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Monday, July 13, 2009

IPA's - The True King of Beers


The idea for this sprang up, amazingly, over a few beers. Several of our wives are members of a monthly book club and someone suggested the guys needed a club of our own. One common interest we all share is good beer - as in beer with actual flavor. Not the yellow, watery beers mass produced by the big three beer makers. We're talking about craft beers. Beers that don't spare the hops. Beers that aren't afraid to boldly go where the big three dare not tread (until, that is, it looks like they might be able to make some money by going there.)
Though merely getting together and drinking beer seemed like a pretty good idea, we decided we needed some kind of a format. Ergo, each meeting would be built around a particular style of beer or some kind of beer-related theme. And to kick things off, we decided to go right for the real gusto - IPA's or India Pale Ales.

IPA's came about because of the problems inherent in shipping beer over long distances (i.e. from Britain to India). Beer had a nasty tendency to go flat and sour. The solution, developed by George Hodgson around 1790 was essentially to up the alcohol content and the hops. For a terrific and much more in-depth look at this go to


Obviously, it would be impossible to compare all of the various craft brewed IPA's out there in one sitting. Which means we'll have to revisit this style. Hey, someone's got to do it. To be honest, our approach was somewhat random. We assigned each member (Dan, Hal, Gerry - unable to attend the first meeting but kindly supplied Stone's IPA -Mike - a home brewer, Ron - our historian, and Rick - that would be me) an IPA to bring to the first meeting. We decided we would do a blind taste test and tabulate the results. Basically we ranked the six beers 1-6 using a completely subjective criterion: namely, which we liked the most.

The competing beers were:

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - Dogfish Head Brewery, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware

Saranac Imperial IPA - Matt's Brewing Company, Utica, NY

Stone's IPA - Stone Brewery, San Diego, CA

Stone's Imperial IPA - Stone Brewery, San Diego, CA

Syracuse ImPaled Ale - Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY

Unearthly Imperial IPA - Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY

Alright, so you probably noticed two things: first there is an East Coast / West Coast divide, second there are several beers from around Central New York. I don't apologize. Like I said, we all just choose an IPA we liked without regard to where it was brewed. We live near Syracuse, NY, so we ended up with half of them from the general area. We just wanted to start with some brews from the area first. I promise we will expand outward later. As for Stone Brewery - just pick up a bottle and read the back. You gotta' love that kind of bravado.

The results were tabulated as follows: a first place vote garnered one point, second place two points etc so that it was like a golf score - the lower the score, the better. If you're looking for one of those in-depth mid-palate-grapefruity-overtones-with-caramel-notes type of ratings, you won't find it here. We're just a bunch of guys that like good beer. Here are the results:

1. Stone's Ruination IPA - 12 quality points. Though it only received one first place vote, it garnered three second place votes. This is an outstanding beer, very hoppy with a satisfyingly bitter finish. At 7.7% it packs a nice punch. Dan choose this as his number one pick.

2. Stone's IPA - 15 quality points. Yes, the West Coast brewery beat out the East Coast in this small sample. But if you like a truly bold, take-no-prisoners beer, it's tough to beat Stone. I selected this as my top choice.

3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA - 16 quality points - The only beer to receive two 1st place votes. But it also received two 5th place votes. This beer has some stronger citruisy notes than the others (yeah, I know I said we wouldn't go there, but I think that's why the Jekyll and Hyde results). At around 9% it is the strongest of the bunch. It has a real nice hop punch to it. It was the top choice for both Hal and Mike.

4. Saranac Imperial IPA - 19 quality points - Though it came in fourth, everyone agreed that it was comparable with the top three. It is also much more affordable than the top three. It's got a solid 8.5% kick to it. Strongly hopped with a real inviting aroma. Kind of piney. Good beer. It got Ron's nod as the number one.

5. Southern Tier Unearthly Ale - 23 quality points. Compared to the other IPA's this, along with the Syarcuse ImPaled Ale did not have the strong hoppy kick. Much more subtle, which may appeal to many people. Somewhat sweeter and lighter than the others.

6. Syracuse ImPaled Ale - 23 quality points - Essentially tied with Unearthly. More of an English Pale Ale than an American IPA. Perhaps their Dragonslayer Imperial Stout would have fared better, but since it was a Stout, we'll save that for another time. It was perhaps not fair to compare this to the top four, which are strongly hopped. This is a much more balanced ale, very drinkable with a nice dry finish.


The truth is all of us had a difficult time with the top four beers. We agonized at length and found it necessary to keep tasting one after the other. Then going back and starting again. All are top notch IPA's. The other two were very good beers, but we were really looking for the knock-your-socks-off punch of kick-ass hops. The Impaled Ale and Unearthly were both much tamer in that respect, but are both very good beers especially if you intend to have a few. They are very drinkable and nicely balanced.
There was talk of doing an NCAA type bracket, pitting the top 16 or 32 IPA's against each other in a series of one-on-one match-ups. Might be fun. Not sure how we'll seed them though.


In my humble opinion, the best beers in the world are now being produced in America. And not by the big three who continue to believe that light makes right. It's pretty exciting to see the rise in craft beers. For years if you wanted anything other than the same lager in a different bottle you had to look at imports. Not so anymore.