This October, VinePair is celebrating our second annual American Beer Month. From beer style basics to unexpected trends (pickle beer, anyone?), to historical deep dives and new developments in package design, expect an exploration of all that’s happening in breweries and taprooms across the United States all month long.
The American IPA is something of an anomaly. Everything from its origins to its bicoastal sub-styles are hotly contested by beer connoisseurs and professionals. Its most recent and enduring sub-style, hazy IPA, is a craft beer success story, becoming a necessity for brewers’ viability in an increasingly competitive market, and also one of the most “overrated,” according to the very brewers who make it.
What’s become a wholly accepted truth among industry members is that the very initials “IPA” say more than what’s inside the can. With endless iterations, innovations, and hop research and development in the field and in the brewhouse, IPAs sell. Year after year, in a country of macro-lager-drinking masses, IPA is the most popular craft beer style sold at supermarkets and retailers in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association.
The following 25 IPAs have all had an impact on the craft beer community and continue to define the industry at large. In many cases, these brands pioneered a regional IPA style in their states, while others are standouts that made more recent waves in the relatively young hazy IPA craze. While many more were considered for this list, these are the 25 most important IPAs at VinePair in 2021.
25. Zero Gravity Craft Brewery Conehead
Rarely does a single-hop, lower-alcohol IPA earn Vermont beer acclaim, but Zero Gravity’s Conehead, brewed in the tropical-hop forest that is Burlington, Vt., has kept its hoppy head up. That’s because, for one, that single hop we mentioned is Citra, the most coveted hop varietal in America. It’s also bright and fruity with orange-peel citrusy notes, while laying low on bitterness. And soft-textured wheat with a light, crisp ABV make it an agreeable entry point for those folks who “don’t like IPAs.”
24. New England Brewing Co. G-Bot
New England Brewing Co. caught the attention of locals — and international news outlets — when its depiction of Mahatma Gandhi on a 16-ounce sticker can either delighted or deeply offended Facebook users in 2009. After a lawsuit and requisite new name and label, G-Bot (formerly Ghandi Bot) prevails as one of Connecticut’s most sought-after beers — and was popular long before “New England” became synonymous with the most successful style of IPA that has ever existed. G-Bot is now a year-round release that’s available across the state and considered one of the best by brewers and consumers alike.
23. Melvin Brewing 2×4
Melvin is cocky about its 2×4 DIPA, which it regularly claims is “the best damn DIPA in the world.” While that may not be verifiably true, as the highest-rated beer in the state of Wyoming and a go-to craft beer for bartenders there, it’s impossible to ignore the impact it’s had. Jackson bartender Joey Langlinais called it “the best IPA I’ve ever had; citrusy, malty, fruity, DIPA perfection.”
22. Great Notion Ripe
Once called a trailblazer among Portland brewers, Great Notion is now selling its Ripe IPA for Trail Blazers fans at Moda Center. Once a homebrew recipe, according to co-founder James Dugan, the solely Citra-hopped, award-winning IPA has since become Dugan’s pride and joy (and a beer we wish we could drink much more often). Great Notion’s Ripe proves that in today’s America, NBA and junior ice hockey fans can sip award-winning hazy IPAs brewed exclusively with Citra hops in a sports arena. What a time to be alive.
21. Cerebral Brewing Rare Trait
The IPA that lays the foundation for Cerebral Brewing IPAs, Rare Trait is coveted for its peach- and citrus-packed aromas captured from a variety of hops (Citra, El Dorado, Mosaic), along with a perceivable bitterness that balances the tropical fruit notes. Its DDH version is one we love, but getting back to the basics is where we find this label hitting best this year.
20. WeldWerks Juicy Bits
WeldWerks Brewing Co. is better known for its over-the-top pastry stouts (and pastry Berliners, and pastry IPAs), but Juicy Bits is what put the brewery — and Greeley, Colo. — on the map for craft beer drinkers. The brewery’s flagship IPA continues to turn heads today, not least because of its limited-edition variants. In 2021, the “I Got Vaccinated” variant commemorated WeldWerks “teaming up with our Department of Public Health and Environment to offer a free walk-up vaccination clinic for our patrons.”
19. Cigar City Jai Alai
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA was the top-selling 6-pack of canned craft beers at major grocery stores in the U.S., and one of VinePair’s 50 Best Beers of the Year in 2018. In 2021, Jai Alai’s trend-setting tropical character seems almost commonplace, but it’s this 2009 pre-haze craze craft brew that set the stage for many more to come.
18. Hop Butcher Neon Green Relish
Neon Green Relish evolves with every sip, sniff, and sampling session. Zesty and herbal like a G&T with bergamot or lime, then dank as a wheel of Brie before going back to fruity berry notes, it’s somewhere between a pickle and a danish. It’s exactly this beguiling character that has hop-obsessed beer drinkers hooked on Hop Butcher. The Illinois brewery’s constantly changing range of thick, juicy hazies is for those who like their flavors extreme.
17. Pipeworks Ninja Vs. Unicorn
It’s hard to believe that Ninja Vs. Unicorn, with its eye-catching label splashed across beer fridges from Chicago to Brooklyn, has only been sold in cans since 2015. The slightly boozy, yet dry and refreshing double IPA is still the most popular beer at Pipeworks and we reckon that won’t change for a long while.
16. Maine Beer Co. Lunch
Maine Lunch is a modern classic, introducing a generation of beer geeks to “whales” while bridging East and West Coast IPA styles before we considered beer “bicoastal.” Dinner followed as the brewery’s first double IPA, and more recently, Second Dinner followed. Although all of the above are outstanding, Lunch has been the most accessible since its 2011 release, and its orange-grapefruit-guava aromas and flavors, then as now, are irresistible to any IPA.
15. Talea Beer Co. Sun Up
“Like OJ,” according to one Untappd reviewer, Sun Up is approachable, easy-drinking, and among that special class of IPAs that can convert a non-believer to the dark — er, hop — side. It has a hint of tropical fruit on the nose, lightly bitter citrus notes, and a lactose-laced drinkability that lends itself to a few rounds. Get ready to see a lot more Sun Up as Talea grows. This flagship hazy IPA had shelf space in Whole Foods before Talea had its own brewery, and this sun will only continue to rise.
14. Athletic Brewing Co. Free Wave
Athletic Brewing not only makes some of the best non-alcoholic beer in the growing category, but it’s also made inroads into non-abstinent communities with its outstanding quality, marketing, and growth. Free Wave continues to hold down a permanent corner of our beer fridge, serving us a constant reminder of moderation as a flavor experience, not one of restriction. This NA IPA is not only one of our favorite non-alcoholic beers, but favorite drinks, period.
13. Toppling Goliath King Sue
Now neatly packed into grocery stores across the country, King Sue was once a thing of legend. Did it really exist? Big, bold, and bitter but juicy, too, the Citra-hopped hazy double IPA is an unlikely Iowa star, even making it as one of Beer Advocate’s 100-rated beers.
12. Alchemist Heady Topper
Flirting with Focal Banger, Alchemist’s other famous IPA, is fun and all; but Heady Topper is a legend. Released in 2003 to almost no one (you had to be there, literally, to get it), the Vermont super-hopped pioneer of New England IPA is still a rite of passage for every self-respecting beer drinker nearly two decades later.
11. Dogfish Head 60 Minute
Following 90 Minute IPA, the fabled result of the continual-hopping method created by Sam Calagione with a vibrating football game, 60 Minute reached consumers in 2003 as a more approachable version of the piney, grapefruit-pithy Dogfish IPA. Citrusy, herbal, malt-backed, and dry, this stand-in for session IPA is still impressing us today.
10. Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine
Where would the world be without Lawson’s and its light, bright lineup of Vermont IPAs? This New England IPA that turned into a series of variants set the standard for NEIPA without resembling what we think of the style today. It’s golden orange and cloudy but not opaque like OJ. It has huge citrus fruit on the nose, and an unapologetically bitter pith on the palate and lingering finish. In retrospect, Sip of Sunshine blazed a trail for super-citrusy IPAs.
9. Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
Beer geeks can’t get enough of Bell’s Two Hearted. The American IPA consistently tops consumer and industry surveys, including being named the American Homebrewers Association’s best beer of the year, every year. All this despite the fact that Two Hearted only uses Centennial hops is an astounding achievement in a world gone hazy.
8. Russian River Pliny the Elder
Santa Rosa, Calif.
For a few fateful days this summer, VinePair staff members visiting Sonoma had the chance to drink Pliny the Elder on draft and in our hotel rooms. We were reminded — not that we needed to be — that this imperial pioneer is every bit as delicious as we’ve been telling our friends and readers for years. Pliny the Younger may be coming for the title, but we’re still partial to the Elder.
7. Firestone Walker Mind Haze IPA
Paso Robles, Calif.
In 2009, Firestone Walker’s Double Jack imperial IPA introduced craft beer drinkers to a pumped-up version of the original Union Jack IPA, itself considered one of the first West Coast IPAs ever made. To the horror of its devotees, Double Jack was discontinued in 2016 — until its 2020 resurrection — and has been retired again. In the meantime, Mind Haze has emerged as a family of brands and the brewery’s main focus, continually evolving with the brewery’s hop trials and seasonal whims. With five iterations to date, we’re excited to see where Mind Haze takes us in the coming years.
6. Stone Brewing Ruination 2.0
Stone’s original year-round double IPA, Ruination, was first introduced nearly 20 years ago in 2002. It was discontinued in 2015, but simultaneously resurrected with a slightly different recipe (essentially, more hops) to accommodate the modern IPA drinker’s taste for — and the brewery’s access to — hop varieties and techniques that amplify its tropical and piney aromas. The latest rumination, “sans filtre,” brings Ruination 2.0 to large-format bottles unfiltered.
5. Lagunitas IPA
Lagunitas Hazy Wonder may be coming for the hazebros and girls, but no attempt (or pseudo-attempt) at a New England-style IPA from this staunchly West Coast brewery can tip its flagship. This classic craft brand is the top-selling IPA in the country’s chain and convenience stores, according to IRI, and its global ownership by Netherlands-based Heineken has allowed Lagunitas IPA to remain consistent — and consistently good — no matter the location.
4. Tree House Julius
Julius epitomizes Tree House and the hazy or juicy IPA sub-style as a whole. The flagship IPA of one of America’s trendsetting breweries is every bit as delicious now as it was when it launched in 2012 — with mouthwatering, hop-derived mango, passion fruit, peach, and fresh-squeezed OJ emanating from a selection of American hops. That’s right: No tropical fruits were harmed in the brewing process for this tropical smoothie-flavored IPA that continues to top charts today.
3. Other Half All Green Everything
Other Half continues to surf the wave of innovation when it comes to hopping techniques. And yet, while we continue to be impressed by recent releases like Past And Present: American Double IPA, when we considered the most impactful Other Half beer this year, we kept coming back to its singular ability to make triple IPAs that we actually want to drink. All Green Everything is one of Other Half’s original brews, featuring Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, and Motueka hops. In the words of Magnify Brewing Company owner Eric Ruta, this “hazy, juicy, fruit salad in liquid form” has matured with the brewery and the craft beer industry as a whole.
2. New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA
Fort Collins, Colo.
No matter how you cut it, New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger IPA family is growing. It’s been the brewery’s top focus since 2018, according to CEO Steve Fechheimer, and accounts for 65 percent of New Belgium’s business, according to Brewbound. Moreover, Voodoo Ranger variants are five of IRI’s top 30 best-selling craft beers in the country, with the Imperial IPA leading the pack. Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA also landed at the No. 5 spot of online retailer Drizly’s top-selling IPA SKUs of 2020.
1. Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing
Sierra Nevada’s entree into hazy IPA was something few expected, and even fewer are unimpressed by. Steadily sitting on the list of the brewery’s top-selling brands, Hazy Little Thing is poised to become the most successful brand by the brewery — surpassing even its legendary Pale Ale — by 2022.