Without IPAs, the modern craft beer industry would look a whole lot different.
The India Pale Ale style has evolved numerous times since the dawn of the craft era, and most expressions no longer come close to resembling the original, meant-for-long-sea-journeys-because-water-would-kill-you English-style IPA. And since IPAs are essentially the opposite of macro lagers, in part driving the growth of the industry, it’s understandable that IPA is nearly synonymous with craft beer for non-craft beer drinkers.
With more than 6,000 breweries in the U.S. and almost everyone taking at a crack at the IPA, there’s no way any one drinker can try them all, but there are a few worth tracking down and trying. The Manual’s last list of IPAs to sip right now included Other Half, Tree House, Russian River, Revision and Offshoot.
With the insane amount of IPAs on the market, we decided to expand the reach a little bit, including some new, some old, but altogether incredible IPAs available. There’s a load of hyped IPAs on the market that are worthy of being on this list, but a good balance of old and new is ideal. Sometimes it’s important to return to appreciate those IPAs that helped set the stage for the beers that dominate the hype today.
Here are some of the best IPAs to drink right now. (And we mean right now; remember to drink IPAs as fresh as possible.)
Two Hearted IPA
Nowadays, the IPA category is giant; 30 years ago, the American IPA was still a novelty. Few have been able to define the subcategories of the style like Bell’s Two Hearted, but the Midwest has its own special balanced IPA style in part because of Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery. Any Michigander lets out a sigh of relief when they’re out of state and see Two Hearted on a beer menu. Two Hearted has been a gateway beer, despite its relative extreme stature compared to light lagers, for many beer lovers. The beer must be special when it’s continuously named to the top of the Best Beers in America list by America’s homebrewers.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Firestone Walker continues to make some of the best beers in America and despite its growing size, still manages to put out new beers that are worth picking up. Luponic Distortion has been one of the best series of beers exploring what hops can do, and now Firestone has jumped into the haze game. With Mind Haze, Firestone brewer Matt Brynildson went to Germany instead of New England for the haziness. To get the haze and creaminess, Firestone uses wheat and oats, like the classic German weizenbock.
Maine Beer Company
Is there anything better than a beer named after a meal? Not a whole lot if there is. It helps Maine Beer Co. makes really tasty beer normally, but Lunch has made waves across America, even though it’s not super widely distributed. The incredibly clean labels are attractive no matter your aesthetic preferences, which is awesome. Diving into the beer, the Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe hops contribute an awesome mixture of fruit and pine flavors with a great malt backbone. Dinner isn’t too bad, either.
Fat Head’s Brewery
Like with Bell’s Two Hearted, Midwestern beers can be overlooked when the coasts are busy defining beer styles. Cleveland’s Fat Head’s Brewery is one of the nation’s best IPA brewers and keeps churning out gems. It’s crazy when possibly one of the nation’s best “West Coast” IPAs is brewed east of the Mississippi, but it’s hard to dispute Head Hunter’s beauty. Hop JuJu is also an amazing Imperial IPA, if you happen to be around Ohio when it’s released.
Resilience Butte County Proud IPA
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Sierra Nevada introduced the idea of hop-forward beers to plenty of Americans, and now the nation is helping support Sierra Nevada’s home of Chico, California. More than 1,400 breweries in the U.S. partnered to brew the Resilience Butte County Proud IPA to help the Camp Fire relief efforts. The massive wildfire this fall destroyed nearly 19,000 homes and killed at least 86 people. The beer project is projected to bring in more than $10 million with most of it going to support the Butte Strong Fund, a collaboration of Sierra Nevada, North Valley Community Foundation, and Aaron Rodgers’ NorCal Fire Recovery Fund. The beers have largely been released now across the nation, so if you see one drink up for a good cause. You can read more about Resilience here.
Anchor Brewing Company
Anchor has been a pioneer in so many ways to the modern beer industry, even setting the path of the modern American IPA back in the 1970s with Liberty Ale. While the company can get lost in the shuffle of the beer world now, they’re not resting at all, continually putting out the amazing core beers that built the company — and in part the industry— and releasing new beers regularly now. This month the brewery released Baykeeper IPA to celebrate a local nonprofit, Baykeeper. The new 7-percent alcohol by volume IPA is slightly hazy, capturing the current industry trend, but also reminiscent of the San Francisco Bay. Made with Mosaic, Cascade, and Amarillo Cryo hops, Baykeeper is filled with fruit and pine notes, but is also a touch spicy and sweet without much bitterness.
Chicago’s Alarmist Brewing lands on the list because it shook the beer world in September. Le Jus topped the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. Sure, that’s probably in large part because the category’s fatherland of New England largely abstains from the competition, but to top the ginormous category still takes some serious skill. Made with Mosaic and Citra hops, the beer also has a touch of lactose to bring a bit of smooth creaminess to the beer.
Space Camper IPA
Boulevard Brewing Company
In a world where IPAs keep coming fast at a consumer, a good beer goes a long way, but so does a cool hook. Boulevard Brewing recently released its newest IPA, Space Camper, but with it came a video game. Boulevard built an 8-bit video game in the same vein as Space Invaders and Galaga for fans to play — and win prizes. The company also pledged to the Arbor Day Foundation to 10,000 trees in 2019, to support “the only planet with beer.” It helps the beer is solid, too. At 5.9 percent ABV, Space Camper is loaded with citrus, stone fruit, and watermelon notes from its mix of Ekuanot, El Dorado, and Galaxy hops.
Creature Comforts Brewing Company
The southeast isn’t historically — in the beer sense — significant (yet). But just as soon as it seems the region was going to be left behind in the beer movement, a surge of excellent hop-forward beers swarmed out of Georgia and Florida, like Tropicália from Creature Comforts. When you grab the refreshingly-designed can, it could be mistaken for a container of orange juice, and the citrus notes of the beer to wash over the tongue much like a delicious glass of OJ.
Article originally published April 28, 2018. Last updated in January 2019.