It’s a bit tricky to track beer sales statistics because there are so many competing definitions of what even counts as beer, never mind what counts as craft beer, but most sources seem to agree that IPA accounts for about a quarter of the better beer sold in America. Of course, this figure would be lower if Anheuser-Busch weren’t erecting giant pyramids of Goose Island IPA in the front of every beer store in the country, but on the other hand it’d be higher if Sierra Nevada had opted to toss “India” on the Pale Ale label 30 years ago. But let’s stick with the 25 percent figure, as it tracks to the most important data set: a rough approximation of my own drinking habits.
I have always been a very basic, boring person, and I try to combat this painful truth in three major ways: I mix hot sauce into my yogurt; I call my cat “Louie,” which is shocking and disruptive because that is traditionally a name for a human boy rather than a feline girl (let’s all pause here to catch our breath and recover from that onslaught of audacity), and I blow a lot of hot air about how beer is so much more than just hops. I’ll gladly bore the ears clean off your head with odes to yeast and barrel-aging and spontaneous fermentation and judicious lagering. Hell, I’ll even give you 10 minutes on the glory of decoction mashing, which is one of my life’s great passions despite the fact that I have no significant idea what it means.
But then there’s this reality: Sunday afternoon Beer Research Coordinator Emily and I went out to watch the second half of some apparently big soccer game at a good beer bar. Soccer plays the role of decoction mashing in my sporting life, in that people I admire enjoy it very much, so I appreciate it in theory even though I have no practical understanding of how it works. I am terrified of the concept of “offsides,” and I watch every game praying someone will pick up the ball and run with it so I can confidently bellow, “You’re not supposed to do that!” and thereby treat the masses to the sum of my knowledge concerning the world’s most popular sport. It’s a very conflicting and barely tenable position for a barroom loudmouth to be in, which is why I needed to take shelter in maximum external comforts, i.e., beer.
Between Emily and I, we ordered 5 different things: Wormtown Be Hoppy IPA (a familiar favorite), Gigantic Ginormous Imperial IPA (pretty good, but I wouldn’t buy 12 ounces for $10 again), Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale (Emily loves it and so do most other smart people, though I’m tiring of orange juice-looking beers), a fantastic SingleCut India pale lager whose name escapes me, and Tröegs Nimble Giant double IPA (see below). That means in my time of need, I took comfort in exclusively hop-forward beers. Then when we celebrated whichever team’s stirring victory at Cambridge Brewing Company, I washed down my hot dog with a liter of Tall Tale Pale Ale. When it comes to drinking a wide range of styles, I fear I may be all talk.
Well, good for me. India pale ale is a fantastic style, which is why everyone drinks it, which is why brewers keep pumping them out. Here are 10 particularly good new ones I’ve tried lately (with “new” defined as a beer that’s debuted in the broad marketplace in late 2015 or 2016; I’m sure several of these beers came around as one-off specials in previous years).
This was released a few weeks ago as part of the Somerville, Massachusetts, brewery’s second birthday. It’s a light and bright 7.5-percent ABV rendition of their flagship IPA, A Year With Doctor Nandu, itself a spinoff of the Session With Doctor Nandu they opened the doors with in 2014.
Here’s the second offering in Firestone Walker’s new line of ever-evolving IPAs. Number 002 features a seven-hop blend that produces juicy peach and pineapple flavors (and their website says berries, too, which didn’t make it into my notes, so obviously I need to try again). At 5.9% ABV, it’s in the sweet spot between session beer and over-the-top boozy.
The last thing we needed in Boston was another $14 four-pack of 9% ABV tallboys, except, wait, sure we did! My notes mention nectarine, overripe peach, pine, and grapefruit pith (as if I know what pith is). They sent a free sample, but I’ve reupped on my own dime a few times since. This is a home run. Or a goal? It’s fantastic.
Another media sample, and another excellent IPA that tastes like pineapple and pine needles. The only Threes I’d tried previously was their very good pilsner, Vliet, and now I’ve got my eyes on these characters from Brooklyn.
Long Trail is a venerable Vermont brewery that hadn’t made much noise in a decade or so until they starting ramping things back up, innovation-wise, a couple years ago. Limbo IPA put them back on the map (to the extent that I’m chief beer cartogropher), and the 6.5% ABV Green Blaze is another step forward, with great balance between the resin, tropical, and biscuit notes.
This 6.5-percent IPA is my favorite from among the Massachusetts brewery’s strong opening lineup, with a broad range of tropical, citrus, grass, and pine flavors atop moderate bitterness.
New and improved Northern Lights is both a great beer and a great idea: Starr Hill is one of the few breweries I can think of that admits to having tinkered with an old standby. Times and tastes have changed, and the updated Northern Lights (6.2% ABV) that’s been on shelves for a few months now is brighter, juicier, and fresher than it’s perfectly good predecessor.
This beer is like Stone itself: perhaps a bit gimmicky, but so damn good that you can’t help but admire it. It just so happens the world did need a 9% ABV imperial IPA spiked with cacao and coffee. The additives dominate; Stone Mocha IPA tastes a lot like melted coffee ice cream. But the hops are there for sure, lending enough citrus aroma and flavor to qualify this as a real IPA rather than just a tasty marketing stunt.
I was disappointed not to see more SingleCut around town when I was in New York last week. Seems the better beer bars are all still smitten with Other Half, and I can’t argue with that logic, but it still surprises me that SingleCut seems much more prominent in Boston than in its home city. Anyhow, get yourself some of this this 8.6% ABV beauty. It might be the best SingleCut beer, which is just about the highest praise I can give a hop-forward ale in the middle of 2016. The rich, dense grapefruit, mango, peach, pine, and honey flavors are enough to make you overlook the fact that it’s named for a Pink Floyd song or some damn thing.
Brewed with lemon flesh, blood orange juice, and peels from both lemons and oranges, this 7.5% ABV hybrid is my favorite new Dogfish beer in several years. I feared it could veer over the top with the fruit, but the hops are bitter enough to keep things from getting weird and candied, and the fruit character is very fresh, honest, and real.