We all know the Big Deal IPAs: The Plinys, Workhorse, Jai Alai, Stone IPA and Enjoy By, Dogfish 60 and 90, etc. etc., etc.
What we do NOT do – ANY of us – is taste every IPA made in the US. Nobody does. So when anyone says, “This is The Best IPA”, they’re just indulging themselves either in homerism or hyperbole. In truth, there is NO SUCH THING AS “BEST”. There is ONLY “best of what I have sampled“.
There are over 8,000 breweries working in the US, now. Most which make an IPA at all usually make more than one. Let’s just say that each one makes three. That 24,000 IPAs. No one has even come close to trying them all. And it follows that there will be some out there that you might like better than the Plinys and Enjoy Bys and the 90s.
I have usually tasted a few more than most people and, anymore, the ones that are anything different, anything special, tend to stand out. Over the past two years, I’ve found a number that stick in my memory and don’t let go. I often yearn for one of these, when I’m in the mood for a distinctive IPA. And bear in mind that I live in what I am absolutely convinced is THE primary region for making the modern American IPA. Over half of all the ones in my Top Twenty are made close enough to my house that I can hop into the car and get one straight out the tap within maybe two to four hours.
In time for the holidays, I’m going to tell you about some you probably missed. Two of these, in 2020, won Gold medals at GABF and, unless you’re a hard-shell beer geek, you probably never heard of them and certainly haven’t tasted them. This is intended to give you some ideas about possibly networking a purchase of some of these for giving to that incredibly picky, mildly irritating pal who comes over with stuff you never heard of and tells you, unless you stop them, far more about it than you ever wanted to know. Some may even be available for shipping from the brewery or an online retailer. Some may, in fact, be close to you but not visible enough that you just kinda whiffed. No shame in that. One of Washington state’s best IPAs is produced in the tiny mountain town of Winthrop, where Old Schoolhouse Brewing makes the should-be-iconic “Ruud Awakening”. That story is repeated in almost every state, now, and those like me, who kinda panic when we miss something, need a bit of help, nowadays.
Here it is. These profiles are going to be short, so that I can get this out to you today, but just know that, to some guy who tastes about 500 – 650 IPAs every year, these had that certain Something that really set them apart.
Lord Hobo Brewing “617” Hazy IPA: I got a small box from a brewery I had never heard of, located in a town I had never heard of, Woburn, Massachusetts. This was quite a while ago and I saved it to go on this very list because, damn, it slammed down hard on every one of my Lupulin Receptor buttons. 617 is FRESH, fruity, silken, a bit nicely complex and expertly crafted, with a mash bill of Lager-like Pilsner, Munich, Red Wheat, and Flaked Barley, laid artfully under a right slappin’ of an irresistible combination of Simcoe, Centennial, and Azacca hops. It’s a truly exceptional beer, from a five year old brewery that’s making a LOT of waves in an area where making waves ain’t all that easy.
Halfway Crooks “MetaData”: Joran Van Ginderachter is a young man with a tidy pedigree. He’s Belgian, which may be the ultimate Cool factor in modern brewing. His uncle is brewmaster Peter Brouckaert of New Belgium Brewing, where Joran cut his brewing teeth. He’s the former brewmaster at two other fine Atlanta breweries, Three Taverns Brewing and Monday Night Brewing. Now he’s opened HC and is making ales and lagers HIS way and eschewing such folderol as labels and marketing and, more or less, becoming known. I was shipped, by a cousin, this laser-printed label, wrapped around a can of what I can only describe as eye-popping, mind-boggling IPA advancement. Metadata is not overtly, assertively different from the top tier of all IPAs many of us have tasted but it’s complex as all hell, shoveling up pink grapefruit, almonds, jasmine, honey, honeysuckle, and at least a dozen other grace notes. Joran was directly responsible for one of my Top Five fave IPAs of the past five years, the Three Taverns “A Night in Brussels“. Metadata upholds that standard in SOLID fashion and serves to indicate that, if anyone stands to finally find that perfect American-Belgian influenced IPA, Joran VGA is a fairly good bet. I cannot wait to taste what comes Next.
Wren House Brewing “Spellbinder”: I know Drew Pool, of Wren House Brewing, in Phoenix, Arizona, only from a friend request on Facebook. Since that, I’ve come to amass certain facts: he’s smart as all hell, sorta unintentionally funny sometimes, and has made at least one IPA that may well go down in American IPA lore as a landmark. Your 2020 GABF Gold Medal winner in the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category is…Wren House “Spellbinder” New England Style IPA. I got a two-can box of it from He Who Shall Remain Irritating, (NOT Drew!) down in Phoenix, and It. Was. STUNNING. Spellbinder is creamy, with a pillowy mousse, tangerines, peaches, Lemonheads, honey, and a sweet herbal edge from its fresh, zippy hops. My big plan, once the Plague is at least managed, is to get on a plane, go down to AZ to see long-neglected friends, and wind up at Wren House. It’s problematic to get to taste a Gold Medalist, without a major trip or some shipping…Well, except when it’s not…
Perry Street Brewing IPA: In my case, I can arrive at another GABF Gold winner in 4 hours and 22 minutes, door to door, my house to Perry Street Brewing, in Spokane, Washington, where a magical house IPA – simply named “Perry Street IPA” – was shipped off to the virus-cramped 2020 GABF and walked off with Gold in the American-style IPA category. I’ve had this beer three times, in the past two years, and it was so shocking on my first trip to PSBC that I went back a year later, just to convince myself that my fondness for the brewery and its lovely staff didn’t color my views. Nope. It’s THAT fuggen good. Really. I don’t even know if I can even describe it adequately. The first sip is NOT awash in that tedious grapefruit/herbal baloney but pushed that mess to the far background and elevated a lovely array of citrus peels, stone fruit, melon, honey, and sweet baking spices to center stage, where it literally seemed to dance on my tongue. Most folks in Washington have never even heard of Perry Street, geocentric bastards that we are, operating off the insane idea that, if Perry Street was really any good, they’d be in Seattle. God, we’re such morons, sometimes.
The Brew Gentlemen, “General Braddock’s: It probably goes without saying that The Brew Gentlemen, of the southeastern Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock, Pennsylvania, makes beers that are distributed nowhere within a thousand miles of where I live, because they’re possibly that far or farther from you, too. I ran into the STUNNING “General Braddock’s”, a hazy IPA, at the 2019 Zwanze Day event at our local genius brewery, Tacoma’s E9, with a one-ounce sample, drawn off a jockey box. Even in what can only be described as the Fastest of Fast Company, the General popped out of the wild variety of ales like a jack-in-the-box. There were lots of beers and I ruled out ones I had already tried but that still left 28 beers. I tasted and spit a lot of ’em and when all that was done…I went back to the Brew Gentlemen table and bought a 10 ounce glass. And then had another. I Could. Not. Stop. Drinking. It. It’s satiny smooth yet crisp and stupidly refreshing and bombards the palate with a fruit stand full of tree and stone fruit, orange zest, lime, lemon, and resiny hops. Just GORGEOUS.
Woodland Empire Alecraft, “City of Trees”: On a driving trip to Denver, almost two years ago, we stopped in Boise, Idaho, to spend the night. Our hotel was right next to a convenience store and it was dark out and we were tired, so I walked over to buy some beer. There in the cold case was a beer called “City of Trees” by a brewery called Woodland Empire – neither of which rang any bells. I took the six-pack back to the hotel and, as I walked into the lobby, I got a text from my wife: “I’m in the hotel bar, getting a cocktail. Come here when you get this.” I was standing, in fact, about 30 feet from said bar, so I moseyed on down. There, on tap, was “City of Trees”. So, I ordered one. It was shocking. It was fresh and crisp and fruity and showed spice and citrus and floral hops notes and a malt base like lemon cookies and cashews. I carefully placed the six-pack in our cooler and it made it to Denver and back to Tacoma, where I drank each new can with what can only be called obsessive fascination. I admit to that horrible failing that makes me think that breweries I’ve never heard of won’t be all that good. Woodlanders, I humbly apologize. “City of Trees” is one of the most vivid and distinctive IPAs I’ve tasted in years.
Briar Common, “Broken Bridge”: On that same trip, after two nights in Denver, we finally looked up a brewery/pub that I was very curious about, a neighborhood spot called Briar Common Brewery & Eatery. I had read about brewer, Greg Dawson, a Certified Cicerone® and a BJCP judge, and was curious about what he was making at a food-dominant brewpub. I was not really surprised that everything – every beer, all the food – was exceptional but I was flat-damned hooked by an IPA called Broken Bridge. Broken was hazy but not just hazy. It was a virtual textbook on complexity. I got peaches, stone fruit, apricot, and at least a dozen more subtle flavors, all finishing with a whoppin’ jolt of fresh pink grapefruit. And that grapefruit – as opposed to most beers that show it – was not hops-driven. I never found out if it was infused with actual fruit but the stuff was almost addictive. I took home a crowler and resisted drinking it for far too long. But when I did yank the tab, it tasted every bit as fresh as at the pub. In Denver, it’s quite possible for a brewery to get completely overlooked. But overlooking Briar Common would be, well, sorta stoopid. Food that good and ales on a par with ANY other Denver area brewer? Slam-dunk FIND IT, the next time you find yourself in Mile High.
I have more and plan to do them in about two weeks.