The India pale ale is the most popular style in craft beer. These hop-forward ales helped fuel the growth of the category as dedicated drinkers were drawn to the assertive, intriguing and punchy aromas and flavors brought out by lupulin, a sticky powder inside of hop cones. For a long time, IPAs were most commonly associated with bitterness, but an evolution in the style has brought new fans into the fold and served as an introduction to craft beer for coming-of-age drinkers.
The IPA originated in England where it was a well-hopped beer with a noticeable malt base. When the first generation of American craft brewers started making the style 40 years ago, they turned up the dosage on the hops, trying to push the needle on the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) scale.
IPAs were most commonly associated with bitterness, but an evolution in the style has brought new fans into the fold.
The West Coast IPA, also known as the American IPA, is often clear and dark golden or copper in color, with classic hop aromas and flavors that can be described as pine, grapefruit and sometimes dank—hops are part of the cannabis family after all. Hops are typically added during the boil, extracting oils and imparting that desired bitterness. A more traditional grain bill of two-row and crystal malt is often used.
The New England-style IPA is newer to the market and is celebrated for both its hazy look and juicy nature. Copious amounts of hops are added to the beer after the wort has cooled or during the fermentation process. The result is an intense, floral hop character with very little bitterness. This style uses traditional malts but also benefits from the addition of oats and wheat for a fuller and softer mouthfeel.
Two of the most popular hops today are Citra and Mosaic, prized for their citrus and tropical-fruit forward aromas and flavors. Growers are regularly creating new varieties that impart a whole host of desirable aromas. Fruit purées and lactose are also regularly added to recipes to yield different, tasty results.
Rhinegeist Truth India Pale Ale; $10 12 oz/6 pack, 98 points. This IPA is like being punched with an iron fist in a velvet glove. It is fun and engaging, with mango and pineapple hop flavors that are soft and inviting, followed by orange, grapefruit and a finishing touch of pine. It has diversity in each sip and it drinks just a little too easy for its above-average alcohol level.
Bell’s Two Hearted Ale; $10 12 oz/6 pack, 97 points. With an assertive hop character that does not sacrifice the malt, there is a reason this is one of the more celebrated IPAs in the country. It’s heavy in pine sap on the aroma and flavor, with a handful of fresh needles mixed in for good measure. The caramel malt comes through in a soft, bready, way and a little bit of dried citrus in the overall dry finish makes this an old-school IPA in the best way.
Firestone Walker Flyjack Hazy India Pale Ale; $9 12 oz/6 pack, 97 points. A session IPA that boasts just 96 calories, this has all the flavor of a full IPA, as one would expect from this revered hop-forward brewery. It is a lively combination of citrus and spearmint that leaves the palate cool and refreshed. Perfect for a hot afternoon in the backyard, there is a cracker-like malt backbone that brings the beer into balance.
Weldwerks Juicy Bits India Pale Ale; $14 16 oz/4 pack, 97 points. This is a mouthwatering IPA filled with a fresh combination of sweet orange, pineapple, pear, underripe mango, watermelon and berry. Still, there is a touch of bitterness that threads itself through the whole drinking experience, helping to keep the beer experience at the forefront and not just a full-on glass of juice.
New Realm Hoptropolis IPA; $11 12 oz/6 pack, 96 points. This IPA is full in feel, with soft tones of pineapple, pear and peach. It’s a well-crafted recipe that treats each flavor with balance. There’s something new to discover as you make your way through a six pack.
Cosmic Eye Everything Has Eyes Pose-Haze IPA; $10 12 oz/6 pack, 95 points. This offers a combination of candied orange, stone fruit and a little bit of pine. It has a generously oat-forward beer base, which gives this an easy-drinking quality that makes it perfect for several rounds at the bar.
Lakefront IPA; $9 12 oz/6 pack, 94 points. This is the kind of classic IPA that you can drink all day and never get bored of. Clear and amber-colored with a small rocky head it is pine-forward with just a hint of citrus rounded out by a vinous quality that adds earthy depth. Get a six pack, put the ball game on the radio, and enjoy an afternoon of relaxation.
Bent Water Sluice Juice New England India Pale Ale; $16 16 oz/4 pack, 94 points. This offers hazy yellow juice bursting with aromas of lime leaves and citrus. It is soft and pleasing, with a mineral note that shows up now and again. It’s a beer you could drink all day and keep finding new things to enjoy.
Two Roads Cloud Sourced Hazy Juicy IPA; $12 12 oz/6 pack, 93 points. Brewed with six different variety of hops, this hazy yellow ale starts with a lively lime-forward aroma. In the middle there is an earthy, low pine flavor that perks up the taste buds before it settles into a herbal lemon finish.
Wormtown Be Hoppy India Pale Ale; $13 16 oz/4 pack, 92 points. A traditional West Coast IPA, but with hints of orange, vanilla and a light topical note of underripe pineapple mixed, as well as accents of pine and grapefruit. Brewed with local malts and a touch of wheat, this ale bridges the gap between the traditional and contemporary styles.
Be sure to check out an additional 40+ ratings of recently reviewed IPAs in our Buying Guide.