You, my friend, are lucky to be living in the golden age of beer. Today there are more breweries brewing more varieties of beer than ever before. Oh, happy times indeed. In fact, the brewing industry has become so industrious as of late that now the choice before you on any given trip to the store (assuming you are going to a store where they sell beer and your intention is to buy beer) or tavern that you no longer choose merely between what type of beer you want, but which type of beer type! Does that make sense? No? It sounded great in my head.
Anyway! Our point has been well made. We are going to discuss five lovely beers today, all of them IPAs. That’s India Pale Ale, for those not in the know. The name comes from the fact that these brews were initially shipped by sea to Brits stationed in India. They were heavily “hopped,” meaning infused with various varieties of the hops plant while being brewed, to help them maintain freshness. It turns out that hops are also absolutely delicious. From necessity (which beer is) came a style! Here are five standouts:
5 Harpoon Breweries IPA
Harpoon Breweries IPA is sadly not available nationwide, but we all hope it will be soon. Most of the east coast can get it, though, and those on the west should simply travel more. This is another kind of “standard bearer” IPA, like the Sierra Nevada above it, but maybe a half-step down on the platform for a few reasons. At 43 IBUs, give or take, it is not quite as hoppy as an IPA should be. It’s closer to a strong (or “best”) bitters or a pale. But just because it’s not a crazy hoppy beer does not mean it’s not a damn fine one. It goes down easy, especially as it warms up in the glass. A fine beer for a moderate session on a cold night.
4 Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale
OK, technically Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is not, y’know, an IPA in name, but a rose by any other name, right? And as for a long time this was one of the only really decent pale ales around, it deserves recognition. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is remarkable almost in its lack of remarkability: it is exactly what a good pale ale should taste like. A great sharp bitterness as you take those first few, cold sips, a slight sweetness that opens up as the beer warms (but is never cloying) and a strong framework of bready malt character for the hops to perform atop.
3 Sam Adams
Sam Adams is about the most dynamic if the bigger brewers (note I don’t say “The Big” brewers) and they seem to get it right with almost every new brew they, er, brew. Latitude 48 is no exception. The concept is novel: the IPA is made using plural varieties of hops that grow at the 48th Parallel (“line of latitude”) as that seems to be the region where, globally, hops thrive. The result is a beer rich in notes of citrus and sweetness with a toasty finish.
2 Stone’s Ruination IPA
Stone’s Ruination IPA is that bowl you over, punch in the face beer that Pliny is not. It will take your taste buds, introduce them to hops, and then mash hops face against them repeatedly. The 7.7% alcohol by volume is almost entirely hidden by the well over a hundred rated IBUs of this beer. It is a great brew, but you will not be able to taste much else for a while after it, so make it your digestif or order the plain boiled potatoes.
1 Pliny the Elder
If you are someone who says you like IPAs yet you have never tried this beer, you are either just saying something to sound cool, or you are in for a huge, enormous treat. This IPA is amazing. Russian River Brewing Co. knocked it out of the park with this one. The 8% ABV isn’t kidding around but the alcohol flavor is blended seamlessly with the pine/citrus tinged 100 IBU (International Bitterness Unit) hops of the malt body, which rests upon a comfortable bed of malt. The hops are by far the beer’s defining feature, but unlike with some many “big” IPAs, they don’t bowl you over, they take your tongue along for the ride. Drink it when it’s as fresh as can be – the British didn’t wait weeks for their beer because they wanted to, y’know?