India Pale Ale: The name alone brings location to mind. It's a beer of varied style and story. From floral West Coast ales to malt-forward British IPAs and fruity-nosed Belgian IPAs, each IPA has a sense of place in its recipe.
Minnesota IPAs are no exception. We sipped our way through this most popular and accessible of craft beer styles to identify the top 10 IPAs in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Editor's note: For convenience and consistency, we limited the list by excluding one-offs and limited-edition brews. Each entry includes the IBU count (International Bittering Units), a common measurement of bitterness in a beer.
10. Haymaker (Mankato Brewing) IBU: 92 Haymaker is a Minnesota IPA, through and through. While this copper-colored beer is very bitter, it expresses itself through an earthy malt-based flavor that finishes with an acidic bite. It's a beer that challenges with contrasts, balancing high carbonation with a soft, foamy head to create a pleasing and powerful mouthfeel that makes an impression. Just like the name promises, it delivers a punch.
9. Sweet Child o' Vine (Fulton Brewing Company) IBU: 69 While all brewers say they shoot for balance, Fulton's Sweet Child of Vine is a shining example. There's a strong, earthy malt base but no burning hop bitterness; its aroma is mild and its color is light and neutral. The head quickly recedes, but leaves a memorable trace that coats the glass. It's good for activities of every season -- backyard grilling, fishing, skiing -- but we especially like ours with a couple of tacos and some salty, crispy corn chips.
8. Bark Bite IPA (Big Wood) IBU: 50 Bark Bite is one of the lighter, more summery entries on the list. The White Bear Lake-brewed IPA is a cloudy straw yellow that looks almost like a wheat beer. It features a healthy malt base that's topped off with a citrus aroma and a dry, grain finish that pulls off a grapefruit sensation. It's heavily carbonated, refreshing, and a subtle, easy-drinking beer that Big Wood recommends pairing with a pizza.
7. Moar Scottish Session IPA (Bent Brewstillery) IBU: 44 "Session" is a word that's creeping from beer nerd diction to barroom vocabulary, meaning it's easy drinking (i.e. more than one beer per session) and relatively low alcohol. Moar is a poster child for the style, with a light and fruity flavor that starts with a hint of apricot and finishes with a sweet honey touch. It's very hoppy in flavor with strong floral scent but none of that mouth-puckering bitterness. Moar is a smooth and easy beer for aficionados and curious drinkers alike; it goes down easy and it's a pleasure to drink. [page]
6. Traitor IPA (Badger Hill Brewing) IBU: 70 Traitor pulls from a West Coast influence with its heavy citrus elements and sizable IBU count. The beer hits with a rush of lemon and orange and finishes in a bitter hoppy manner that only increases after the first few sips. In other words, Badger Hill proudly goes for the high IBU count but masks that well, making it a bitter IPA that's as balanced as can be without losing its edge. Try it with something rich and strongly flavored, such as smoked meats or a bleu cheese.
5.Saga (Summit Brewing Company) IBU: 80 Saga is a West Coast IPA with big floral notes and less of that bitter hop that defines Summit's stable. It's a beer built around the citrus aroma, with a light and summery mouthfeel but enough hop bite to carry through a cold winter also. The light malt inclusion gives it a buttery base that evens the bitter-smooth balance. This one is best enjoyed on draft where the aroma can be fully experienced. The beer was introduced in 2012 and is named after a Norse goddess of poetry -- who was also a drinking buddy of Odin's.
4. Hop Dish IPA (Lift Bridge) IBU: 75 It's not just a culinary play on words: Hop Dish includes seven varieties of hops, giving it a floral, citrusy aroma that dominates the profile. It's also a great beer to hold up when non-craft drinkers talk about "bitterness." For all the attention on hops, the scent is light and fruity and the mouthfeel is smooth and easy. Yes, it runs 75 IBUs, but it's balanced and distinct -- a great representation of what Minnesota brewers are doing. It's best enjoyed with pork, fried fish, and soft cheeses. [page]
3. Masala Mama IPA (Town Hall Brewery) IBU: 87 Masala Mama is one of the longest running IPAs on this list. It's racked up accolades and appears on the "Beers of Fame" list at BeerAdvocate.com. The brew itself has everything one wants in an IPA: a pleasing floral aroma, a higher carbonation level with a nice, balanced malt base, and a high IBU count that captures that lingering bitterness Minnesotans have come to embrace in a beer. While hitting on these three points, it remains consistent and balanced across the field.
2. Size 7 (Steel Toe Brewing) IBU: 77 Size 7 has a dedicated following as the flagship brew from St. Louis Park's Steel Toe. The IPA offers a malt sweetness in the aroma, so while, yes, it brings 77 bitterness units and carries a West Coast citrus profile, it's light and easy drinking. The hops don't come forth until the finish with a lingering floral note that creates a dry finish instead of a bitter bite. It pairs well with soft and savory foods, including anything with avocado.
1. Furious (Surly Brewing) IBU: 99 What else would top our list? Surly's Furious, along with Bender, introduced a new wave of brewing to Minnesotans and so this beer remains the defining Minnesota IPA. It's big on hops, with four varieties, making it a complex beverage but also a rich, full, and direct beer that hits with a big malt base. It overplays its hand on the hops with a powerful and bitter finish that sticks, reminding the drinker just what s/he's been enjoying. Sure it's not a subtle beer (duh, it's named "Furious"), but there's a reason this beer convinced Minnesotans to further explore craft beer. It's accessible and familiar in genre, and at the same time offers a new experience and an entirely new flavor profile.
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