Well, That's Settled: The Best IPAs

A few weeks back, Thrillist's Dan Gentile contacted me to help him assemble a best-IPAs list.  It's out now with the hopeful title "The Definitive Top Ten IPAs."  My guess is that "definitive" is going to be a hard sell--but this is actually an interesting list.  Gentile asked us all to submit our own top tens and then he assigned point values to each of our beers (ten for number 1, nine for number two and so on).  There were nine of us, meaning we each had 55 points to distribute, and any one beer might have scored as highly as 90 points.  There was a mathematical elegance to the results.  We collectively came up with 45 beers (out of a possible 90) and the winner also scored 45 of the possible ninety.

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If you selected any nine beer geeks at random, you would come up with a different list.  Or nine different brewers or nine different cicerones or nine different writers.  There are seven million IPAs out there, and we have very particular individual tastes.  Leave the list aside, though, and look more closely at the results--therein lie the lessons.  Four of the nine of us fingered Russian River Blind Pig as the best beer.  Bear Republic's Racer 5, meanwhile, didn't make anyone's top three list, but picked up enough points to come in sixth.  We may have differed over our favorite IPA, but when it came to filling out the ballot, Racer 5 was a gimme.

Eight of the top ten beers were brewed in California.  That's staggering dominance of the category, and I think it's a pretty accurate reflection of the state of things nationwide.  When I was making up my own list (see the end of this post), I didn't include anything west of Hood River.  On Facebook, some folks lobbied to have Bell's there.  But while Bell's is a classic beer and a fine IPA, I could easily find twenty other IPAs I like more.  Ten years ago we might have debated about who makes the best IPAs, but that argument was long ago settled.  Everyone looks to the west now (including Europeans).  If you look at the bottom of the list, there are also some surprises.  Stone IPA got but two points--either a ninth place showing from one voter or two tenth-place votes.  And New Belgium Ranger was dead last with a single point.

Notes on My List
I knew when I turned in my list that numbers two and three were long-shots to make the final list.  Double Mountain Vaporizer had a chance, but it was slim.  Lambrate Gaina had no chance at all--and probably no one who reads that article will ever have even heard of it.  Which is, of course, why I threw it on the list.  There are great IPAs made outside the US--but more than being great, they're different.

Lambrate is this wonderful little brewpub in Milan.  Founded by friends who have a buoyant attitude about brewing, they make Italian beers that reflect their personalities.  Italy does not do intense.  Hoppy beers are subtle and layered; sour beers are tart and toothsome, not lacerating.  In the case of Gaina, the hops were so fruity I literally asked what kind of fruit they had used to make it.  The flavors fell somewhere between apricot and strawberry.  No fruit--all hops.  Later I found another hop fan in Bruno Carilli when I visited Toccalmatto in Fidenza, Parma.  He also coaxed amazing flavors from his beers--but more perfumy and exotic, with lemon-mint and bergamot. 

Oh, and I would have included any IPA from genre had I put this list together--and my original number 1 was Russian River Pliny the Elder, the best hoppy beer in the world.  So I subbed in Blind Pig as a nod to Pliny's brewer.  (Plus, Blind Pig is excellent.)

Here's my list.
1. Russian River Pliny the Elder Blind Pig (California)
2. Lambrate Gaina (Italy)
3.  Double Mountain Vaporizer (Oregon)
4. Bear Republic Racer 5 (California)
5.  Van Eecke Poperings Hommelbier (Belgium)
6.  Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (England)
7.  Gigantic IPA (Oregon)
8. Green Flash Le Freak (California)
9.  Toccalmatto Re Hop (Italy)
10.  Deschutes Chainbreaker (Oregon)