Tuesday, April 7, 2009


We needed to do a proper IPA shootout.  Not a “tasting”, but an actual shootout.  How is that done?  

Step 1: Gather some hopefully worthy brews.  Check.  We even managed to sneak in an elusive (for Kansas, anyway) Three Floyds Alpha King.  

Step 2: Gather some beer nerds to taste and subjectively judge.  The beer nerds part is easy. The four nerds for this shootout are all avid homebrewers… a combined 35 years of brewing experience, and a collective 5 trips to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.  The “subjectively judge” part would be the hard part.  For this shootout, we’ve rated in a very unorthodox manner, and it exposes some of our personal biases. We’re familiar with the traditional beer rating system, where you take things such as nose, mouthfeel, and appearance into consideration.  That’s all fine and dandy.  But for me (and the friends in this shootout), there’s really only ONE thing that matters most in the end… DID WE LIKE THIS BEER?  A really nasty beer could have a GREAT mouthfeel or appearance.  But why rate it high on those fronts if I think it sucks and I have no intention of buying it?  With that in mind, we decided on an arbitrary scale of 1 – 100.  100 is the best beer the world could ever produce (there were none given), and 1 is an undrinkable beer.  50 is the “utterly average” mark.  It’s that beer that just makes you wonder why they even bothered brewing it.  So typical, so average, it just doesn’t move you, but at least isn’t BAD.  Anything below the 50 mark gets on the verge of nasty, and anything above 50 is where you start to consider buying the stuff. 

Perhaps the most important part of this scale is that helps us get a handle on the overall “greatness” of the beer.  For instance, if a beer comes in 3rd place, that doesn’t tell us much.  Was it a distant third, or was it a photo finish, where you can’t go wrong with ANY of the top-3?  Our system helps quantify that. 

The 16 beers were blindly poured, so during the tasting, we only knew a beer by number, not name.  This removed any possible chance of bias for (or against) a brand name.  There are very valid concerns that a lot of hops kill the taste buds.  We also tried to combat this by having each of the four judges start with a different set of four beers.  This way, if later tastings tended to judge a beer more harshly (or favorably), it would all average out in the end.  Furthermore, we had water and crackers to help cleanse the palette between tastings.  Finally, this wasn’t a “run through once and rate” type of thing.  After the initial tasting, we went back to re-taste similarly scored beers to further hone the scores.  In the end, every one of us had ratings that were very accurate.  I then averaged all of the numbers to come up with the final results.  Some might surprise you.  Averaged scores are in parenthesis.  Here goes:


16th Place: Southampton IPA (45) – Unanimously voted the worst of the whole bunch, and by a pretty good margin.  I think it was the only beer in the tasting where every person either coughed, gasped, or had some type of negative comment about it.  All malt and devoid of any hop character.  I wouldn’t buy this for $1/6-pack, simply because I wouldn’t enjoy drinking ANY of it. 


15th Place: Three Floyds Alpha King (57.5) – This was a shocker, and I hope it doesn’t offend some of the Three Floyds faithful here.  Again, this was a totally blind taste test done by some knowledgeable beer nerds.  Overall, this one just didn’t have what it takes.  Some specific comments from the tasting… “Is this even an IPA?  Tastes like a British Pale.”  “All malt, no hops.”  “No hop smell, too dark, too malty.”  DISCLAIMER – This beer was 8 months old.  In my opinion, NOT old enough to noticeably detract from the flavor profile, but if anyone wants to mail me a fresh one, I’ll gladly taste it. 


14th Place: Bear Republic Extra Pale Ale (61.25) – Granted, it’s not even fair to throw a pale in with a bunch of IPAs and expect it to do well.  I think this one must have been on sale for it to make this group.  Regardless, the fact that this mere pale beat out two other IPA’s says something about how weak the last 2 places really were. 


13th Place: Pyramid Thunderhead IPA (66.25) – Not much to say about it.  Nothing offensive, but nothing that stood out as overly memorable.


12th Place: Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA (66.75) – Comes in at the lower end of our scale, but it’s worth noting that ONE judge ranked this as his #1 beer (giving it a 94).  Think about what a 94 does to the average of this beer.  By the other three judges, this one was given a score of 45, 60, and 68.  It was not well-received.  Why the division?  The taster who gave it a 94 admitted that he loved the nutty, malty taste.  To which everyone else responded something to the effect of, “We aren’t rating nut brown ales here!!!”  In the end, he admitted that as an IPA, this one was WAY off the mark, but as a tasty brown ale, pretty darn good.  Just don’t go into this one expecting hops. 


11th Place: Mojo IPA (67) – We’ve rated this one in the past, and our opinion hasn’t shifted too much.  Just doesn’t carry enough hop “BAM” for our tastes. 


10th Place: Mongoose IPA (67.5) – We had LOW hopes for this one, mainly because a bomber of it was only $2.99, but overall, it wasn’t a bad IPA.  “Crisp start, bad finish”.  “A solid, if average, IPA.”


9th Place: O’Fallon 5-Day IPA (70) – Here’s where we really start getting to some of the solid IPAs.  This one didn’t have many noteworthy comments, but all judged it fairly well.


8th Place: Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (72.75) – Noted as having a “peppery” taste, perhaps due to the rye? 


6th Place (tie): Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA (73.75) “Great smell, excellent hop bitterness at the end.” “Clean color, crisp taste backs it up.”


6th Place (tie): Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA (73.75) – I’ll admit that I’ve always been biased AGAINST this company because I think the pencil-scratched labels make it look cheap.  However, they actually backed it up with a solid beer that I’d gladly buy again.


5th Place: Bridgeport IPA (74.5) – This was, for me, the gold standard of IPAs at one time.  I still think it’s a fantastic IPA.  It’s just been eclipsed in recent years by some real hop bombs.  Crisp, citrusy, drinkable.


4th Place: Boulevard Singlewide IPA (78.5) – This was my personal second-favorite of the shootout.  Stunning when I consider the fact that I’ve had this beer before, and was underwhelmed at the time.  But when blindly put side-by-side with some of the kings of IPA’s, this fared VERY well.  Universally liked.


3rd Place: Bell’s 2-Hearted Ale (83) – It’s all been said before on this one.  “Best smell of all beers here.” “Well balanced malt and hops.” 


2nd Place: Sierra Nevada Torpedo (85.75) – One taster’s hands-down favorite, while ranking 3rd – 5th by others.  Not a citrus bomb like the 2-Hearted Ale, but a DEFINITE hop bitterness that stands out as unique in this crowd… not an easy task when you look at the sheer number of competitors. 


1st Place: O’Dell IPA (90.25)  - Shocker here.  It won our last IPA shootout with only 3 other competitors.  Apparently, adding 12 more competitors can’t de-throne this king.  I realized on this tasting that I’ve mistakenly called the hops “grapefruity” in the past.  It’s not grapefruit.  It’s pine.  All pine.  One taster couldn’t keep his comments to himself when he stumbled upon this one… “Smelled like I’ve walked into a Nordic pine forest!” “Most unique beer of the day… tastes like a pine tree.” “Good color, aroma.” “A unique standout in this crowd.”


What I actually find great about these overall results is that the O’Dell IPA and the Sierra Nevada Torpedo couldn’t be more different.  This isn’t a “citrus hop” bias coming out, or anything like that.  These two beers simply manage to stand out dramatically from a lot of the others, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to do that in the crowded IPA field.  Feel free to talk amongst yourselves, berate us as judges, condemn our scoring system, or do anything else that helps you feel better about a beer that you wanted to score higher.  Most importantly, cheers to whatever beer you personally love. 


  1. wow- great post, guys. thanks for all your hard work! an enjoyable read, and looking forward to tasting some of these myself

  2. If you could of squeezed in a double wide ipa...it may have topped the list. Your ratings were parallel to my scores from my "ipa a day" marathon earlier this spring. The only beers I would have switched would have been Alpha King and Two Hearted. I would love to find the "citrus" flavor that you say is in the Two Hearted (it's all grainy to me)...and I love the BIG hop flavor of the Alpha King. I'll have an Alpha King in your honor. Cheers. Oh yeah, I would gladly use Hop Rod Rye as fertilizer on my lawn before pouring it down my throat. I love hearing other's opinions. It makes me question mine...leading to more drinking!

  3. Here's my "IPA a Day" reviews. Many are repeats from your list. I had 13, but my father-in-law drank the O'Dell's when he was babysitting...maybe it would have topped the list...

  4. "Anonymous", is drinking 16 IPA's really considered "hard work"? Sure, we try to pass it off to the wives as a chore for the benefit of the general public on this blog, but the beer faithful of this blog know that excuse is thin as the hop character of Schlitz.
    Still, glad you enjoyed, and may you find some new favorites from this!

    Prescription, VERY good observation on the Boulevard Doublewide. Here's the lowdown... we had another half-dozen or so double (or Imperial) IPA's that we were going to rate. Boulevard Doublewide was among those. The problem was that after 16 single IPA's, we didn't think our taste buds could be counted on to rate the doubles without bias. Besides, it's not really fair to compare a double to a standard IPA. Rest assured, at the next IndyCar race of the season, the double/imperial IPA's will be tested in the same manner (by the same judges), and posted for your enjoyment!

    I'm really thrown off by your comments about the lack of citrus in the 2-Hearted, and the hoppy character of the Alpha King! I'm chalking this up to either a BAD Alpha King that we tried, or the phenomenon of trying to describe color to a blind man. Hops are complex. What we're calling "citrus", you might be calling something else... yet we might be talking about the exact same thing. This is exactly why I'd love to have a few fine pints with you, sir! To taste the same beers and try to put our taste experience into words. As always, I enjoy and value your takes on the beers.

  5. Oh, and Prescription, I PERSONALLY agree with your comments on the Hop Rod... just not a rye fan myself, but one of the judges is a bonafide Rye believer. He swears he'll convert me someday, but I'm just not seeing it in my near future. Let's just call it "unique" and leave it at that.

  6. after a long two years of loving the Hop Rod Rye, scouting for it in bigger towns of the republic, we finally got it here in bryan. i exuberantly bought a bottle, brought it home, opened it with zeal, and felt all manner of disappointment. maybe i was wrong about that one. in fact, i could barely drink it. i'll pick up another soon, see if it had anything to do with my diet or disposition that day. we'll see.

    i do love rye. had a great rye pale ale couple weeks back. love the stuff.

    sir scott, you have outdone yourself here. i have more to say, but the papers and profs await. also, i would like to see you and precription at the same table. may the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by.

  7. reading all of this IPA propaganda makes me want to give the pale ale another chance.

  8. andrew - praise God. with both hands in a roof raise. i will help you. name the time and place.

  9. WOW. I love this post. Excellent organization and I agree with the rating system (1-100). I think I would have rated similarly except bumped Alpha King higher, Hop Rod Rye lower, and O'Fallon 5 day higher.

    Can we organize a May Madness? Bracket off 64 beers into four different categories. We all weigh in with a score. Take the average score, highest score advances.

    Anonymous, THIS will take a lot of work. Brainstorming here...what do you think?

  10. Yes. this junk is good.

    i would have had Alpha King higher as well, the rye ridiculousness at the bottom, and i thought the top 5 were brilliant. I definitely agreed more with your top favorites.

  11. zoe: maybe you are describing the hops as citrusy...I am looking for an actual citrus flavors, such as grapefruit or lemon. I will continue to defend my stance about the Two Hearted. I like it fine, but I won't pay for a 6 pack. When people set one in front of me, I enjoy it...but if I had a choice...mmm...O'Fallon 5 Day...Hop Ottin'...sorry, got sidetracked. I am confident that your tasting experience exceeds mine by a mile...but I would like to raise glasses together and let the banter ensue.

  12. I tasted my first O'Dell IPA last night and this afternoon. I fell in love with it. It is definitely in the top 5 for me.

  13. Church Key, may the Lord bless all of your endeavors. You have discovered the Holy Grail of IPA's.

    Rx, I hope I've never come across as one of those "my taste buds are more refined than yours" type. Your comment about my tasting experience makes me fear this. Think of movie critics. I don't care how "refined" a movie critic is... If I love my Rambo movies, and one has the wherewithall to put one down, then we simply don't see eye-to-eye on cinematic perfection. (I'm not really that much of a Rambo fan, just making a point.)

    Instead, I hope my comments can be taken more like those of a movie watcher. I know I'll never see eye-to-eye with all of the beer lovers out there. But if I'm consistent in my likes and dislikes, even blind, then people might identify their tastes with mine, and thus give my recommendations more credence than the average Joe. I by no means think that my my tastes are "right". If your tastebuds disagree, more power to you. It makes me all the more eager to share some pints with you. Charlie Papazian, one of the fathers of homebrewing and beer judging, has a response that I just love. He's often asked, "What is your favorite beer?"
    His response is a simple, "The one that's in my hand."

  14. A couple more comments. Prescription, yes, I think you have it correct that the citrus I speak of in the Two Hearted Ale is definitely a HOP citrus, not like actual lime juice squeezed in the pint glass. When one becomes a true addict of hops, they will gravitate to a characteristic of hops... whether that be an earthy, spicy, or citrusy character. For me, I'm a citrus lover, and those are the types of IPA's that I'll go cookoo for.

    After reading all of the comments, I'm also CONVINCED that we might have had an old Alpha King on our hands. There are people that generally agree with my tastes that genuinely disagree with the placement of this beer. I'll stand by the rating, simply because we ALL rated this as a bottom of the barrel beer. However, since so many people who like "my" style of IPA's have disagreed with this rating, something is amiss. For real, if someone wants to send me a fresh one, let me know. I'll give you my address and will give another mini-shootout to this beer. After all, it's not fair to pitch 8-month-old beer against fresh stock (even though I personally feel that age only helps an IPA up to a certain point... the best homebrew I've ever tasted is still on tap in my office, and is 14 months old.)