It may only be mid-March, but we’ve already tasted enough beer to start putting together a list of our favorites to date. (It helps that we steadfastly chose not to participate in Dry January. For, uh, journalism reasons.) And keeping in line with the trends on our favorite beer store shelves, a good number of those bottles and cans were IPAs.
Now, you could argue that the term “IPA” doesn’t even mean anything anymore, considering that the category now includes a broad swath of beers appended with qualifiers from Brut to Brett, clear to cloudy, fruit-forward to double-dry-hopped. As Anthony Gladman wrote in January, “The name no longer connected back to the ur-IPA, conceived in London and birthed in Burton. Instead it referred to something more nebulous, a shared hop-forward nature.”
But you could also argue that the loose definition of “IPA” has only energized creative brewers to push the boundaries of the style and devise new subgenres along the way. (Brut IPA, in particular, is one such successful example.) And perhaps it’s the constantly evolving taxonomy of the IPA family—and our evolving expectation of what a good IPA should taste like—that makes the category so exciting.
Below are some of our favorites of 2019 to date, a list we’ll keep on updating as we keep on tasting.
“This is as close to the ideal NE IPA as you can get outside of Vermont,” writes Jerard Fagenberg of Lamplighter’s double-hopped double IPA. “Lamplighter’s flagship sails on an ocean of juice,” he adds of Rabbit Rabbit’s irresistible citrusy notes of tangerine and grapefruit.
This one’s for the haze skeptics. “What separates Golden Nugget from other hazy IPAs is how that haze holds the light and accentuates the color of the beer. It’s cloudy, but not turbid, and could never be mistaken for a glass of orange juice,” says Tucker Anders. “It packs the citrus and tropical fruit flavors as well as aromas typically reserved for the most sought after hazy IPAs, all without neglecting the bitterness and balancing all that sweetness.”
Food-friendly and sessionable, North Coast’s Steller IPA drinks more like a bold pilsner than some of the zanier IPAs now on the market. As our reviewer Tom Thornton notes, “There are no gimmicks here, but rather a subtle and balanced IPA that leans just a touch toward sweet.”
It may only clock in at 4.5% ABV, but Firestone Walker’s Easy Jack has the depth of flavor and character of a much stronger beer. “Grapefruit, lemon, and orange mix with sappy pine and honey-like malt to create a complex balance between sweet, bitter, bright, and deep,” writes Tucker Anders. “Easy Jack has way more flavor and complexity than any 4.5% ABV beer should be able to achieve, striking the perfect compromise between flavor punch and drinkability.”
Somewhat skeptical of the Brut IPA trend, Tucker Anders was prepared to be unimpressed by this offering from New Belgium. As it turns out, he was wrong: “New Belgium clearly understood what makes the style so appealing. It’s dry, but not too totally void of sweetness. It’s hoppy, but with the right balance of flavor and bitterness. Add in the bubbly effervescence and grocery store-sixer price tag, it turns out the only bad things about New Belgium’s Brut IPA were my preconceived notions.”
Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s collaboration with San Diego’s Modern Times resulted in not only one of the coolest can designs we’ve seen recently, but also a beautifully balanced and near-perfect IPA. Jerard Fagenberg notes, “The New England-style IPA trend may calcify and fade, and drinkers may move on to new innovations, but Spirit Foul will remain as an emblem of the greatness the style can achieve.”
Stone’s collab with Aviation might surprise some, especially when it results in a botanical-forward DIPA that’s only on tap at Yard House. But those gin flavors of juniper and citrus play beautifully with some malty sweetness. “The combination of flavors is lively and refreshing—and rather easy to drink quickly,” writes Tom Thornton. “For an 8.5% double IPA, this drinks less like a oddball collaboration, and more like a crowd-pleasing brew that fans of many styles will enjoy.
Sierra Nevada made headlines when it announced that is would brew a beer in partnership with hundreds of other breweries that would benefit the victims of the Camp Fire wildfire in California. Our reviewer Nathan Matisse—who claims to not be a hop-head—tried two versions of the beer made by Austin breweries, and he was won over: “Resilience IPA had the perfect amount of hops for my palate. It’s slightly bitter, but each sip proves quite clean with a quick impact on the tongue and very little lingering aftertaste.”
With bold tropical aromas and a lot of haze, Bell’s Official is a “porch-pounding crowdpleaser,” writes Tom Thornton. “Bell's Official attempts to be many things to many audiences here, and the brewery has very nearly pulled it off,” he adds. “Ballparks, outdoor bars, and convenience stores should probably load up on Official—it's easy to like, and many drinkers will make it a fridge staple.”
Top photo courtesy of New Belgium.