share of the spotlight. Sitting at 7% ABV, Focal Banger is bursting with bright, tropical flavors from the use of copious amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops. Brewer and owner John Kimmich is a hoppy beer-guru and has been an inspiration for many modern IPA brewers.
Focal Banger is so delicious, refreshing, and drinkable. We’re all lucky that The Alchemist expanded their brewery in Stowe, Vermont. We can be graced with more cans of this delectable lupulin-infused concoction.
Tree House sits at the top of the IPA world, relentlessly brewing outstanding beers from their Massachusetts brewery. The king of NEIPA, Tree House is tight-lipped about their recipe and process, but their beers have shaped modern IPA.
Julius is an enigma, mysteriously juicy, yet definitely bitter. Bubblegum bounces off orange juice and hoppy dankness. A malt backbone strong enough to let all these fresh hop flavors shine but not exactly take centre stage. Vanilla, orange sherbet, and stone fruit notes are there too, likely driven by the yeast.
This beer is one of the most sought-after IPAs in the world and represents the pinnacle of NEIPA. There isn’t much more to add that hasn’t already been said about Julius. World class.
Bell’s Brewery is a staple in the Mid-Western brew scene. Around since the early ‘90s, Bell’s has grown into a giant of global craft beer all while staying independent and family owned.
Two Hearted Ale is a 7% ABV American IPA brewed with 100% Centennial hops. Pouring a hazy golden orange, this beer is bitter, piney, citrusy, and floral. A simple grain bill including a little bit of crystal malt helps balance this beer. The freshness of the Centennial hops lingers long after each sip.
Great Notion is known for their New England IPAs – quite a feat for these Oregonians. Taking West Coast IPA traditions and mixing it with the juice-forward ways of the North East, Great Notion offers a beautiful NEIPA in Juice Jr.
Mosaic hops play double duty to provide a tropical juiciness balanced with a lingering bitterness. Notes of passionfruit, lychee, and tangerine plow through the soft and luscious body. Juice Jr is easy to drink at 6% and maintains it’s refreshing, yet complex, profile.
This brewery’s quick rise to the peak of the IPA-world has been fascinating to watch. They never disappoint in bringing the best out of the hop plant.
Long time Tampa Bay brewers Cigar City have been brewing world-class beer since 2009. Located in the Sunshine State, Cigar City knows how to brew a refreshing and thirst quenching beer.
Jai Alai IPA is complex, with notes of orange and tropical fruit, but refreshing and drinkable. With an alcohol percentage of 7.5% ABV, this is at the absolute limit of an IPA. But it drinks so smooth you’d think it was way lower! We love the balance of caramel malt, citrus, and firm, assertive bitterness. A perfectly brewed, timeless IPA that can pair well with anything from a hearty meal to lounging on a Florida beach.
Trillium invented the DDH term or at least made it mainstream. If you don’t know yet, DDH means double dry-hopped. As in, hops are added to the fermenter at two different stages. DDH-ing makes an extra fruity and juicy hop character explode out the glass in an IPA.
In DDH Congress Street, some of Australia’s finest Galaxy hops are used to amplify notes of mango, guava, and grapefruit. Lucious, fruity, and resiny hops float across the tongue on the soft pillowy body. Juicy and pungent, with restrained bitterness, this beer’s textbook New England and a damn fine IPA.
Tired Hands is a quirky small brewery out of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. They’re famous for their experimentation, rule-bending, and quality mindset. They are also one of the pioneers of the Milkshake IPA. Those super creamy and sweet IPAs with lactose and over-the-top fruit additions.
Their love of texture and mouthfeel might explain the delicious Alien Church IPA. Brewed with malted barley and plenty of oats, this New England IPA is as smooth as they come. Hazy, juicy, and pillowy, this beer can hardly contain the tropical and fruity American hops. As soon as you pour the beer, the room fills with smells of freshly squeezed orange juice and sun-ripened kiwi. The flavors match the aroma, taking this NEIPA to extraterrestrial levels.
You may notice that IPAs can be pretty pricey. Hops are very expensive. The quantities of hops brewers are using in modern IPAs is staggering. In order for breweries to make money, they need to charge a lot for their IPAs.
Currently, the demand for hoppy beer is high, so by nature of supply and demand, prices may also be extra premium. Especially in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, prices are even higher.
Oxygen deteriorates hop oils in IPAs. Even the best canning and bottling systems can’t eliminate all oxygen ingress. This oxidative reaction causes stale and undesirable flavors in IPA. It’s best to drink IPA within 2 to 3 months of the packaging date and to always store it cold.