When imagining a historical arms race, your mind may float back to the Cold War faceoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union, but for today’s beer lovers, there’s plenty of posturing for shelf space at their favorite grocery store or bottle shop.
Through May, almost 900 different IPA brands were available in supermarkets throughout the U.S., which doesn’t account for the hundreds more you’ll find in other beer retailers or as draft-only options at your local brewery. That’s more options than you can shake a hop bine at.
What does this mean for IPA loving hop heads? Innovation and experimentation, for sure. Many brewers are finding new ways to make their beer stand out from the rest, whether through unique brewing processes or ingredients.
Check out these six beers that are pushing the envelope in the IPA arms race.
Your favorite IPAs use plenty of hops, but this latest concoction from Sierra Nevada doesn’t stop there. Hop lovers across the country rejoiced at the sight of this beer, which uses a unique steaming process to distill freshly picked hops before they leave the field. Oils from Cascade, Centennial and CTZ hops are turned into vapor, cooled and condensed, then added to the beer after fermentation. The result is an intense style of IPA once only found during the “wet hop” season in the fall. Science!
Masochists need only apply. Leave your sweet tooth behind for this IPA with an extra kick. Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA has long been a fan favorite, but its grapefruit and habanero cousins can now be found in stores throughout the country. This version has peppers added to the beer, which provides an intense heat and spiciness to the Sculpin’s normally sweeter hop taste. Brave through the first few sips, as the flavor is rewarding to those who can make it all the way through. Pair it with some Mexican food, too.
A funny thing happened on the way to today’s modern IPA, which regularly sits above 6% ABV and rips enamel with hop flavor. Some breweries got left behind. New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA was one of the original IPAs found on the market, but at 5.25% ABV and a more balanced hop bite, it needed an update. It’s now got more alcohol (5.25 to 7%), more hops (50% more dry hops) and utilizes Michigan-grown Cascades to offer a taste of the Mitten State for this newly named “Midwest IPA.”
New Holland isn’t the only brewery that recently changed recipes for a beloved IPA. In this case, Stone Brewing updated their Stone Ruination IPA to Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0, which upped the alcohol and added new hops, but also focused on a style of brewing called “hop bursting” that increases the aroma of hops used in the beer. The new effort gives off plenty of tropical fruit smells, and as it says on the label, may have you singing the praises of “a liquid poem to the glory of the hop.”
This New Jersey-based brewery has taken two of beer lovers’ favorite things—hops and barrel aging—and combined them into a wild mix of flavors. Kane uses their year-round IPA, Overhead, as a base, while bumping up the ABV from 8.2 to 9.4%. Then the beer spends six months in bourbon barrels previously used for their massive imperial stout, A Night to End All Dawns. Brace yourself for intense boozy flavor with vanilla and citrusy tones.
As you can tell by the name, Lonerider has a thing for Western themes, so it’s fitting they took the Magnificent 7 and turned it up a notch. This beer was created to push past its peers, requesting confirmation from the Guinness Book of World Records to recognize it as the first beer in the world using such a high volume of hop varieties—the 77 mentioned in its name. Only one 15-barrel batch was created, with 400 cans sold to the public and the rest going on draft locally. But don’t worry—Lonerider has said this beer will ride again.