The Best IPAs in America, Mostly

Jeffrey Wiser, August 16, 2016

We've all been asked the dreaded question: what's your favorite beer? I don't have any children, but I'd imagine it's like being asked which is your favorite offspring. Any answer feels like a slight to all of the others. Can I really say an oak-aged imperial stout? What about those IPAs? And what about those unique farmhouse beers that have pushed the boundaries on what a beer can be? No matter the answer, I'm never satisfied with my response.

Naturally, this bleeds right into any discussion of what the best beer is. Tasting is so subjective, and even if you know what you're doing, there's still a sliding scale of personal preferences at play. I like my beers to look a certain way, give off certain aromas and have a clear mission when it comes to taste. Complexity is one thing, being muddled is a different, and less desirable, one for me. But mouthfeel might be where I am the pickiest. Over the last year and a half or so, I've found myself really thinking about the way a beer feels on my palate, and to me, that's worth a lot. I'm sure you have your preferences, too.

This subjectivity makes any list of best beers a tall task and immediately open to scrutiny. But the bold try anyways, as Paste Magazine did recently when they released their top IPAs from a 247-IPA blind tasting.

They put out a call to brewers to submit beers for consideration, limiting breweries to two entries per brewery and only single-IPAs and variants were considered (i.e. red-IPA = included, double IPA = excluded). Unable to control for freshness and shipping, they did their best to evaluate all beers on equal footing, or so they said. In all honesty, any undertaking of this size is going to prove a challenge and we, the reader, have to give some leeway. 

We can glean some insights, however, from their list. Ranking all 247 beers would have been a massive chore, so like they did last year, they ranked their top 50. The Paste offices are in Georgia, so maybe there's some bias at play given what drinkers there can routinely get their hands on. Geographically, here's how it broke down as defined by the regions on our leaderboards:

 As you could have guessed, the Pacific Coast was a leader here, but the Northeast Coast was right on pace, closing the gap on the IPA bastion that has been the West Coast. Within these regions, there's a more striking breakdown if we divide by state. Here's how the state-by-state breakdown worked out:

With the Pacific Coast, there's just two states represented in California and Oregon. The Northeast Coast has a wider distribution between Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and more. It's a venerable "peppering" throughout the rest of the breakdown, with standouts in Colorado, Virginia, Illinois and others. 

I'm not an experienced taster of the IPAs hailing from the Northeast, so if there's a perosnal takeaway, it's to try to get my hands on some of those beers and others from that area. I've got a connection out there, so perhaps there's a swap to be had. 

In terms of what I have tried, here's a breakdown of the IPAs from the top 50 that I've consumed at some point.

I feel good having had 13 of the top 50, but there are a few in my region that I need to make an effort to run down. After reading the Top 50, however, I did manage to snag Fort George's collaboration beer with Melvin Brewing (WY) and Barley Brown's Beer (OR), 3-Way IPA. True to form, it did not disappoint.

  • Appearance: poured a hazy golden orange with medium foam and suspended particles in the beer (4.0)
  • Scent: notes of citrus, mandarin peel, pine and some floral aromas (4.25)
  • Taste: notes of pine, tropical fruit, mango, citrus, and hay (4.25)
  • Mouthfeel: medium-bodied, not overly sticky/syrupy, big bitter up front, finishes clean and smooth, almost wet (4.75)
  • Overall: a really, really nice collaboration here from three strong brewers, all of which I've drank in the past. The smell and taste are to be appreciated for sure, but the mouthfeel here puts it over the top as it refrains from being too thick without sacrificing its other characteristics (4.25)

As you can tell, I really like this one and it's not a surprise to me that it ended up near the top of the list. And if you're not seeing your favorite beers on the list, keep in mind that the sample was limited to what the rankers could either purchase locally or was submitted by breweries directly. I was looking for Beachwood's beers on this list initially, then realized they didn't submit a beer for examination. Same can be said for a number of fine breweries across the country. 

Love 'em or hate 'em, lists can be fun and should be taken with a grain of salt. I need to get my hands on these Northeast IPAs and judge for myself. That's half the fun. How many of the IPAs from the Top 50 have you had and which is your favorite? Have any insight to the differences between regions? Any glaring issues with this list? Leave your comments below!