It’s my own damned stupid fault: early on in the fifteen-year history of The Pour Fool, I told readers that I refuse to hold any sort of long-winded discussions on the actual page’s comments section. Miraculously, many people listened. So, I became swamped with emails, my suggested venue for larger complaints and ideas, bought a search engine for keywords in my mailboxes and used it to poll whatever seemed to be on people’s minds at the moment. And the most requested feature in the original Seattle P-I blog and now this website quickly became Lists…lists of ANYTHING. “Best Emerging Brewing Cities” became the second most-read post ever. Each year’s Best of The Northwest was the clear #1. I got inquiries about BoTNW from France, Germany, Scotland, Italy, and seven or eight other countries, from folks who planned visits to Seattle or Portland or Vancouver and wanted to know where to drink beers, wines, whiskeys, often accompanied by questions about where to eat. All that was kinda delightful, really. It is arguably what The Pour Fool is for, at least in part.
But, about three years ago, largely as a reaction to the sudden proliferation of “Best Of_______!!” lists from people or even groups who had no business making those lists, I decided to quit doing it. As I have said about a hundred times, now, there is NO such thing as “Best Of” anything. It is ALL opinions. I got SICK of reading lists like the notorious (at least with me) list from a reputable Oregon website that featured the learned beer opinions of a panel that consisted of 3 of their editors, their cycling reviewer, their web artist, two chefs, one restaurant owner, a travel writer, and a general interest writer who professed to be “kinda into beer”…in short, in one of America’s foremost brewing cultures, NOT ONE SINGLE person who actually makes, sells, studies, or even writes about beer. It was astounding. You can’t sling a…well, forget the cat. You couldn’t sling a chinchilla in Portland without hitting someone who will bore the tits off ya with 30 minutes on their favorite beer style, its provenance, and how America is “killin’ it”…either in a positive or negative sense.
I got tired of swimming in that puddle.
My readers…did NOT.
I have now had, in the past two years, SEVEN HUNDRED+ emails asking for…more lists.
So…I gave up.
This is the first of a new wave of lists and all those folks who are kind enough to read this site deserve to get whatever considerations I can give them. But there ARE and will continue to be, Parameters.
First and by far most importantly, THESE ARE JUST MY OPINIONS. That’s ALL that EVERY SINGLE LIST EVER PUBLISHED IS. A list may be compiled from input from a group but it is still just their opinions and if you asked that same group of people for the same information in two years, two months, two weeks, or two days, they might say something completely different. I am exactly the same way. The list that follows will LIKELY look a lot different within a month or so. So, if you run across this in a year or three, it’s worthless, except as a historical snapshot of what I was thinking, on a sunny day in mid-May of Pandemic 2.
Second, it is STIPULATED, I fervently pray, that NOBODY can or ever has tasted every single thing of any type, at least since the days when the US had a grand total of maybe 30 to 50 breweries. There are almost 10K, now, and more a’comin’ every month. It is categorically impossible to taste all of any one type of beer. Anyone who claims to have tasted even half of them is lying. 10,000 breweries, each producing an annual average of six IPAs, = 60,000 IPAs, give or take a thou or so. Your liver would explode. We are ALL dealing with what we have tasted and we have probably tasted a LOT more beers than you, because at least for me it’s my JOB, but we haven’t tasted more than MAYBE 5% of all those different IPAs. Let’s be real about it, at least.
Lastly, getting irritated about what is – or is NOT – on the lists is futile. In my case, I treat this as work and if I am going to put in the actual, physical, time-intensive labor of compiling a list from my archived notes, I didn’t “forget” anything. That’s what people usually say, because most people are not the sort of rude jackasses who write to say, “You SUCK? Where’s Pliny?!? You ASSHOLE!!” They gently suggest that my senility has progressed enough that I’m having the contents of my head fall out my ears and roll under the sofa. Not happenin’. FYI, Pliny will not be on any list of my fave IPAS because I don’t like Pliny and think it represents a juvenile and non-productive era of craft beer evolution – the unrestrained IBU Arms Race of the Nineties and Naughties – and, as the bartender at Denver’s Falling Rock Taphouse (miss you guys!) once told me, “Here ya go, one Pliny. And you might as well go lick a pine tree.“
SO…There will be a list from time to time. They are STILL exactly what they were when I first started compiling them: buying guides, suggestions for things to try that you may have missed. That is ALL the list are. Are these really, actually, LITERALLY the Best Beers being made in the US? NO, they are NOT. But they are EXCELLENT beers; ones that you SHOULD try if you profess to like beers at all. And you will have read some of these names here on this site…and here they are again, because if this is the IPAs I think are best, “new” has no real meaning. “Good” is not tied to the calendar. If the beer has been made for 20 years and nobody has surpassed it, it’s still great. I do not chase the New Shiny Baubles here. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is a great time to bail.
So here is the first new List: My Best (translation; “favorite“) American IPAs. As always, OPINIONS. Nothing more.
And YES, before you even bring it up, there IS a West Coast bias here and I have no apologies to make, The reason is simple: we make better IPAs out this way than are made anywhere else in the US. In my OPINION. And I have tasted every great IPA made anywhere that I have traveled or has been sent to me by one of my Geek Network or a PR firm or a brewery.
Lastly, if you don’t see a name here, I did NOT forget. I either tasted it and didn’t think enough of it or I didn’t taste it. And you’ll have to decide which you think that is. THESE ARE IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
Brew Gentlemen “General Braddock“
I tried this at Zwanze Day 2019, at E9 Brewing, here in Tacoma, and was FLOORED. Crisp, gorgeously bitter, complex, refreshing, and compulsively drinkable. I had never heard of Brew Gentlemen, a Braddock, Pennsylvania legend, and was as stunned as if I had walked into E9 and found a unicorn. There were, as at every Zwanze Day event around the world, dozens of near and factual legendary beers that I, like a kid loose in the chocolate factory, could choose to have a glass of and I wound up with two of these. A beautiful, creative beer.
Wren House “Spellbinder” IPA
This is your 2020 GABF Gold Medal winner in the burgeoning Hazy IPA category, is made in Arizona, and I had to literally bribe a friend down there to pack some up in a box and send them to me. Worth every penny. Bright, citrusy, grace notes galore, and “Pils malt, oats, and AZ grown Sonora white wheat. We use all premium northwest hops—Cascade in the whirlpool, followed by a big Mosaic & Citra dry hop“, as it says on their website. Perfection.
Cigar City “White Oak Jai Alai“
EASILY, the single most voluptuous, artful, soulful, completely delicious beer, of maybe ANY type, that most of us will ever taste. Cigar City’s brewmaster, Wayne Wambles, has arguably pioneered uses of wood barrels and spirals and staves that advance that aesthetic aspect of brewing by decades. This is the basic Jai Alai – which could also be on this list – barreled in fresh kegs made from shaved white oak. The complexity is mind-boggling and its immediate richness does nothing at all to mask its stunning refreshment. A genuine American masterpiece.
Laurelwood Brewing “Workhorse“
PDX’s rock-solid Laurelwood has squatted atop the Northwest IPA heap since about a week after it was released in 2006. In 2009, it won the National IPA Championship and was described by a California brewer whose name you would know instantly as “that damned IPA those Portland asshats thought of before I did. The stuff is damned near perfect and now I’d just be copying it.” It’s best quality is that it just NEVER wears out its welcome. Bitter, creamy, drinkable, engrossing. A truly Iconic IPA.
Three Taverns “A Night on Ponce“
I tasted the base beer for this gem, A Night in Brussels, at Varsano Pizzeria at Atlanta’s bloated Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in 2006, while laying over on my way to my daughter’s wedding. I was bowled over by it, said so openly and repeatedly, and then…they changed the yeasts to produce an American IPA versus the glorious Belgian-style nectar I fell for. I cursed the name Three Taverns but then, two months ago, I was again in that bloody airport, found Varsano, and saw Ponce. Tasted. Ate the pizza with my own words. This stuff is fundamentally flawless, replete, balanced, and beautifully bitter. I wish they’d offer both but if my lovely Brussels had to die, this is certainly more than worthy progeny. Deelicious, as they say in GA.
River North “Colorado IPA“
The newest thing on this list, CIPA is SO new that I haven’t even been able to review it, yet. What Matt Hess and crew appear to have had in mind (I didn’t ask them) was sort of a left-handed swipe at all the current haze and milkshakes and Fruity Pebbles IPAs eddying around the Great American IPA Puddle, describing this as “a classic American hop-bomb brewed with mountains of Citra, Amarillo, Azacca, Columbus and Cascade hops…inspired by IPAs from both coasts.” In short beer ‘n’ hops flavored IPA. And it is STUNNING; delicious, easy to drink, and substantial. Well, Mission Accomplished, RiNo types. In Denver, do NOT miss this one.
Reuben’s Brews “Crikey!“
Reuben’s Brews has been open for ten years, now, but they still retain that shine and aura of novelty that they had on that hot August weekend in 2012, when they first opened their doors across the street from the Bardahl Oil Company in Seattle’s defiantly unglam Ballard neighborhood. How do they stay fresh and relevant? Owner/Brewmmaster Adam Robbings, as much and ANY brewer in the US, experiments and crafts variations constantly. Nearly every weekend of any year, something new is on tap in Ballard. But Crikey, first brewed in 2016, has never been surpassed by any IPA from any brewery in WA state. It is frankly and unapologetically BITTER but mitigates that with gobs of fruit, spice, and floral notes and juggles all that into perfect Balance. This beer is a West Coast IPA masterclass, much admired, much imitated, never equaled.
Woodland Empire Alecraft “City of Trees“
On our way to Denver, tired and cranky (so what else is new?), we decided to spend the night in Boise and trudged down to our hotel’s bar, just before closing, to have a drink. City of Trees was the IPA offering, was local, and looked cool and inviting in the glass. So, I ordered one, tasted it, and fell in the fuggen floor. Ran over to the convenience store, next door, and found a six-pack. Had a couple in Denver, a city awash in good IPAs (which should tell you just how good this stuff is) and got home with two, which I hoarded like Scrooge. Zeus, Idaho 7, Centennial, and Comet hops, 70 IBU, fresh, crisp, wildly drinkable. The total package, all the more alluring for being completely unknown to moi, before that first sip. To the folks at WEA, a heartfelt “thank you” for this crazy-fine surprise and a hearty “Would you PLEASE find a Seattle distributor, damnit?!?“
Yeah, I know: Enjoy By, all those Bastards, Delicious, Scorpion Bowl, Sublimely Self Righteous, and on and on. I love ’em all. But not ONE, IMO, has ever clearly surpassed the unassuming perfection of this first, most basic Stone American IPA. Everything that we all originally fell in love with IPAs for is in this bottle/can. Bold, assertive hops, rock-solid malt backbone, crisp and aggressive REFRESHMENT, and as wide an appeal and approachability as any big IPA has ever shown. Very nearly the template for the West Coast IPA and more imitated than Christopher Walken. Sublime, available, immortal.
Toppling Goliath “King Sue“
Mea Culpa: In tasting around the US, I’ve noticed a very obvious difference between what we in the Pacific Northwest, where most of America’s hops are grown, and Everywhere Else: ours are just plain more assertive. A solid 80% of all those ballyhooed IPAs just seemed wimpy and uninspired compared to what we drink here. Not so with Decorah, Iowa’s, Toppling Goaliath Brewery and their MASSIVE King Sue. Hazy, fruity, but crammed with hoppy bitterness and a solid edge of hoppy florals and citrus, Sue bites back when you drink it but SO benignly and gently that it goes down frighteningly easy for a 7%, 100+ IBU beer. Yeah, celebrated, maybe you’d even say hyped to death but…earns every bit of that.
Ninkasi Brewing “Tricerahops“
At very least, Tricerahops has to be in the discussion for the title of best DIPA ever made. Ninkasi keeps trying, to their credit, to outdo what’s in this can, with Megaladom, Prismatic, Heart and Science, and more than a dozen others, of course led by their flagship IPA, Total Domination. But neither brewmaster Jamie Floyd nor any other brewer in this end of America has ever outdone Tricerahops. The IBU count hovers around the 80 to 100 range and it is certainly potent and bitter but it is maybe THE most user-friendly Double IPA ever made. On tap, I defy anyone to taste this and say anything is presumptively better and even in cans it is utterly delicious. A bona fide Northwest masterpiece.
Fort George “The Optimist“
Fort George is a behemoth. They’ve just plain taken over much of downtown Astoria, Oregon, and done it organically: they made great beer. Their annual tri-collab, 3 Way IPA, is a genuine West Coast Event, with a huge release party that draws people from hundreds of miles away. But, for me, their current reigning masterwork is an unassuming can of prettily floral, citrus-tinged, subtly spicy single IPA with the totally appropriate name “The Optimist”. This is literally a beer for Everyone. It’s got just enough bitterness to please HopHeads, grace notes that make it pleasant and plainly delicious, a silky texture with a lovely, crisp freshness, and one of the most repeatable flavor profiles ever. It literally NEVER gets old. The Optimist shows up in my beer fridge as much as any beer from any brewery, anywhere, and I’m out, at the moment, so I have to run. You should, too, if you’ve never tried this. You can thank me later.
There may well be a Round Two of this later but I am still really unsold on the virtue of lists, so it will be a while. For now, if you don’t know some of these, I URGE YOU to seek them out, if you’re at all an IPA fan.