Ask a Cicerone: What's the Best Hoppy Beer?
Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. Curious about beer certifications? Read more here.
As we tasted our way through many, many beers to pick favorites from all 50 states, we found awesome Imperial stouts, pilsners, and sours. But we were also struck by how awesome the hoppy beers were from all around the country. There's a lot of good stuff to enjoy.
This week, we ask our crew of beer experts about their their favorite IPAs and other hoppy brews. What's the best hoppy beer on the market today? (We told them to try to think of options beyond our beloved Pliny and Heady Topper.)
Here's what they had to say.
"These days, there's a slew of breweries making great IPAs. Sure, there are cult classics like Pliny and Heady Topper, but there are plenty of other phenomenal beers out there that you can get regularly and reliably. It's important to remember that as a beer ages, the first thing to go is hop flavor and aroma, so to make sure that you're getting the freshest IPA possible, drink beer brewed nearby and always check date codes. Some of my favorites in the midwest include Surly Furious, Founder's Centennial IPA, and of course the eminently drinkable Bell's Hopslam."—Pat Fahey (The Cicerone Certification Program)
"Resin from Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewery. The name is bang on, because as soon as you open the can, the beer exudes a massive resiny, sticky hop aroma. The flavor follows through, with lots of pine, citrus, and tropical fruit notes going on. What makes this beer different than some other beers like it, is that it has a chewy malt backbone that some IIPAs wouldn't even know existed. The beer is 103 IBU and for how intense the hop aroma and flavor are, it never seems too bitter or out of balance. I'm also still a sucker for Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I don't drink it that often anymore, but every now and then when I go back to it, I'm reminded of how good it really is. A classic."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)
"One of my current favorites is made by arguably the most talented brewer in New York State. Jeff O'Neill at the Peekskill Brewery created the Higher Standard, a Triple IPA that has been dry hopped twice with Simcoe and Citra varieties. This stunning example displays all the hallmarks of an exquisite beer—balanced, bursting with orange and other citrus flavors backed by a firm malty backbone, and definitely having one want for another. If you have the chance to sample it, consider yourself an extremely lucky beer drinker."—James Tai (Pinch)
"If you're lucky enough to be in a state where Cigar City distributes, you already know that their entire lineup of hoppy beers is world class. Their delicious new Invasion Pale Ale is dank and piney with a hefty caramel backbone. Their famous Jai Alai IPA, when fresh, absolutely bursts with tropical fruit. It's the sort of IPA I love, where the brewer packs a massive amount of hop flavor and aroma into the beer without burning my tongue off with a crazy IBU count. Finally, my very favorite of the bunch is their White Oak aged Jai Alai IPA. It's available year-round in four pack and adds toasted coconut and oaky vanillins to the regular version."—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)
"Founder's All Day IPA has a pronounced grapefruit hop aroma and flavor and at 4.7% ABV, you can drink it all day! On the other end of the spectrum, Pizza Boy's Palate Mallet DIPA is a whopping 11.9% ABV, but despite the high alcohol, is very drinkable. The amazing balance of citrus and piney hops may wreck your palate, but it's worth it."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)
"Hop flavor and aroma tend to be the first characteristics to dissipate as a beer ages; because of this, the best hoppy beers on the market today may be the ones which travel the shortest distance from the brewery to your hands. A fresh IPA from your favorite local brewery is going to beat out a six month old Pliny any day of the week. My personal favorite IPA here in Portland would be Gigantic Brewing's IPA. Gigantic utilizes Simcoe, Cascade, Centennial, and Crystal hops to create a huge, citrus forward IPA borderlining on imperial."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)
"As far as limited release hoppy beers go, there is really nothing quite like Bell's Hopslam. This double IPA is not as bitter as some, probably in the 70 IBU range rather than the 100+ club. Where it shines is in hop aroma and flavor due to what must be a massive Simcoe dry-hopping. This gives the beer a luscious grapefruit and peach quality which sits well on top of the light yet sweet malt bill which is fortified with honey. The beer comes out once a year in midwinter and helps brighten an otherwise dreary season (until you run out and depression sinks in). If you can't get Hopslam, there are plenty of year round offerings that I adore like Bell's Two-Hearted. Firestone Walker Union Jack and big brother Double Jack are my favorites from the West Coast along with Stone IPA and Ruination which never disappoint."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)
"In my market, Cellarmaker is really raising the bar when it comes to hoppy beer. As far as I know they have yet to repeat a specific recipe but they consistently produce aromatic pale ales, IPAs and DIPAs with exotic hop varietals that are lean, bright and packed with abundant hop flavor and aroma. We have poured Cellarmaker ales that showcase American hops, New Zealand Hops, Australian Hops, and South African hops. Tim, the Cellarmaker brewmaster, has a knack for muting the fermentation character of his ales, which really serves to bring the aromas of the various hop varieties to the forefront. We literally have customers who come and without looking at the menu just say 'I'll take whatever is new from Cellarmaker.' That is a remarkable achievement for a brand that's less than four months old."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)
"You can do no wrong with anything made by Firestone Walker. Whatever level of hop intensity you prefer, they have it covered from their mellow and balanced Pale 31 to the classic citrusy, bitter Union Jack IPA, to their intense hop bomb Double Jack. They even make a black rye IPA called Wookey Jack. The brewery is in Paso Robles, California and they don't only brew hoppy beers but consistently, their hoppy beers are fantastic. I'd put them up against any of those big beers with a cult following, plus they're much easier to get your hands on."—Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
"My three favorite IPAs have remained the same over the years: My three favorite IPAs have remained the same over the years: Lagunitas Brewing's A Little Sumpin Sumpin is a great wheat APA for those who are still a little afraid of 'bitterness'. Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA is a fruity brew with a spicy, piney punch of hops that beautifully lingers on the back of your tongue. Ladyface Alehouse's Chesebro IPA is an imperial IPA with a full malty body and that intense zesty grapefruit bitterness we've come to love from West Coast-style IPAs. These were my introductory beers into the craft world, and they will always have a special place in my heart. And fridge."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)
"Ballast Point Sculpin IPA has that classic 'West Coast' nose with its mix of citrus and pine that has become an unmistakable trademark of the style. The best part, you can actually find it in stores! The other hoppy beer I was a huge fan of from 2013: Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. Deschutes puts the Citra hop to its best use in this one. The hop profile is super juicy, as the name implies, and refreshing. It's an outstanding IPA with a wonderful hop aroma and flavor. I'm looking forward to it coming back in 6-packs later this year."—Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer and Columbia Distributing)
"My favorite new hopped up release of 2013 was Stone Enjoy By IPA. This Imperial IPA is worth seeking out wherever you can find it and Stone's clever branding ensure that you'll be able to drink this beer at it's freshest. In my opinion, nobody is making better hoppy ales than Alpine Beer Co. Each of Alpine's IPAs have a unique and distinctive flavor profile. Their Duet, Pure Hoppiness, and especially Nelson IPAs are among the best I've ever had the privilege of drinking."—Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)
What's On Your List?
What are your favorite hoppy beers? If you could have a fridge magically stocked with any hoppy IPA or pale ale you wanted, what would you choose? Tell us in the comments below.