Here is the Cliffs Notes version of the three sweetest letters in craft brewing: IPA. The Brits, loving themselves some pale ale, would load up a big, slow ship full of the country's favorite liquid, and send it off to that not-so-tiny colony known as India. Problem was, the beer would go bad by the time it got there. So they put that UK ingenuity to work and decided to add some extra alcohol (never a bad idea) and plenty of extra hops (an even better idea) and, voilà! The India Pale Ale was born.
Now it took the American Revolution, and by that we mean the current craft beer revolution sweeping the USA, in which our very own California brewers have unleashed the “West Coast IPA,” brimming with multiple kinds of hops, citrus, floral notes and just plain damn delicious. Now we've come full circle with respected Euro-brewers like Mikkeller and Nogne brewing “American-style IPAs.” Brilliant, as the Brits would say. We couldn't agree more. So without further ado, here are the five best IPAs in the world, meaning California.
5. Drake's Aroma Coma (San Leandro): The simply great brew crew at Drake's Brewing, one of the older brewing joints in Cali, have been making a very solid Drake's IPA for a long time. But with the current popularity of the citrusy IPAs with a big nose, they have just come out with Aroma Coma. Not surprisingly given their top-of-the-craft status, they knocked it out of the park. It is the current “it beer” in LA, available at only the best beer bars.
4. Kern River Brewing Just Outstanding IPA (Kernville. Yes. Kernville): A friend brought this IPA to our attention when it first came out by saying he asked for Pliny the Elder at the liquor store. The guy told him he couldn't get Pliny (shocker) but that we would love Kern Just Outstanding. To be honest, we assumed the liquor store clerk was laughing for hours after he sold our buddy a case of the stuff. No one is laughing now. It may be even harder to find in LA than Pliny and the kid from Kern, Kyle Smith, just won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for his Citra Double IPA which was, in our humble opinion, the beer of the year in 2011.
3. Alesmith IPA (San Diego): Alesmith Brewing just does great work. Period. Their IPA is so hopiliciously good it actually made our day when we found it at lunch today. That's a good IPA. Respected website ratebeer.com ranks it #1 in the IPA category. We ain't mad at 'em. Find it. Drink it. Love it.
2. Russian River Brewing Blind Pig (Santa Rosa): Here is a perfect IPA from Vinny Cilurzo that unbelievably lives in the shadow of its two more famous siblings, Pliny the Elder (DIPA), regarded as one of the best beers of any style on the planet, and the once-a-February released, crazy cult status, lines around the block because it might even be better than the Elder, Pliny the Younger (GIPA, G for genius).
And now, the best IPA in the world. Don't just take our word for it. It has won the World Beer Cup gold medal and GABF gold medal. We have heard whispers on bar stools around the City of Angels that it is, “maybe even better than Pliny.” This is kinda like when you watch the ESPN Top 50 NBA Players of All-Time for an hour to learn at the end that #1 is Michael Jordan.
1. Ballast Point Sculpin (San Diego): The story of Sculpin is exactly what makes craft brewing and, more importantly, drinking such a passion for droves of fans. Ballast Point Brewing emanated out of Home Brew Mart, a place where home brewers could go for equipment, supplies and training. Two home brewers brought the IPA recipe for what would become Sculpin to Ballast Point where one of their master brewers, Colby Chandler, tweaked it to perfection. Now Sculpin, coming from homebrewers, is the benchmark by which all other IPAs must be measured. That is what craft brewing is all about. The art of brewing superb beer. Sculpin is a masterpiece.
Where to find four of these top 5 on draft (nobody has Kern right now)? LA Beer Week starts Monday, October 10, and the joint we called “The Best Beer Bar in L.A. You've Never Heard Of”, Barbara's at the Brewery, will celebrate by holding their first ever IPA Festival featuring Sculpin, Blind Pig, Alesmith, Aroma Coma and a half-dozen other top of class IPAs. It'll be “IPAs all week long or until the last keg blows”, according to GM Erik Huig.