The craft beer industry evolves seemingly on a hairpin: Beer trends appear as if by magic, from the Brut IPA to the fruited sour; flagships and core ranges fade in favor of new releases; and exciting innovations claim all the attention.
With the steady onslaught of new beer brands and styles unstoppably marching forth, labels only two or three years old — or even two or three months old — can feel dated. In extreme cases, even beers two to three weeks old are deemed past their prime (drink those DDH DIPAs fresh!).
Beers extant for less than a decade thus feel like relics, pre-dating so many of today’s top or trendiest breweries. Top-rated IPAs like Cigar City’s Jai Alia are part of the 1990s-era brewpub’s warn woodwork.
With so many IPAs on the market, what constitutes a classic of the modern era? We asked brewers throughout the U.S. and U.K. what sticks out.
“There are a few IPAs from modern breweries which fit this bill for me, and I’ll keep going back to them time and time again. I’ll mention two of them: Starting closer to home, any IPA by Kernel can be named here. Their IPAs are such a beautiful, pure expression of the hops contained within; the malt bill [is] so clean and precise; the carbonation is so soft and on point… It is so easy to drink glass after glass — a testament to that being that I have zero bottles left out of the 24 I ordered two weeks ago. Further afield, Zote by Calusa Brewing in Sarasota, Fla., is really one of the best examples of New England IPA available in any country. Citra, Mosaic, Cascade, and Centennial are what’s on offer, giving huge juicy citrus with such a soft, silky body it’s far too easy to nail a 4-pack in the Florida sun. Check them out if you’re down that way — they’re crushing it.” — Jay Krause, Cloudwater Brew Co., Manchester, U.K.
“Who says you can’t like both kinds? Rare Trait from Cerebral Brewing and Super Power from Comrade Brewing couldn’t be further apart in the IPA world, but both are modern classics in my book. Rare Trait is a hazy IPA packed with citrus and tropical flavors; it’s the beer that helped solidify Cerebral’s place as modern masters of the style. Super Power is a straight-up classic West Coast IPA which has dominated beer competitions in various forms and categories. It holds a static line at most of Colorado’s serious beer bars and that spot is well deserved. It never disappoints with a light, dry body and hop aromas of grapefruit and pine.” — Jan Chodkowski, Head Brewer, Our Mutual Friend Brewing Co, Denver
“It is classic to say Pliny the Elder, but for me, it really is a classic double IPA and should be remembered as such. I think for me, it also has a personal meaning. I had tasted it before, but I was in California on a scholarship to a UC Davis short course and I spent a few days visiting Russian River as well as other places in the area. I had the beer at Russian River and remember having it fresh on tap. I went to a bar a few days later and it was 33 out of 50 on a draft list. I think once you take away the hype of it and taste the beer itself for what it is, it truly is an amazing double IPA… The malt balances the hops, so it is bitter without being incredibly overpowering. It also was really one of the first well-known DIPAs of its kind.” — Colleen Rakowski, Brewer, Brasserie Cantillon, Brussels, Belgium
“Fermentation-driven, soft, and full-bodied IPAs that grew out of New England are now industry-wide commonplace across the globe. This modern approach to making IPAs has been building steam over the past decade or so, and Julius from Tree House Brewing Co. has certainly planted itself firmly as a stalwart in the category. Julius has gone from only appearing in growlers brewed on a glorified homebrew system to now in iconic cans being brewed on an automated brew house in an enormous modern brewery. One can easily argue that the journey for the Tree House team has been fueled by Julius and all its popularity. Rich fruity yeast esters, hop saturation, a soft mouthfeel, and a balanced and approachable package make Julius an IPA that has certainly established itself as a modern classic that many across the globe have been inspired by, and make the trek to get.” — Blake Tyers, Wood Cellar & Mixed Fermentation Director, Creature Comforts Brewing Co, Athens, Ga.
“I’ve never liked the term ‘modern classic’ but there are a few IPAs out there that I feel are certainly significant enough to warrant some sort of recognition. Straight off the bat, Jaipur by Thornbridge will always have a place in my heart as a true exemplar of British breweries’ initial take on West Coast American-style IPA, but not only that, it stands up in cask! Which is unfortunately not true of many popular IPAs, and is a testament to the skill of the brewers at Thornbridge.” — Jaye Arbuckle, Head Brewer, Franklins Brewing Co, Brighton, U.K.
“At the time I was asked the question, I had a glass of Kernel IPA (Mosaic) in my hand, which coincidentally would be at the top of my list of answers. The Mosaic single hop version of this IPA [is] the first beer that turned me on to the U.K. beer scene years ago. It has the perfect amount of mouthwatering bitterness to keep you going back for another sip; a subdued malt bill to allow the hops to shine; and no cloying sweetness I often find in other IPAs. What makes it a modern classic is that it has been around for 10 years, surviving fads like the IBU race and super-sweet milkshake IPAs, without showing its age. Neither West Coast or East, it continues to exist with a sense of purpose in the U.K. craft beer scene.” — Zoe Wyeth, Lead Brewer, Burnt Mill Brewery, Suffolk, U.K.
“If I’m at a chain grocery store picking up an IPA to bring to a party with folks from all walks of life… I’m going to pick up Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing. Many of the old guard are trying to keep up with trends and many are failing, but this beer always delivers and has made Sierra [Nevada] many new fans amongst younger drinkers. My favorite IPA right now, however, is whatever iteration is available from Hen House Brewing and their Conspiracy Theory Series (Chemtrails, Denver Airport, Illuminati). These guys are making big moves in Sonoma County (north of San Francisco) in the shadow of giants like Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada. Whether it’s a classic West Coast IPA or their version of a NEIPA… Their insistence on freshness on the shelves or on tap means I always get a great beer.” — Tim Decker, Founder, Altbrau, Oakland, Calif.
“I feel like a great example of a ‘modern classic’ IPA is Lunch by Maine Beer Company. It is bursting with citrus, pine, and tropical aromatics, balanced by a wisp of malt sweetness, and still allows the citrusy hop characteristics to shine through in the finish. It’s completely satisfying to a broad range of consumers and doesn’t destroy your palate or your appetite, a perfect take on the modern classic IPA that a lot of professional brewers enjoy.” — Bobby Bump, Head Brewer, Right Proper Brewing Company, Washington, D.C.
“I still wet myself whenever I see Hill Farmstead Harlan on tap anywhere stateside. I love any brewer with the guts to dry hop with Columbus these days in any measure, and the combination of that with Nelson Sauvin and Simcoe just ticks all the boxes for me. It’s the most balanced, soft, and nuanced example of an IPA I’ve ever had, where you can taste every part of its makeup in every sip. There’s been an arms race over the years of how many hops you can cram into a glass with IPAs — and we certainly share some of the responsibility for that — but Harlan feels like an antidote to that whenever I try it. Class in a glass.” — Alex Lawes, Founder, Owner, Brewer, Whiplash Beer, Dublin, Ireland
“If a modern classic must have universal appeal and stand the test of time, citrus IPAs ring loudest with me. Whether infused with blood orange, tiger lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, or otherwise, a citrus IPA’s very approachable flavor profile is appreciated readily by novice and experienced drinkers alike. Furthermore, their flavor and brand value draw steady admiration from brewers. Brewers of all experience levels and aptitude do create consistently delicious examples. Most taprooms offer a Citrus IPA seasonally and some have year-round staying power… Certainly, the citrusy offerings are not currently obsessed over as they were at peak fervor. But, their charm and bright flavors have stood the test of time long enough, with wide enough appeal that it is easy to foresee their continued popularity among drinkers and brewers year in and year out.” — Chris Gartman, formerly of Five Points Brewing Company, London, U.K.