There have never been so many good options to choose from at the beer store, whether you're drawn toward rustic, puckering sours, peppery saisons, or the wide world of lagers. Today's beer scene turns us all into kids in a candy shop when we spot a style, ingredient, or brewery we haven't seen before.
But there's one style that continues to hook us, even while we dabble with farmhouse ales and schwarzbiers on the side: the American IPA. The hoppy beers that first grabbed our hearts, shocked our tastebuds, and kept us coming back for more still offer a lot to love—and not just in the extreme. While we can't ignore the popularity of the double IPA, and the cult-like status around some of them—we're lookin' at you, Heady Topper and Pliny—the single IPAs available now are just as exciting.
Beloved breweries like Bell's, Lagunitas, Founder's, Surly, and Bear Republic have made a name for themselves on their IPAs, but other breweries are giving those guys a serious run for their money, experimenting with different hop varieties in recipes that come out clean, balanced, and loaded with flavor.
Now's the time to diversify your fridge collection and remember why you fell in love with IPA in the first place. Here are nine excellent beers to get you started.
Ale Asylum Ballastic IPA
If you don't live in Wisconsin or Illinois, you may not yet have had a chance to try beers from this Madison-area brewery. Ballistic IPA's flavor hovers somewhere between caramel maltiness and apricot flavors, making it pleasantly (but not overly) sweet and easy-drinking. A distinctly orangey note (thanks, Amarillo hops!) rounds out the core, with a bit of spice that gives this brew just the right amount of earthiness. If you're looking to convince a non-IPA lover of this style's joys, start with this beer.
What to eat with it: Pair Ballistic with a green curry, or serve it with fish tacos squeezed with fresh lime to bring out the IPA's citrus flavors.
Societe Brewing Co. The Pupil
There are plenty of reasons to make a beer pilgrimage to San Diego, but add one more: you must visit Societe Brewing Co. for a fresh taste of this knockout IPA. It's flavorful without being overwhelming, floral without being cloying, and light without lacking body. The fruity flavors really won us over; the Pupil is bursting with guava, grape, and grapefruit, thanks to a good dose of Citra hops. Unlike some beers, which smell better than they taste, the Pupil's flavor definitely holds up to its powerful aroma. It's a beer you won't be able to put down.
What to eat with it: Back away from the spice. Serve the Pupil with grilled salmon to complement, not overwhelm, such a complex brew.
Long Trail Brewing Company Limbo IPA
Seeing 80 IBUs on the label of an IPA almost immediately makes your mouth pucker in anticipation of big, bitter hops. But the Limbo IPA, from Vermont's Long Trail Brewing Company, is just as much about fruity crispness as bitter punch, calling to mind flavors of lemongrass and juicy orange, with a squeeze of sweet pink grapefruit. The secret? Australian Galaxy contribute this beer's unexpectedly tropical fruit flavors. Malt balance out what would otherwise a seriously bitter brew with a bit of breadiness and a silky-smooth texture.
What to eat with it: A California burger topped with guacamole. This IPA will cut right through.
Great Divide Brewing Company Lasso IPA
Titan may be the most recognizable IPA from this Denver brewery, but we're won over by its little sister, if you will. And we mean little—Lasso tops out at a measly 5 percent ABV and 50 IBUs. Lasso nails the hop character from the start: it's piney, slightly citrusy, and grassy, but not overwhelmingly so, and a little herbaceous, thanks to Centennial, Cascade, and Columbus hops. There's enough malt for balance and a bright, clean finish that makes this the ideal ultimate IPA to wash down a freshly grilled burger at your next barbecue.
What to eat with it: A big, juicy burger.
Uinta Brewing Company Hop Nosh IPA
You shouldn't drink your IPAs ice cold, and this beer shows why: as it warms, complex stone fruit flavors come out, like a spoonful of peaches atop the biscuity malt base. That malty side is balanced with piney hops and a touch of spice. With its refreshing finish, this is an easy drinker for a 7.3% ABV beer—be careful not to chug.
What to eat with it:: If you like it spicy, Hop Notch will latch nicely into the herbal side of a good Indian curry...and fan the flames a bit. Not a chili-head? Try this with a salad dressed with a citrusy fresh herb vinaigrette and candied nuts.
Ithaca Beer Co. Flower Power
Okay, this one isn't top secret, but it's so good we couldn't resist putting this IPA on the list, even if some of you are already fans. Ithaca Beer Co. hops and dry-hops its Flower Power five times throughout the brew with a blend of eight different hop varieties. The result: a big floral aroma and citrus flavor, with a dose of tropical passionfruit. This is no tiki drink, though: Flower Power still has its punch of pine and the bitterness you crave in an American IPA.
What to eat with it: Blue cheese, meet Flower Power: the beer cuts the bite out of pungent cheese. Not a fan of blue? Flower Power will amp up any spicy Thai noodles in your takeout order.
Thirsty Dog Citra Dog IPA
Citra hops shine all the way through this IPA, adding their signature guava, lychee, and stone fruit flavors from the first whiff to the last sip. But don't let those fruit flavors make you think 'sweet'—this IPA packs a not-kidding bitter grapefruity punch around its malty core.
What to eat with it: A melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork barbecue sandwich is the name of the game: the slight sweetness of the meat complements the maltiness of the IPA.
Maine Beer Company Lunch IPA
Just east of all the craft beer buzz in Vermont, Freeport, Maine's Maine Beer Company offers what they call an "East coast meets West coast" IPA. It's a complex beer: you're flooded with the scent and flavor of grapefruit and guava when you first bring the glass to your lips. But as the beer goes down, the flavors evolve toward the spicy and savory, balanced with plentiful malt. The result? A refreshing, not-too-bitter IPA that's great with food.
What to eat with it: Lunch! Well...the beer is actually named after a regional species of whales found off the coast of Maine, not the actual meal, but a grilled chicken sandwich topped with jalapeños is the perfect mid-day accompaniment to this brew.
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Meadowlark IPA
Pretty Things may be better known for its saison, but this IPA deserves a little more love. A copper-colored beer with a thick, bubbly head, it gets its grapefruit and passionfruit aromas from Citra and Galaxy hops and its intrigue—a teeny bit of smokiness—thanks to a little roasted barley.
What to eat with it: Pair the Meadowlark with something smoky and savory, like barbecue ribs, Kansas City style.
Note: Societe, Great Divide, Uinta Brewing, and Ale Asylum tasting samples provided for review consideration.
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