The Mix Pack: Hopicidal Ales

Margaret Eby

I have never been an India Pale Ale (IPA) kind of gal. My go-tos are usually ambers or darker. However, in order to broaden my horizons, I figured the best way to get acquainted with the IPA flavor palate was to fully immerse myself in the different styles and tastes. And to my surprise, it was far more enjoyable than it was miserable. IPAs are intensely flavorful, complex, and beyond unique. Best served very chilled. Sláinte!

Ranger India Pale Ale
New Belgium Brewing
Fort Collins, Colo.
6.5 percent ABV

When trying IPAs as a beginner, you must start with a classic. Ranger is one of the most well-known India Pales and lives up to everything you would think an IPA is. It is bright gold with a thick wheat-colored head. With a garden of hops printed right on the label, Ranger is not shy about its hop-tastic flavor. While this bitter kick might be shocking at first sip, it only gets smoother and smoother as it goes. Hoppy-ness is bright and refreshing, and if you taste closely enough there is a complex, citrus sweetness and flowery aftertaste that balances the bitter hops and makes Ranger incredibly drinkable. Be careful, though. At 6.5% ABV, it’s not the kind of six pack you should drink in one sitting.

Summit India Pale Ale
Summit Brewing Company
St. Paul, Minn.
6.4 percent ABV

This beautiful amber-colored ale even just smells sweet, like syrup straight from the cold Minnesotan tundra where it’s brewed. It has a powerful malt and barley flavor that makes it bitter on the top and oh-so-sweet on the bottom. This sweetness takes the edge off the hoppy bitterness that often gives IPAs a less accessible quality. This is a great IPA for someone who wants a bright sweet beer without the cringe-causing bitterness of a true IPA. Summit is perplexing in a way because it has a caramel, medium bodied flavor that I was in no way expecting. It’s not until the aftertaste that the hops truly come through; they are sweet and intriguing when they do.

Snake Dog IPA
Flying Dog Brewery
Frederick, Md.
7.1 percent ABV

The bizarre Flying Dog Brewery is famous for its crazed looking label artwork and beer that is just as wild. Anna Steadman, the label artist’s wife said of this beer, “It snakes down the throat like a faithful friend.” This couldn’t be truer. This IPA is incredibly balanced with just the right hopped bitterness and a delicious citrus sweetness. The bitterness of a snake bite and the sweetness of man’s best friend. Snake Dog is delightfully effervescent and would go perfectly with those nights when you want to feel like a grown up and eat some fancy cheese and cracker hors d’oeuvres. This is easily the most well-balanced of the IPAs thus far.

Lagunitas India Pale Ale
The Lagunitas Brewing Company
Petaluma, Calif.
6.2 percent ABV

The hops in this one are apparent as soon as you open the bottle, even at an arm’s length. And the flavor is just as much a kick in the mouth as in the nose. This is definitely a brew for the hop lovers out there. Lagunitas Brewing consistently has beers packed with a punch of flavor, and their IPA is no exception. Much like Ranger, Lagunitas gets smoother as it goes. Perhaps that’s the secret to loving IPAs. You must appreciate the initial punch that it provides, and appreciate it long enough that it turns into a smooth wave of flavor, complex and intense. The bottle states “Savor the moment as the raging hop character engages the Imperial Qualities of the Malt Foundation in mortal combat on the battlefield of your palate!” This is the battle that gives Lagunitas’s IPA a multi-level flavor profile. On one hand, it has a deep flowery note, but it is still bitter to the very end. To experience a tongue-numbing IPA, try Lagunitas.

Rocky Mountain IPA
Fort Collins Brewery
Fort Collins, Colo.
6.2 percent ABV

Fort Collins hasn’t let me down yet. Their Rocky Mountain IPA has a decidedly more smoked wood aroma than the others. The question then becomes, how does a deeply smoked flavor mix with the brightness of hops? Well, the answer is, ever so smoothly. Rocky Mountain’s smoldering sweetness is balanced perfectly by a massive hops bitterness. This is a great IPA to add a bubbly hop kick to BBQ or a bowl of chili. Brews like this, with especially complex flavor palates, are the perfect complement to those college ventures into cooking cheap but somehow absolutely delicious foods that make you feel like a real grown up.

Zen IPA
BlueCreek Brewing
Black River Falls, Wis.
N/A ABV

Holy all natural beer, Batman! This family of beers is distinctly unique. With Zen IPA brewed with Green Tea and others with blueberry and honey, these brews are surprising and in some ways, kind of bizarre. Zen tastes strongly like barley wine or even simply wine. It is incredibly sweet, making it easier on the palates of people with a sweet tooth. The taste is strongly herbal, and this cloudy ale carries with it a flowery aftertaste. Zen is a thick, rich IPA with a somewhat acquired taste. This is a true example of the experiment of mixing strong IPA hops with complementary flavors.

Prepare yourself for these flavor-packed ales that don’t back down in the face of cheap beer. Drink well.