The India Pale Ale is one of my favorite types of beer. Even before I was familiar with what constituted an IPA, I found myself drawn to the variety. There strength, hoppy profile, and deep down satisfying taste are what makes them so appealing to me. And it doesn’t hurt that they have a long and proud history behind them.
Falling into the broad category of Pale Ale, British brewmasters began making this variety of beer back in the early 19th century specifically for export to India. In order to keep on the long voyage from Britain and the Maritimes to India, the beer had to be stronger than usual, have a higher hop content, and be tasty when served warm.
Centuries later, brewmasters all over the world are still dedicated to the creation of this historic style of beer. And with the explosion in craft brewing in recent decades, countless versions of this beer are now available for discerning beer drinkers and the adventurous alike. From my own experience, the following ten brands offer the greatest bang for your buck:
- Scotch-Irish Sergeant Major’s IPA: From the brewery that taught me about IPA’s, Scotch-Irish is a purveyor of a wide array of traditional British beers. And when it comes to their IPA, it is quite frankly bang on, delivering an ale that is malty, floral, hoppy, citrusy, and packs quite a punch! Years later, I still enjoy this beer and am reminded fondly of beerfest, Ottawa and the many pubs I would enjoy it in.
- Dogfishhead 90 Minute: Esquire magazine said of this beer that it was “possibly the best IPA in America.” They could very well be right. Made by the good folks at Dogfishhead, a brewery renowned for producing kick-ass beer, this IPA delivers in more ways than one. Crisp, clean, hoppy, with a delightful aroma and a lingering, bitter finish, it is both faithful to the tradition of IPA’s and a testament to American craft brewing.
- Rogue Yellow Snow: I feel like I’ve been raving about this one a lot lately, but that’s probably because it keeps making it into my “best of” lists. And when it comes to IPA’s, this beer is definitely one of the best around, in my estimation. The name itself refers to the color, an opaque golden hue that is accompanied by a golden taste. A floral nose, crisp, refreshing, a bitter palate, notes of citrus and a deep lingering hop finish make this beer a top contender. It is in part because of this beer that I like Rogue beers as much as I do.
- Four Winds IPA: The latest newcomer to this group, this IPA had all the assets of an IPA without being overwhelming in terms of malts or hop bitterness. Rather than being overly sweet or loaded with bitter, citrus or tropical hops, it is at once crisp, and has a nice balance of citrus, grass, pine and herbal notes, and all the while remaining very drinkable and refreshing.
- Red Racer IPA: This is a recent addition, and the result of both a chance encounter and a ringing endorsement. Needless to say, this beer must have been pretty spectacular to make me revise my top ten list! Characteristic of a West Coast IPA, this beer is a rich amber hue, possesses a strong and floral hop aroma and packs some serious taste into its profile. Beginning with viscous malts which give way to citrusy hops that are highly reminiscent of grapefruit and finishing bitter, it has everything a great IPA should, including a respectable alcohol content (6.5 % alc/vol)
- Hoyne Devil’s Dream: A recent discovery, and one which is making several best of lists simultaneously, it seems. After drinking this, I found myself drawing comparisons to other IPA’s that are brewed her in the Pacific North-west and just happen to kick ass. Like them, it possessed all the requisite characteristics, being crisp, floral, citrusy and hoppy, but also balanced these out with some tawny malts. As I’ve said before, one does not expect strength and subtlety from an IPA, but this one manages to deliver both!
- St. Amboise IPA: When I first saw this beer in a local liquor store not that long ago, my first thought was “it’s about bloody time!” For years, I had been hoping that the makers of my favorite pale ale would make an IPA, so when they finally got around to it, my expectations were predictably high. And yet, the clever folks at McAuslan brewery still managed to surprise me. In terms of hop character, this IPA is definitely one of the smoothest and well-rounded beers I’ve ever tasted. When I first drank it, I was immediately impressed by a palate that was citrusy, bitter, yet multi-layered and well balanced by dark, tawny malts. Congrats, McAuslan! You got it in one!
- Driftwood Fat Tug: Another local great and a contender for a spot of my best beers of all time list. Like a good Pacific IPA, this beer boasts a good hop nose, strong malts, and a deliciously hoppy palate that has discernible grapefruit-like characteristics. Though it did not make my list of “best beers of all time” (by a hair, mind you), it is definitely a worthy candidate for the category of best IPA.
- Pike Cask Conditioned IPA: The Pike Place Brewpub is an institution in Seattle, and for those who fortunate enough to dine in at this establishment, there are a range of additional beers available for the discerning zythophile. For me, it was the cask-conditioned version of their IPA, which brought a new level of “real ale” taste to what was already a lovely brew. So in addition to its semi-sweet malt backbone, it has a strong hop presence, which was nevertheless more subtle than usual, and distinctly dry. The low carbonation also provides a smoother taste and finish to it, accentuating the hop flavor.
- Ninkasi Total Dominion IPA: Brewed in Eugene, Oregon, Ninkasi is appropriately named after the Sumerian goddess of beer and brewing. And of their regular lineup and seasonals, this beer proved to be my favorite, combining semi-sweet, varied malts, with a bitter citrus bite and hints of tropical fruit (I detected passion fruit and pineapple). An excellent example of a Pacific Northwest IPA, and definitely one of the best IPAs I’ve ever tasted.
Hart Dragon’s Breath: The first true IPA I ever drank, though I did not know it at the time. Back when Hart was in operation, it was a favorite amongst the good folks at Carleton University, especially in the grad students pub (Mike’s Place). Already, I was a fan of anything Hart brewed, but I was also impressed with the smooth, hoppy and well-rounded of this particular beer. Like the many I’ve enjoyed since, this beer was a deep amber hue, had a deliciously crisp and strong taste, and a long, bitter aftertaste that was balanced out by notes of citrus. I wish they were still in existence, but as the Hart brewery is no longer with us… Still, this beer remains one of the best I’ve ever had!