(Cleveland, OH) – WUAB. What better way to celebrate National IPA Day than ranking some of the best India Pale Ales out there? Okay, maybe IPAs aren’t the drink of summer but, session IPA’s are and that’s close enough for me to merit writing a story. With the rise in popularity of craft beers which has incited such beer review services as Beer Advocate and Untappd, I decided to compile a list of the top India Pale Ales. If only I could write beer reviews as fast as I drink beers.
Sometimes, I feel like the craft beer explosion has made it easier for alcoholics to disguise their problems. It’s not a problem if it’s a hobby, right? And I’m not a drunk – I’m cultured and simply have an appreciation for different flavors, much like a wine drinker… Yeah… That’s right! I’m sophisticated and fancy like a wine drinker! I’m not some low-laboring slob crushing MGD’s the second the clock strikes 5 at some dive bar. I’m not an alcoholic – I’m a beer CONNOISSEUR, okay? There is a difference.
Whenever a guy tells me “I don’t drink IPAs” my respect for them immediately drops through the floor. A typical guy that finds IPAs “gross” probably finds a Mike’s Hard Lemonade “refreshing” or being caught drinking a Mike’s “not embarrassing at all”. Plus, IPAs are high in calories and nothing says “I’m a man” more than not caring about your weight.
What is an IPA and what makes it different from the run of the mill lagers and pilsners? I’ve considered myself quite a beer expert but, one day while shopping at Giant Eagle I came across a chart that laid out ales in the most simplified manner I’ve ever seen.
IPA stand for “I’ll Pop Anyone who tries to drink my IPA.” Seriously, look it up on Wikipedia. Basically, an IPA makes Coors like taste like bum piss in a can and I know you’re asking “Rick, how do you know what bum piss tastes like?” Well, lets just say I had a lot of failed kickstarter ideas and that’s one I’d rather forget.
A man used to impress a lady on a date by showing off his knowledge of fine wine but, women got smart and realized 90% of those guys were just creeps trying to act cultured in a broke ass attempt to seduce them. Now, a man of beer drinking knowledge comes off a little more honest, doesn’t he? He’s not a bummy college kid drinking Bud Light and he’s not some elitist snob aging his fine wines in a cellar. The IPA – a cultured beer drinker’s beer.
Craft Beers have revolutionized the US beer market within the last 20 years
Remember in the 1990s when all the US had was Budweiser and Miller? And the “good stuff” was beer that came across the border from Canada such as Molson and Michelob? I really do pity Gen X having to grow up in their 20’s with such a limited palate to enter the world of beer. My Generation wasn’t much more fortunate: I remember thinking I was a class act drinking Molson Canadian at a young age and that I was more sophisticated than my poor, blue-colored friends who were content with their case of Natty Light for the weekend.
My first passage into craft beer was when my brother in law had given me a Great Lakes Brewing Nosferatu and at that time, I didn’t like it. I also tried to play it cool acting like I wasn’t buzzed after one bottle but, I’d be lying if I said wasn’t almost drunk off of it. I just wasn’t ready for it. I was too young, my palate was used to Bud Light which I thought was delicious at the time because it was light. It also had a light saltiness to it which lead me drinking Peroni and then Stella Artois in college. I think of these beers as gateway beers as they bridged the gap from commons domestic beers into the world of craft beers. The point I am getting at is that your palate changes as you get older and try different things. Ever try to serve a 7 year old cavier? Chances are they much rather prefer a burger from McDonalds or Mac & Cheese as children’s palate are very narrow and not open to many things – whether they taste delicious or not.
2015 has seen an insurgence of session IPAs being released. Session IPAs are a logical transition for brewers as they offer the full bodied flavor with a sometimes high IBU but a lower ABV which allows them to be drank in succession on a long summer afternoon with friends or perhaps in a cold dark alley, alone – which ever you prefer. IBU stands for International Bittering Unit which is the bitterness measuring scale. ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume. An IBU is one part per million of isohumulone, an acid derived from hops. India Pale Ales and Imperial India Pale Ales are typically the most bitter of ales whereas Lagers and Plisners are less bitter.
And now beer drinkers can be just as smug as wine drinkers. We don’t use terms like “legs” for a beer but, we do have terms for describing the taste such as notes of “citrus, pine and booze”. Personally my favorite type of IPA has a citrus taste with a hoppy finish with little to no booze. For Session IPA’s I like tropical citrus notes with a lighter sweeter finish such as Stone’s Go To IPA and the the balance of 3 Floyd’s Yum Yum. For the following list, I limited it strictly to IPAs not just pale ales as the list would have been too obtuse. The list ranges from the light Session IPA, IPAs, Imperial IPAs (Double IPA’s) to even the rare Triple IPA.
If you feel I have wrongfully left one of your favorite pale ales off this list, feel free to send me a bottle and I will give an analysis of it… for educational purposes, of course. Now that I have completed my top 79 Pale Ales list, my next article will be on the top 50 Recovery programs in Ohio. Clear out my old room, Mom! Cause I’m moving back in!
79. Slow Ride IPA – 73/100 Very mild IPA just a tad bit hoppy. Hoppier than New Belgium’s Ranger which is not my type of IPA as it is much too muted and flat. This would be a good IPA for someone transitioning from lagers into ales.
78. New Belgium Ranger IPA – 75/100Now a lot of people are a fan of this IPA but, I am not. Its because it doesnt even taste like an IPA at all. This reminds of a lager minus the wheaty taste most lagers are guilty of. Simply put: this beer has little to no flavor which is the whole point of an IPA. IPAs typically have the most range and amounts of different flavors than any other alcoholc beverages (Triples, and Quads do as well). An IPA has so many characteristics and different flavors going on wheter simultaneously or individually.
77. Portside Distillery 216 IPA – 75/100 Flat with a wheaty after taste. This is another beer that reminds me more of a lager than an IPA as it has has strong notes of wheat as opposed to citrus and bitter hops than typically make up IPAs.
76. Heavy Seas Cross Bones Session IPA – 76/100 This beer had a lack of originality which many IPAs suffer from as the market has now become flooded with them. Not super hoppy, sweet or bitter but middle of the road in all 3 categories.
75. Coronado Islander IPA – 76/100
74. Boulevard Pop Up Session IPA – 78/100
73. Red Hook IPA – 79/100 Red Hook is one of the first “micro brews” opening back in the 1980s. At the time it was quite good because it didn’t have much competition but, in recent times this brewers ales have been succeeded by many new breweries.
72. Great Lakes Spaceman Belgian IPA – 80/100 I love IPAs and I like Belgians but, I have yet to have a Belgian IPA that I’ve enjoyed. I feel this beer has a very disjointed flavor to it, its starts off with an IPA taste but then drastically changes to a Belgian aftertaste that just leaves you with a strange finish that I find undesirable.
71. Stone Cali-Belgique – Beligio 83/100 has a bitter bourbon barrel aged after taste to it which I don’t care for. Not as boozy as ruin ten. The Belgian taste comes with the bitterness. More of a winter IPA than one that would come out in the summer. Bitter but not boozy which is notable for a 6.9 alc beer.
70. Rogue Black IPA – 80/100 This had a taste like a burnt flat coffee that had been sitting out and eventually cooled. Almost tasted like a muted stout as opposed to an IPA. Only had a sip & it was warm but not tempting to drink again.
69. Brew Kettle Black IPA – 79/100 Smokey flavored version of white IPA not as good. I highly recommend Brew Kettle’s White Raja
68. Great Lakes Sharpshooter – 80/100 As I got more into IPAs – I moved farther away from lagers and I finally realized why: I don’t care for the “wheaty” taste most lagers typically provide. I prefer the “hoppiness” of an IPA. This is the main reason Sharpshooter Ale failed me – it has too much of a wheaty taste and reminds me more of a lager than a session IPA.
67. Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Imperial IPA – 81/100 Pretty standard hoppy Ipa but, a little bit on the boozy side due to it being an Imperial. For me, a great Imperial IPA hides its booziness by having a good amount of flavor. This had the thick body of a typical Imperial but it’s taste was lacking.
66. Maumee Bay Amarillo Brillo – 82/100 Didn’t care for this ale as it was boozy and a little too malty.
65. Rogue Portland State IPA (Bike)
64. Red Hook Longhammer
63. Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp – 82/100 Hefeweizen taste citrusy ok
62. Red Rye IPA – 82/100 Dark chocolatey after taste with a hint of cocoa, reminds me of a Red Imperial Ale. I preferred Johnny’s IPA more as it had a refreshing sweetness to it.
61. Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter – 82/100
60. Lagunitas Day Time Ale – 83/100 – Citrusy and fizzy IPA consisting of a 4.6 % ABV. Almost has a LaCroix carbonated taste. Pours golden like a light Pilsner. Makes for an ok summer beer. Unique in the fact that I have never had such a hoppy tasting IPA with such a low ABV. I’ve never encountered one like it other than Founder’s All Day Ale.
59. Hoppin’ Frog Brewery Mean Manalishi Double I.P.A.
58. Rogue Yellow Snow IPA – 84/100 One of my first IPAs I ever tried. My first impression of it was very positive but, as more IPAs have swarmed the market, I realize this IPA is a little bit too syrupy and boozy for my liking. Still, a great IPA for cold weather. Somewhat boozy with a barrel aged taste but, not citrusy or fizzy at all. Not as good as stone Unapologetic IPA, more of a mellow barrel aged booziness flavor going on.
57. Pallate Wrecker
56. Stone Ruin Ten – 85/100 Very Boozy as this is the only Triple IPA on the list. I am a fan of dark heavy ales but this is a little bit too heavy for me. Take into consideration that this is only available in 22 ounce bombers so if you’re drinking by yourself (no one is judging you) this ale will probably put a hurt on you.
55. Great Lake’s Truth, Justice and the American Ale Session IPA[/caption] – 86/100 A Less boozy Commodore Perry that packs all the flavor and probably all the calories as Commodore Perry. It’s still feels a little heavy for a session ale. 3 Floyd’s Yum Yum is better. Just a tiny bit of bitterness in the after taste. Very thick and has that honey like thickness Commodore Perry is known for.
54. Elevator 3 frogs IPA – 84/100 Has a gasoline after taste but not that bad, has a strong red ale taste to it.
53. Brooklyn East India Pale Ale – 84/100
52. Dogfishead 61 minute – I like 60 minute and I love 90 minute. 61 minutes title is a little misleading as it lead me to think “Okay, they brewed it one minute longer than 60 minute.” But there is much more of a difference than that with 61 compared to 60 minute. The main difference being that 61 minute has a touch of red grapes added into it to give it an almost barleywine like sweetness to it compared to the straight up hop and booze of 60 minute. All 3 ales considered – I’d recommend them in this order: 90 minute, 60 minute, 61 minute.
51. 3 Floyds Arctic Imperial Panzer IPA – 85/100 It has a dark wheaty aftertaste that was very harsh after drinking the 3 Floyd’s Vagello (which I definitely recommend over this). Both good IPAs with two very distinct aftertastes. I gave this beer a second try and we ended up pouring out the remaining beer of the bomber it comes in. Would not drink again.
50. Stone Ruination – 85/100 Strong and on the boozy side, I recommend this IPA during colder seasons.
49. Moeb Johhny’s American IPA – 86/100 lighter sweeter IPA good for warm weather.
48. Waybacher Last Chance IPA – 86/100. It tastes like a light, bitter IPA. It’s bitter off the bat though & remains bitter through out. Almost reminds me of a bitter lager with the wheats taste. I give it a lot of points for uniqueness. Pours a dark orange with medium white head. A quite original IPA.
47. Sweetwater 420 I found this beer to be on the lighter, sweeter side. Not very unique but this is an IPA better suited to people just enterting the world of pale ales as it is not too bitter.
46. Heavy Seas Loose Cannon
45. Sierra Nevada IPA
44. Dogfishhead 120 minute – 86/100 Has a lot of burn to it almost like a liquor, pours a light orange and tastes like a barleywine in my opinion. I would label this an IPA that meets a barleywine with a vodka like afterburn. Doesn’t sound good, does it? So, why did I give it 86/100? Cause it’s impressive they pulled this beer off considering the high ABV (its roughly 18%). It’s been reported that contrary to most IPAs, this one actually gets better when you age it. It becomes more fruity with hints of apricot as opposed to the syrupy like body it has when freshly bottled.
43. Great Lakes Rye of the Tiger – 87/100 Plaquey light IPA. Not bad light but misses that citrus flavor I love so much.
42. Boulevard Pop Up Session IPA – 87/100
41. Avery Brewing Company IPA – 87/100
40. Dogfishhead Burton Baton – 87/100. Not citrusy, 10% but doesn’t get boozy until the bottom of the beer. The oak taste makes it much smoother. Not sweet, not boozy but a smooth, oaky hippiness to it. Not a fan of oak taste but still a good IPA. Would not buy again cause I don’t like oak flavor & its 10%
39. The Calling Double IPA – 87/100
38. Founders Double IPA – 88/100 I highly recommend this for people who want a super hoppy ale on a cold day.
37. Stone 2.0
36. Green Flash White Coast IPA
35. Brew Kettle White Raja IPA – 88/100 – tastes like butterscotch which I first described as caramel.
34. Founders All Day IPA – 88/100 Very dank and hoppy for a Session IPA. Shocked at how light, sweet and hoppy it was for a Session IPA.
33. Epic Brewing Escape to Colorado IPA– 88/100 Light, sweet citrus taste with a tiny touch of bitterness. Almost has a grape fruit like taste. Almost session like due to it’s lightness but still a 6.2% ABV.
32. Half Acre Daisy Cutter – 88/100 Pretty bitter, no citrus notes, has a carbonated fizz taste to it. Well balanCed, light in color dark yellow/light orange. Not as boozy as a Great Lakes Chillwave.
31. Southern Tier Unearthly Oak Aged – 88/100 I am not a huge fan of bourbon or scotch barrel aged beers so I prefer the regular Unearthly to this.
30. Southern Tier Unearthly
29. Half Acre Freedom of 78 – I try to visit Half Acre Brewery every time I am in Chicago. Granted this is more of a “store” like atmosphere than a brewery, they are putting out some of the best craft brews in the mid-west.
28. 21st Amendment Brewery Down to earth – 89/100 Light but not too sweet has an orange juice like consistency but not as sweet as fresh squished IPA. Light bitterness in the aftertaste.
27. Revolution Brewing Company Anti-Hero – 89/100 Revolution Brewing company was one of the brewers at the forefront of bringing “canned” beers back into style. The reason is that cans have actually become the best way to contain beer. Why? Unlike the cans of the 1990s – which were entirely composed of aluminum, todays cans actually have a plastic liner within the aluminum can, sealing the beer from aluminum contact until it releases the opening of the can.
26. Brew Kettle Imperial India Pale Ale – 89/100 Very sweet, flavorful but, not as flavorful as the Hitachino Orange peel. It has a non boozy, sweet flavorful taste kind of like a fizzy champagne that sticks on your tongue. Much better than Rogue’s Yellow Snow IPA.
25. Stone Unapologetic IPA – 89/100 Not as flavorful as Stone’s Collective Distortion IPA. Reminds me of a Bell’s Hopslam with a bitter after taste that lingers on your palate. Much more even and smooth than Collective Distortion which was very citrusy and boozy than flavorful. Unapologetic is just smooth and has a long lasting bitter after taste.
24. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
23. Half Acre Space IPA – 89/100 Earthy taste to it, darker and kind of malty for an IPA. Has a grassy sweet taste to it. Very unique. Probably would not buy again. Not as sweet or light as 3 Floyd’s Yum Yum Session IPA which I cannot say enough good things about.
22. Rogue Brutal IPA – 90/100
21. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA – 90/100 So far Deschutes has yet to disappoint me. If you’re a Stout drinker I highly recommend their Obsidian Stout. This is another IPA for the citrus fans. It packs a lot of flavor but, if you really want some mandarin flavor – check out Hitachino’s Dai Dai IPA.
20. Fathead’s Head Hunter IPA – 90/100 This is the North Olmsted’s brewer’s flagship beer. It really is well balanced from start to finish with just the right amount of hop and booze to it. This IPA is the beer that put Fathead’s on the map as it is rated within the top 10 of many IPA lists.
18. Bear Racer 5 IPA – 90/100 Good typical IPA with more citrus notes than hop which I personally prefer.
17. Stone/Kelly Hollingsworth Collective Distortion IPA – 90/100, Super Flavorful IPA, Citrucy, Boozy and hoppy, this beer is robust on every aspect. Could have been less boozy but still great, dark orange, floral citrus notes, a bit piney. I had it on tap served in a sifter glass with about a 3 finger of head. You’ll want to drink this one quick like any IPA as the citrus notes become muted with time and the flavor is then left to malt and booze.
16. Ballast Point Even Keel – 91/100 Delicious. I’d even say it comes close to Stone’s Go To IPA with it’s light sweetness, mild hoppiness, but no bitterness & no trace of booze. Not really citrusy but sweet.
15. Clown Shoes Space Cake Double IPA– 92/100 Very light and sweet but with a super grapefruit taste to it. Hard to believe it’s a Double IPA a it hides any trace of booze.
14. Dogfishhead 90 Minute – 93/100 wow I forgot what great beer this is. For some reason I find this beer much more enjoyable than 60 minute but you think it would be the other way around. Not citrusy not to piney and not even that boozy for an imperial IPA. Went down smooth & gave me w buzz
13. Hitachino Dai Dai IPA – 93/100 If you’re a fan of strong mandarin flavored ales – this is the ale for you. Not simply just citrus notes but, full on orange/mandarin flavor that punches you in the mouth.
12. Half Acre Vajello IPA – 93/100 Light champagny but, with a bitter, plaquey taste that stays on your tongue. Pretty mAlty. I liked this best out of the 3, probably cause of the lightness & bold bitterness. Super bitter all the way through, absolutely no booziness.
11. Ballast Point Dorado Double IPA – 93/100 has the thickness of a double but with A bitter not so sweet aftertaste. Not super hoppy, bitter or citrusy. I’d describe it as “piney and thick” would not buy again as double IPA are starting to become too heavy for me as U.S. This one. 10% so it’s too heavy for me. Thick but not over-bearing flavor. Almost muted with a lot of pine & a light boozy afterburn
10. Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA (Formerly known as Alchemy Hour) 93/100 Super citrucy with an almost mandarin orange like flavor but, packs some booziness as this Double IPA clocks in at almost 10% ABV.
9. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA/Habanero Sculpin IPA -93/100 Delicious. The Habanero version is brewed with actual habanero peppers as you could imagine. Really hot after taste that sits in your mouth well after you’ve drank it. The habanero spice blocks the bitter IPA after taste in a somewhat refreshing way. This would be great with smoked meats/cheeses.
8. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale 9.3
7. 3 Floyd’s Yum Yum Session IPA – 94/100 Sweet not super hoppy or boozy. Golden color little bit of hoppy ness. Bitter but in a light golden, non dark way. Has a somewhat fruity caramel front taste.
6. Great Lakes Brewing Erie Monster – 94/100 Lake Erie Monster to me, just narrowly edges out GLB’s Chillwave because its a tad less boozier and heaveier than Chillwave. It makes sense given that LAke Erie Monster is a summer seasonal release whereas Chillwave is late winter seasonal.
5. Stone Go To IPA – 94/100 Stone’s Go To IPA is one of the most versatile ales which is why I rated it so high. As opposed to heavy Double IPAs, this session IPA appeals to a larger crowd which makes it a more accessible ale. With tropical citrus notes this ale is surprisingly sweet and crisp while retaining some hop flavor. Neither super bitter or boozy, this is a perfect warm weather session IPA.
4. Bell’s Hopslam Ale – 96/100 The true beauty of Bells Hopslam is that it is a 10 % ale that does an excellent job of hiding the taste of the alcohol. It is somewhat boozy but, so well balanced you would not think it was 10%. Somewhat on the syrupy side; beware: it packs 300 calories per 12 ounce bottle.
3. Stone Enjoy By – 95/100 I first had this beer on tap and was blown away by how much flavor it packed. It is not just a citrcuy tasting ale but almost has a bit of tropical citrus notes with a slighy hoppy finish. This is an excellent choice for warmer weather as it is only 4.5% ABV and somewhat on the sweeter side whereas a darker, hoppier, boozier IPA such Burton Baton would be better suited for colder weather.
2. Epic Zombie IPA – 96/100 I was recommended this by a beer connoisseur at Winking Lizard’s Lizardville. This is one of the more unique tasting IPAs I have come across. It has a crisp sweetness to it which I find a surprise in comparison to the fact that it pours a very dark orangey, syrupy like consistency. This is definitely an IPA worth trying not only for it’s taste but its originality.
1. The Alchemist Heady Topper – 98/100 Some beers you find out by word of mouth and they never quite live up to the hype. When I heard that this one was rated 100 on beer advocate. I was lucky enough to have a east coast connection to get their hands on one of these for me. We refrigerated the beer than left it out of the fridge for about 15 minutes to bring it to somewhere around 50 degrees for optimal taste. Upon, first sip – I was not blown away, it had the typical notes of citrus and a little bit of booze without being too heavy. The interesting thing we noticed about this drink was as it warmed up and you drank more of it – the flavors – especially the citrus notes, became more pronounced. Around half way through this beer – it tasted much better than upon first sip. I have heard many people debate whether you should drink this straight from the can (as The Alchemist instructs on the very can) or you should pour it into a glass. The argument that was raised that if you are drinking it straight from the can – you are not releasing most of the aroma – which affects the overall taste. Similar to how wine drinkers smell wine before tasting or why people plug their nose when drinking $3 whiskey. Personally, I did not have 2 on hand to experiment, so the next time I am drinking Heady Topper – I will drink multiple cans of it and every way imaginable – in a can, in a glass, in 2 can beer helmet – to really bust the myth. I will be doing this strictly for scientific purposes of course.
Honorable mentions go to Pliny The Elder which is regarded as the best IPA in the world by many. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my grubby little hands on any for this list.