I can't claim to be perfectly neutral about IPA. The last few weeks have reinforced that there are some a number of top-notch IPAs made in California, beers I'd be happy to have take up cooler space if I were to find myself on a desert island. But my taste buds yearn for Oregon IPA.
It's a bit like Sam Sifton's Pizza Cognition Theory: My first craft beer epiphanies were all in Oregon, and for me, the ultimate IPA is Pacific-Northwest style. These beers lean more toward mandarin orange and grapefruit flavors than lemon; they're more fruity than dry, more resiny than malty. I'm not saying that all Oregon IPAs are the same, but tasting nineteen of them recently has affirmed that these hop-forward brews do tend to differ a little from their California cousins.
We could only get our hands on a limited number of IPAs from Oregon, and lots of East Coast shoppers can only find one or two. If you're lucky enough to have access to these beers, what do you think? Are there other Oregon IPAs that you love?
Serious Beer Ratings
***** Our new favorite **** Awesome, worth remembering *** We'd consider buying this again ** There are probably better options * No, thanks, I'll have water.
Ratings are subject to personal taste.
Our Favorite Oregon IPAs
Hopworks Ace of Spades Imperial IPA Portland, 9.5% ABV This aromatic imperial has intense resinous pine sap flavors, orange oil, mint, and lavender, as well as a punch of grapefruit. As we continued to taste, this beer revealed a hint of Earl Grey tea with honey. Tons of caramel malt helps to build body in this fresh and complex beer, which had Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennial hops added at four different stages during the brewing. A big beer, and a winner, for sure. ****1/2
Laurelwood Workhorse IPA Portland, 7.5% ABV This recently-released IPA pours a cloudy copper color, with a potpurri of dried orange, clove, and ginger on the nose. It's drinkable and juicy—the flavors reminded us of broiled grapefruit, brown sugar, rosemary, and mandarin orange. Malty creaminess balances out the marmalade bitterness. Fruity and delicious. ****1/2
Rogue Brutal IPA Newport, 6.5% ABV The recipe of this beer hasn't changed since it was called "Brutal Bitter," but it's closer to an IPA than and ESB in style. It has a malty/biscuity backbone and well focused citrusy hop flavors. This is a bracing beer, with lively, tiny-bubble carbonation, resiny grapefruit and pine flavors, and aromatic orange notes. It's not very sweet, and the balance tips towards hops, but it's long been one of my favorite readily-available beers. ****1/4
Bend Brewing Hop Head Imperial IPA Bend, 9% ABV This dangerously easy-drinking beer smells sweet, but has plenty of bitterness to balance the rich caramel flavors. It's impressively crisp, with flavors of orange-pineapple juice, apricot, and grapefruit. The finish is clean. Great beer! ****
Bend Brewing Elk Lake IPA Bend, unknown ABV This nicely integrated beer is a little fruitier and less bitter than the Brutal IPA, but has plenty of fresh-squeezed red grapefruit and orange juice flavor. It's drinkable, with a hint of fresh-cut grass and lots of caramel malt. ****
New Old Lompoc C-Note Imperial Pale Ale Portland, 6.9% ABV This richly malty beer has enough dry crispness to keep it drinkable. It's beautifully integrated, with heavy helpings of hops to balance out the toffee-like malt. Grapefruit and pine needles, caramel corn and raspberry—it's a tasty beer that several chose as their favorite of the Imperial IPAs we tried. ****
Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA Eugene, 8.8% ABV This floral- and lemon-scented beer is quite malty but dry, with a bit of tart green grape flavor, and a hint of lemon peel and vanilla tea. It's fresh and bright, with lots of flavor. The hop flavors lean more toward lemon than pine resin. ****
Full Sail Slipknot Hood River, 8.2% ABV While we usually like our IPAs more when they've warmed up a bit, we preferred this one served cool. It's dry and sour, with sourdough bread and a lemon peel bite, bitter orange, and green olive notes, grassy flavors and mineral crispness. The aroma is a little funky with an edge of smoked or cured meat. While some found this zesty beer too intense, others found it more interesting than any other we tried. ****
Hopworks Organic IPA Portland, 6.6% ABV With an aroma of red bell peppers, this beer manages to be both very fruity and quite dry. A burst of fresh tangerine, resiny pine, and sage make it fresh and crisp, drinkable with a bitter finish. There's a hint of slate and ash hiding there too. Portlanders, I hope you know how lucky you are to have this brewery local. ***3/4
Oakshire Watershed IPA Eugene, 7.1% ABV A telltale burst of resiny herbal hop flavor made one taster comment that this was a prototypical Pacific-Northwest style beer: "It's like grapefruit in the woods," he said. Fresh and balanced, with hints of orange tic-tacs and peppery mint. ***3/4
Deschutes Hop Henge Bend, 8.75% ABV This big beer has rich malty flavors: brown sugar and dulce de leche come to mind, matched with sweet, bitter fruit: orange marmalade, strawberry, and a bit of spice. While some found it a little sweet, there were quite a few fans among our tasting panel. If you're nearby, seek it out on tap; it's even better that way. (We're also big fans of the smooth malt-forward Red Chair NWPA.) ***3/4
Good Enough to Brave the Rain
Deschutes Inversion IPA Bend, 6.8% ABV For a standard year-round brew, this IPA is quite tasty. Fruity pomelo and broiled grapefruit dominate, with lingering candied grapefruit notes. While it's not quite as bright and resinous as some of the others, this is a very nice, drinkable IPA. ***1/2
Full Sail IPA Hood River, 6% ABV This well made IPA isn't mindblowing, but it's drinkable and even, with a bright, sweet grapefruit flavor and a clean finish. We smelled orange candy and even a little banana on the nose, and enjoyed the burst of mandarin orange flavor ***1/4
India Pelican Ale Pacific City, 7.5% ABV This IPA from the coast has an aroma of grapefruit, honey, and juniper branches. The flavor is floral and polleny, with a malty finish—some were reminded of pumpernickel toast. A sour hint of tonic water pleased some, but turned off others. ***
Ninkasi Total Domination Eugene, 6.7% ABV The scent of this beer is more caramel than hops, and some tasters noticed rye toast flavors, with hints of candied orange. Not our favorite of Ninkasi's offerings. ***
Widmer Deadlift Imperial IPA Portland, 8.6% ABV With honey on the nose and a rich, full body, this strong beer is a little too heavy for us to crave regularly. We tasted orange pekoe tea, as well as a hint of peach and mango imparted by the Nelson Sauvin hops. There are mandarin orange notes and a bit of bitter juniper, but as it warms, we get mostly sweetness and alcohol. ***
Golden Valley Brewery Chehalem Mountain IPA McMinnville, 6.1% ABV This dry beer is a little lighter in body than many of the others. It's very dry, with a hint of grapefruit peel and pith, coriander, orange, thyme, and caramel malt. **3/4
Widmer Broken Halo Portland, 6% ABV This beer has mellow notes of hay and rye bread. Though it has bittering hops, there isn't much citrus aroma or piney flavor. A little less interesting than the other IPAs we tried, but it's tough competition. **1/2
Bridgeport IPA Portland, 5.5% ABV This pale amber-colored beer is drinkable, crisp and dry, with bready malt and yeasty flavors. It has bittering hops but not much sweet citrus, though we did detect a hint of grapefruit peel and very dry pine. Serve it cold; it doesn't open up much as it warms. **1/2
Disclosure: All beers except the Rogue Brutal IPA were review samples.