Friday, October 29, 2010

My 10 IPAs of the year

I wish I were special, but I'm not: IPA is, all in all, probably my favourite beer style.  This love is relatively new. The first IPA that really turned me on was Anderson Valley's Hop 'Ottin — which I drank in October of 2009. Immediately afterwards Driftwood released their first batch of Sartori Harvest IPA, BC Liquor stores started selling Dogfish 60 minute, and I was hooked. Up until then I'd take a stout or a tripel over an IPA any day.

I've had countless IPAs since, including doubles, triples, imperials, wet-hopped, belgian, etc etc. The downside is I'm not really sure what an IPA is any more, but I know when I've got a good one. Here are some of the highlights of my year of IPA lust. I've no doubt omitted some I liked more than these, but these ones stand out as I type this post.

#10 Black Oak - Ten Bitter Years
The enjoyment I got from this one might be due to a convergence of factors, including stumbling across Chancey Smith's in London, meeting barman extraordinaire Milos Kral, and finally getting a drink after a brutal flight schedule. Ten Bitter Years is Black Oak's 10th anniversary beer, brewed to the discerning tastes of BO president Ken Woods. The one I tried had been aged a few months, and was bursting with mellow apricots and lavender. There is a really complicated hop character to this beer: rich but not overpowering. This is a sipper and should be nurtured until warm in the hand.

#9 Phillips - Hop Circle IPA
Legend has it that Matt Phillips dumped a case of Central City's Red Racer on the boardroom table and informed his skilled staff that "this is the one we have to beat." Sooo close, but not quite. This is an excellent IPA nonetheless, and probably my favourite Phillips beer along with the Skookum. I was lucky enough to try it fresh at the brewery as it was released, and the powerful melony-hops and an intoxicating blast of marijuana this beer delivers left a lasting impression on me.

#8 Avery - Maharaja Imperial IPA
Avery brews "big artful beers" and this 10% brute is as big as they come. A dirty, almost filthy, orange colour, with a slug of tangerine hops and an estery smell that really works. This isn't a zingy, fresh IPA — but one of those sweetish, heavy ones that really wallows in the mouth. Intensely aromatic and excoriating, very recommended.

#7 Anderson Valley - 20th Anniversary Imperial IPA
After their Hop 'Ottin, I knew this would be a good one, and it really delivered. As powerful as the Maharaja, but in a completely different direction. This one bursts with citrus fruit, vanilla and grape juice. Very lightly carbonated but thick — the way imperial IPAs should be. The hops do not dominate the flavour, making this less of a hop bomb and more of a comforter.

#6 Driftwood - Sartori Harvest IPA 2009
This beer really sold me on wet-hopped IPAs, and I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to replicate this experience ever since. The balance of pine and orange was exceptional in this release, but what really got me was a near-medicinal camphor zing that made it the most mysterious IPA I've ever had.

#5 Paddock Wood - Loki
I was in two minds whether to put this or Dogfish Head's 90 minute IPA in this spot, as for me, they both represent the same kind of strong IPA. Neither is a slave to its hops, but brings huge complexities in malt flavours — something many IPAs overlook. The Loki tasted like raisins, rice pudding and pepper, but cut through with just the right amount of grapefruit hops to satisfy the IPA lust. A very underrated beer, this one, and a label to die for.

#4 Central City - Red Racer
Enough has been said about this beer already. It is currently BC's finest IPA, and it is deservedly hyped-to-all-hell on beer review sites. At the Great Canadian Beer Festival I tried a casked imperial version which was also sublime, but nothing really beats the tropical gorgeousness of regular Red Racer. A great beer.

#3 Moylans - Hopsickle
First time I had this I thought "ok, enough is enough." This is one of those relentlessly hoppy IPAs that prompted Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery to quip: “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?” Well, after 4-5 bottles of this stuff, I truly believe it IS beautiful. The "hop-bomb" dismissal slung around by the IPA-backlash brigade is a reverse snobbery that detracts from how damn good some of these hop-heavy beers really are. Hopsickle is a distillation of hops, which, curiously, shares an almost identical flavour profile to Brew Dog's oneupmanship vessel Sink the Bismark (the 41% IPA to end all IPAs). Drink this beer last. (I used FrothyHead's image because, well,  it's way cooler than my picture)

#2 Southern Tier - Unearthly Imperial IPA
This beer leaves me giddy. At 11%, that's hardly surprising. Unearthly is a devastatingly hoppy beer, but in that deep, stewed grapefruit kind of way that makes a beer truly sexy. Pretty sweet, thick, and soupy. Loads of herbal, peppery stuff is going on in this beer. I recently tried the Oak-Aged and it's a distraction — the original is much better. This beer should be served after an hour out of the fridge and allowed to warm fully before you finish it. A lesson in hops.

#1 Pelican Brewpub - India Pelican Ale
It isn't imperial, particularly hoppy, rare, or distinguished in any way other than being the most perfectly balanced IPA I have enjoyed to date. This beer is like listening to a well recorded band on some expensive hi-fi equipment: every element of it is clearly discernable and accessible to the taste. The beer has an intensely bready aroma, with equal measures of pine and citrus hops. The taste has an almost soap-like mineral backbone to it that I think is what allows all the other flavours to express themselves so clearly. There is mildly warm sweetness, a very substantial bitterness, and a little spice — all three of which fade at the same rate through the aftertaste, leaving a tiny trace of salt that has you reaching immediately for another sip, another glass, another bottle, and another trip to the bank to get the $9 you need to buy one here in Victoria. Dammit.

Honourable Mentions
Ballast Point - Big Eye IPA
Green Flash - Imperial IPA
Driftwood - Big Tug IPA
New Belgium - Ranger IPA
Anderson Valley - Hop 'Ottin IPA
Duggan - #9 IPA
Dogfish Head - 90min IPA
Stone - Ruination IPA
Moylans - Moylander Double IPA
Edit: Phillips - Nine Donkeys of the Hopocalypse


  1. I am ashamed to say this: I have not tried a single one of the beers you have listed here. But this has provided a lot of food for thought...

    Thanks for this - I love these lists!

    More research...

  2. It should have gone in honourable mentions, but it is nowhere near as good as any in my top ten, for me. I didn't love it that much. I thought it was good is all.

  3. Very helpful list. Thank you. I am myself enslaved to the Hop Circle at the moment but will no doubt return shortly to the bottom of a Sartori Harvest bottle. Cheers!

  4. I'm a little sad that Racer 5 didn't get on this list but that won't stop me from trying at least some of the ones mentioned. The descriptions are really good. Thanks!

  5. Hmmm... no mention of Boundary Bay IPA?