For pretty much the last two decades, the IPA has been the No. 1 craft beer style in America, if not the world. The most talked about, the most written about, the most complained about, the most purchased, the most riffed on.

In that time, we’ve seen the beer industry go from malty English IPAs to dank West Coast options — teeth-chatteringly bitter double and then triple and even quadruple IPAs — to softer, fruitier, and hazier New England-style options. There have been black IPAs, white IPAs, red IPAs, cold IPAs, session IPAs, brut IPAs, even glitter IPAs.

Many of these incarnations were no more than a passing fad, though some are still around. And then there are those iconic individual expressions so revered, their names are etched in history.

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We asked seven of America’s most insightful beer voices for their Mount Rushmore of IPAs. And as I’ve been around long enough to recall when we still explicitly called them India Pale Ales, I included my selections as well.

The following picks include iconic, OG beers from California, Michigan, and New England; somewhat forgotten brews that at one time changed the IPA landscape; as well as several newer options.

Note: Some quotes have been edited for clarity.

Aaron Goldfarb

VinePair Writer at Large; author: “Dusty Booze: In Search of Vintage Spirits”

Russian River Pliny the Elder: Back in the late-aughts, I used to send the East Coast’s most coveted beers (there weren’t many at the time) to an online beer pal in the Bay Area in order to get Plinys sent back to me, sometimes just a few days off the bottling line. Fresh, there was nothing else like it at the time; floral, citrusy, a touch sweet, and so piney. While the beer is a little more common these days, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I see the red tap handle as I walk through SFO or spy its odd, missile-shaped bottle with the Comic Sans labeling when I enter a West Coast beer store.

The Alchemist Heady Topper: I first tried this game-changer at a Vermont beer “takeover” in Greenwich Village’s Blind Tiger circa 2011 and was absolutely floored. A tropical fruit bomb, mango and grapefruit but balanced by a resin-y quality, it still hadn’t been canned at that point. I’ve fallen for plenty of other Vermont IPAs since then (Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude #3 and Lawson’s Finest Triple Sunshine, most notably), and countless more “juicy” IPAs as well (see: everything from Tree House), but the silver bullet with the “DRINK FROM THE CAN!” directive on the upper rim still hits like few others.

Ballast Point Sculpin (pre-Constellation Brands acquisition, 2015): The first time I tried it, I was jarred by its bitterness, its complete dryness, and lack of malty or juicy notes. It quickly became a favorite of mine via imported “bombers” (22-ounce bottles) and on-tap the rare times New York got graced with a keg. And then Constellation Brands acquired Ballast Point for an eye-watering $1 billion then proceeded to mess it up like multinational conglomerates are wont to do. Soon enough canned  6-packs of Sculpin (and artificially flavored Grapefruit Sculpin and Pineapple Sculpin and even Habanero Sculpin) were stacked to the ceiling at my local Duane Reade gathering dust. A masterpiece had been marred.

Alpine Nelson (pre-Green Flash Brewing acquisition, 2014): Another masterpiece messed up via acquisition, but, oh, back in the day, it was something else. It was one of the first IPAs to use the then-unusual Nelson Sauvin hop, a New Zealand variety that offered sui generis notes of white wine and gooseberries. After first trying this single-hopped beauty on tap during a San Diego trip I began to start making another California buddy send me bombers on the regular. What can I say, it was a different time.

Tara Hankinson and LeAnn Darland

Co-founders, TALEA Beer Co.
@ta_of_talea / @lea_of_talea

Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA: Using fresh hops is challenging. Doing it at scale is beyond impressive. This beer is so deliciously balanced with malty, biscuity undertones, and zippy pine bitterness. It defines fall and the holidays for me [says Hankinson] and Sierra Nevada’s noble work in sustainability makes enjoying this beer even more celebratory.

Maine Beer Co. Lunch: Refreshing bitterness with a cracker-y malt bill, Lunch was one of [Hankinson’s] first introductions to craft beer. It has defined a balanced, citrus-forward IPA that is incredibly thirst-quenching. The blend of tropical and old school hops (Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe) create the best of both worlds: fruity with light floral notes with an undertone of green hop character.

Bell’s Two Hearted IPA: We have to pay homage to the malt-forward IPAs that popularized the balance of sweetness and bitterness. Two Hearted is a classic whose caramelly malt character tempers the classic pine, lemon pith, and grapefruit of this 100 percent Centennial hop bill.

Tree House Julius: Emblematic of the hazy IPA style, we love tropical-forward beers. The notes of passion fruit and citrus, combined with a fluffy mouthfeel, will never get old when we’re looking for a sippable, lovable hazy beer.

Courtney Iseman

Beer writer and VinePair contributor

Bear Republic Racer 5: This beer taught me what a West Coast IPA was and it still springs to mind first when I’m looking to define the style. It’s been around since 1997, so it helped build that mold of bracingly bitter — pine, citrus, resin, subtle floral notes — hoisted up by a decently significant malt backbone [thanks to those] classic crystal malt flavors.

The Alchemist Heady Topper: It’s just hard and feels silly to think about the most necessary, exemplary, iconic, straight-up best IPAs and not include Heady Topper. It is another one of those few style-creating beers, having launched the juggernaut that is the New England IPA. What’s funny about Heady Topper in regard to that distinction is also what makes it great: It’s not the hazy or super juicy beer we think of when we think of a NEIPA today; instead, it’s quite balanced. It’s got that body, but it’s also got that West Coast resin, pine, and citrus.

Other Half All Riwaka Everything: There’s often a lot of defending to do around the hazy IPA, or at least a lot of having to reiterate the merits of a good one in the face of years of hazy scorn and half-hearted brewers flooding the market with less-than iterations. It’s no surprise an example of a great one comes from the titans of haze, Other Half, but even among all of their other offerings in this category, All Riwaka Everything is such a well done single-hop expression.

North Park Hop-Fu!: North Park founder Kelsey McNair has been brewing Hop-Fu! and winning medals with it for well over a decade, but this still feels like the new guard of the essential West Coast IPA — it’s proof the style is going strong. North Park is now another jewel in the IPA’s crown, and their reputation is built on Hop-Fu! and its herbaceous, candied orange and apricot flavors.

Mitch Steele

Brewmaster, COO, and co-founder, New Realm Brewing; author, “IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale

Ballantine IPA: One of the few American IPAs to survive Prohibition, and inarguably inspired Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman to brew their own IPAs [Anchor Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, respectively] in the very early days of craft beer. Its legacy and impact on American craft brewing is unquestionable.

Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA: This is one of the few beers I buy from retail every year, without fail. It’s simply a classic, and a real throwback to the origins of craft beer. The hop flavors are incredibly American, with loads of pine and citrus. I cannot imagine cooking Thanksgiving dinner without a glass of this in my hand!

Russian River Blind Pig IPA: When I worked at Stone Brewing [where Steele created some historic IPAs himself, including Stone IPA, Enjoy By IPA, and Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA], I lived in Temecula, Calif., the birthplace of this wonderful IPA. Given brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo’s family history in Temecula, this beer was always available in many locations in town and I drank quite a bit of it. It became my favorite in Russian River’s outstanding lineup of IPAs.

Fat Head’s Head Hunter: One of the best representations of what I consider a West Coast IPA. Head Hunter is a frequent award winner at prestigious beer competitions, and in my mind this beer checks every box for what makes a great IPA. I’ve been lucky to brew with Brewmaster Matt Cole a lot, and so have been able to enjoy this beer in Cleveland many times.

Lew Bryson

Longtime beer writer, author, and journalist

Bell’s Two Hearted IPA: Year after year, Two Hearted is a go-to, and not just for me. Clean and crisp from day one, yet possibly the origin of the “malt backbone” descriptor.

Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA: Probably the packaged beer I buy the most of — at least four cases a year, and we always keep a 12-pack for Christmas in July. Dazzling classic pine and citrus hop character, with a muscular body that’s never filling.

Russian River Blind Pig IPA: You can keep your Pliny. I’ve been in love with Blind Pig since the mid-’90s, when I tasted the original Blind Pig Brewery version at GABF. Unabashedly bitter West Coast IPA, and still a ringing shock to the tongue.

Tree House Julius: Sorry, I’ve got no surprises here. You have to pick a New England IPA, and Julius is my pick. Full and satisfying aroma, slides easily across the tongue, great swallow-through. A fun beer, and isn’t that a good thing?

Mandy Naglich

VinePair contributor; author, “How to Taste: A Guide to Discovering Flavor and Savoring Life

Russian River Pliny the Elder: When I heard [Mount Rushmore] my mind went immediately to Pliny, a perfectly balanced, hop-forward IPA with a solid malt backbone that used to be signature to the style. Amarillo, Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe hops come together in a beer that’s complex and hoppy, but doesn’t blow your palate away with bitterness. It’s the first American beer people planned pilgrimages to taste. (Take that, monks!) It’s a double IPA brewed by the father of double IPAs, Vinnie Cilurzo, which seems to me a solid reason to put it in the George Washington slot on Mount Rushmore.

The Alchemist Heady Topper: Another first of its kind, Heady Topper is billed as an “Unfiltered Double IPA” but it’s so much more than that. The team at The Alchemist kicked off the haze craze with an IPA that showed off the fruity, tropical side of hops and matched that with a soft and round finish, as opposed to a bitter one. It’s the only beer I have ever traded for via mail — I had to ship out four Russian River beers for just two cans, back in 2013. I still think it was worth it.

Ballast Point Sculpin: The end of this IPA’s legacy might not seem Mount Rushmore-worthy but it certainly made a splash that we still feel the ripples from today. Sculpin inspired people to line up around the country as San Diego-based Ballast Point expanded distribution. (Did I line up in Fort Worth, Texas? Reader, I did.) It’s also the first very successful example of releasing permanent variants on a singular core brand. Grapefruit Sculpin, Habanero Sculpin, and later Pineapple Sculpin were not one-off special editions of Sculpin; they were brewed year-round to take up swaths of shelf space next to the OG. The many-faced Voodoo Ranger of New Belgium Brewery and the ever-growing Little Something line from Sierra Nevada would look very different without Sculpin’s inspiration.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: Filling the last spot was tough, but the IPA that jump-started the bitterness arms race has earned its place on the historically significant list. With 90 Minute IPA Sam Calagione not only emphasized the hoppy balance of an American IPA, but also educated his customers, indicating how an IPA gets bitter. His schtick: continual hopping for 90 minutes as the beer boiled. Before beer geeks were counting IBUs [International Bitterness Units], they were counting Sam’s minutes of hopping. The beer is richly malty, even with the emphasis on hops, but once fans had a taste they were set seeking out the rare 120 Minute IPA or settling for the later-released 60 minute IPA. These IPAs remind me of the time when homebrew forums were bustling and customers were hungry for facts about boil times, mash temperatures, and malt bills.

Ryan Guthy

Co-Founder, Wicked Weed; Craft Regional Vice President, Anheuser-Busch

Russian River Pliny the Elder: How could you not love one of the greatest IPAs ever produced? This beer provided a ton of inspiration. Before opening our doors, all of us went out West for an R&D journey. We ended our amazing trip at Russian River, where we got to spend a ton of time with co-owner and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo and pick the brain of one of the country’s greatest beer creators.

The Alchemist Focal Banger: Any IPA lover should know The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. But when [founder/brewer] John Kimmich paid us a little visit, it was his Focal Banger that I instantly fell in love with.

Fat Head’s Head Hunter: I fell in love with Fat Head’s at my first Great American Beer Festival. I was absolutely stunned and amazed by the entire spectrum of Fat Head’s IPA portfolio, from hoppy reds to their imperials, [but] Head Hunter especially blew me away with its drinkability and combination of bright pineapple, pine, and citrus.

Wicked Weed Freak of Nature: My personal favorite IPA is [our] award-winning Freak Of Nature. It has been on tap at the brewpub every day since the doors opened in 2012 and quickly developed a cult following. This Double IPA is dank and piney, with a beautiful complement of grapefruit and orange citrus.

Brad Japhe

Longtime drinks writer and co-host “The Sipping Point

Russian River Pliny the Elder: The IPA category owes the West Coast thanks for catapulting it into the mainstream and it was Pliny that was the style’s first superstar.

The Alchemist Heady Topper: The hazy that started it all, and brought the IPA into the future, where it still dominates today.

Lagunitas IPA: So synonymous with IPA at the start of the boom, I remember many drinkers thought “IPA” was actually a Lagunitas brand of beer as opposed to a style category.

Tree House Julius: If Heady started it all, it was Julius that would become the archetype for the modern hazy — super juicy, soft, hazy, canned, and crushable.

Cumulative List (for those counting)

  • Russian River Pliny the Elder – 4
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper – 4
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA – 3
  • Tree House Julius – 3
  • Ballast Point Sculpin – 2
  • Russian River Blind Pig IPA – 2
  • Bell’s Two Hearted IPA – 2
  • Fat Head’s Head Hunter – 2
  • Alpine Nelson – 1
  • Maine Beer Co. Lunch – 1
  • Bear Republic Racer 5 – 1
  • Other Half All Riwaka Everything – 1
  • North Park Hop-Fu! – 1
  • Ballantine IPA – 1
  • The Alchemist Focal Banger – 1
  • Lagunitas IPA – 1
  • Dogfish Head 90 Minute – 1
  • Wicked Weed Freak of Nature – 1