Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My top 5 American IPAs

First of all, for those that have asked, pictures from Europe are coming, including a special feature on an amazing beer store I found in Amsterdam. I've had some trouble with my SD card, but I should be getting the photos up soon.

Based on the emails I received about the last top five beers entry, I decided to do another. American IPAs are far and away my favorite type of beer, and there are a number of incredible brewery's out there making great versions of it.

Here is the definition of an American IPA from Beer Advocate: "The American IPA is a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt backbone."

Most people are always intrigued to hear about the origins of this particular beer. Here's what my minimal research has told me.

IPA descends from the earliest pale ales of the 17th century. The term "pale ale" originally denoted an ale which had been brewed from pale malt, most beers before then were much darker and murkier. The October beer of George Hodgson's Bow Brewery was the world's first India Pale Ale. Bow Brewery beers became popular among East India Company traders in the late 18th century because of the brewery's location and Hodgson's liberal credit line of 18 months. East Indiamen transported a number of Hodgson's beers to India, among them his October beer, which benefited exceptionally from conditions of the voyage and was apparently highly regarded among consumers in India.

Demand for the export style of pale ale, which had become known as "India Pale Ale," developed in England around 1840 and India Pale Ale became a popular product in England. American, Australian and Canadian brewers manufactured beer with the label IPA before 1900, and records suggest that these beers were similar to English IPA of the era.

According to Wikipedia, stories that the additional hops used in order to help preserve the beer on the long trip to British Soldiers in India are false. While I do agree that it seems entirely possible for other beers besides an IPA to have made a four month trip to the subcontinent, I have to imagine that the IPA style was highly influenced from this trading/military route. A couple of facts to consider are 1. Hops are a natural preservative, 2. Alcohol is also a natural preservative and these beers had higher alcohol content, and 3. The long journey would allow for extra ferment time, making for a stronger and hoppier beer, especially if they were employing methods like dry hopping, which Hodgson was known to do.

Within the USA, there is a distinct type of IPA called the "West Coast IPA," which goes for a much more bitter, hoppy character than other IPAs, although the east coast brewed as many so called "West Coast" IPAs. The hops in West Coast IPAs tend to have a citrus, grapefruit or coriander flavor, as opposed to the wood and pine accents of some IPAs brewed on the United States' east coast.

And now, my favorites:

Russian River Blind Pig - It's hard for Russian River to do any wrong in my eyes. They brew big fresh hop and big tasting beers that are really unlike anyone else. The Blind Pig is no exception, and you can taste the freshness of the dry hopping.

Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA - For many years, this was my favorite IPA. It's incredibly well balanced and worth trying if you haven't already. Recently, I've noticed the beer hasn't been holding up as well, and I can't be sure whether that's due to a change on Anderson Valley's part or my tastes.

Bear Republic Racer 5 - Thank God for Racer 5. Seriously. In the past few years they've managed to get much better distribution and can be found in most bars around the SoCal area. It's a really well crafted beer, with enough hops for the bitter inclined and enough balance for non-hops lovers.

Port Brewing High Tide IPA - Probably my hands down favorite of all the IPAs on this list. It's a seasonal and can be very hard to find, but should become available sometime this winter. It's a beautiful ode to Simcoe hops and the citrus freshness is unparalleled.

Rogue Independence Hop Ale - Technically, Rogue classifies this as a Fresh Hop Pale Ale. But to me that has IPA written all over it. Hop lovers can rejoice with this one.

Others worth an honorable mention are Lagunitas IPA, Avery IPA, Victory Brewing Hop Devil, Deschutes Hop Trip, Alesmith IPA, Port Brewing Wipeout IPA, and Stone IPA.


Anonymous said...

What, why no Green Flash West Coast IPA or Firestone Union Jack, Ballast Point Sculpin, Alpine, or even Kern River Just Outstanding IPA? need to drink more me friend.

microbrewster said...

You bring up some excellent beers. At the time that I wrote this I had not tried Just Outstanding, which I think I can go ahead and say is currently my favorite single IPA.

I love Alpine, however, not sure which beer you're speaking of. Pure Hoppiness is amazing, however, it's a double. They have four singles including Duet (which is great), Nelson, O'Briens, and Sittin on the Dock of the IPA, but unfortunately, I haven't tried all of them.

West Coast IPA is decent enough, but they have a tendency to leave their kegs sitting around too long and you can really taste it. Union Jack and Sculpin are also both good, but just not in my top 5.

Part of the beauty of the wide spectrum of flavors you find in beer is that we all have our own preferences for taste, and I know certainly for myself, what I like is always evolving and maturing. If I wrote this post now, I'd definitely remove Hop Ottin and Racer 5 to replace with Just Outstanding and either Simcoe Single or Nelson Sauvin Single.

However, not sure what you mean when you say I 'need to drink more you.' I make it pretty strict policy to stick ales and lagers rather than human bodily fluids, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't heed your advice.

Thanks for reminding me of these great beers though!