The Close But No Cigar Cities
12. Take the highway, through the Great Divide (Titan IPA)
"We're bobbing on the surface,
And the shadow glides below,
They say she feels my heart beat
Oh, but how I'll never know." (repeat)
"That it's the ocean flowing in our veins,
And it's the salt that's in our tears,
Cuz we could've come so very far
In at least as many YEARS!
Take the highway, through the Great Divide"
Yeah, #12 is about right for this nice Coloradoian beer. Since, I wasted any sort of review of this beer with fun Phish lyrics (Colorado … hoppy beers … hippies … Phish … it all makes sense), here's a quick list within a list for …
The Top Seven Best Beer Regions in the United States of America (for IPAs only, No Lagers Need Apply)
7. The Pacific Northwest
The upside is Washington's Fish Tale's organic IPA. The best organic beer I've ever had. The downside is not too many beers get shipped down here from the region and the ones that do aren't too good. The only other one of note is Oregon's Full Sail, which even though it makes a tremendously good Amber Ale, the IPA still had much to be desired. I'd still love to try it in Oregon though.
Aside from the above referenced Great Divide, the Boulder Beer Company brews their Mojo here. Avery's IPA is pretty good as well, but you may want to avoid any beer that well, says you may be lucky per se. There's also a beer called the 400 Pound Monkey, which I suggest only for its funny name. A sixer would most likely disappoint an avid IPA fan.
5. The Northeast
It's sad for me to give my motherland only #5 on this list, but they've got this thing in the Northeast with excessive malt. Is it because maltier is better during those witchay woman winters? Sadly, Long Trail doesn't ship down here in sunny Florida, and even if it did, I imagine my beer palate has changed over the past 15 years since I last enjoyed watching a Phish show on a cool summer mountain side and drinking a cold one, so it might not rank anyway. Magic Hat and Harpoon's attempts were okay. Everything out of Maine is terrible, or at lest Sea Dog and Shipyard are terrible IPA makers, but I wouldn't expect anything good aside from LL Bean circa 1992 to come out of Maine. Vermont (aside from Magic Hat and Long Trail) had that Wolaver's crap, which wasn't good at all. New Hampshire had Smuttynose, which was okay, and had floaties, but my mom didn't get any letters about its greatness. Speaking of the true motherland, Connecticut had a couple bids, Sea Hag and the Hooker IPA (Hartford was founded by a Hooker). Again, both were okay, but not great, which leaves us with New York. New York, New York is a helluva town … wait. I can't remember everything we had from New York but though Brooklyn may make a great brown they failed at a good IPA. The pride of New York was Southern Tier, which surprisingly is from New York and not the great south down here. In fact, Southern Tier became the pride of the Northeast in general.
4. The Great Lakes
Two phenomenal IPA's come from the region, Ohio's great, but disqualified Hopping Frog IPA and of course, Michigan's Bell's Two Hearted Ale (Look into it's eyes, uh oh. It's been telling lies. It's a lover beer at play, it don't play by rules …). Also, I'm certain there are some untouched IPA's from the great beer state of Wisconsin, but surprisingly very few crafted beers from the biggest beer state in the country get shipped down here. Tragic really.
3. The Atlantic Coast
Of course the new king of beers, or at least Craft Beers, Dogfish Head is brewed out of Delaware, so something good finally comes from Delaware. I get my Carolina's, Virginia's and Maryland's mixed up, but Starr Hill and Heavy Seas (and yes, Highlands too for fans of not very good IPAs) are all brewed from this region. Combine this region with …
2. The Southeast
… and you have the best IPA region in the nation. I don't know how these crackers do it down here, but they make great IPAs. Tampa's own Cigar City, Georgia's Terrapin (and the whistles are screaming) both make absolutely tremendous IPAs.
This is probably a no-brainer. What's lost in all the hype of wine country is that this state also brews some of the countries best IPAs, hell, there's even a sub-genre of IPAs called "California IPAs" and that's because they're the best. Off the top of my head, the two best are Stone's and Lagunitas', and I'm sure there are many many more.
And now on with our countdown.
11. Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon
One of the interesting things that happened in the HopOff was some beers do much better with quick tastings, rather than sitting down and having a full one. This is a good example of that. This IPA can sit with the best of them at any tasting. Downside, is it gets too syrupy or something after awhile. It's very unique flavor is always a fresh change, but a six pack may sit slow drinking in your fridge for a very long time.
10. Boulder Beer – Mista Mojo Risin! Gotta Keep on Risin!!!
This is very similar to the Loose Cannon in it's too syrupy nature. It can be tasty, but just has too much flavor once you get closer to the bottom of the beer. Drinking more than one of these may prove to be daunting task.
9. Southern Tier – IPA
This was a bizarre beer throughout the competition. For starters, there was much surprization that it was in fact a Yankee beer, and not from the Rebel South. It moved out of the northeast because it seemed to be the closest thing to a bright spot in a rather weak field. Compared to the power players, it seemed weak but we needed a final 12, so we kept moving it forward. Then a surprising thing happened. During the blind tests, it did extremely well, so it earned a new found respect. Sure, it may not compare to the big boys, but it's still a darn good IPA and would make a great filler if your favorite local beer store down here in Tampa didn't have 6 of the below referenced 8.
8. Starr Hill – Never ever saw the Northern Lights. Never ever heard of cluster flies.
There was a hope for a But-a-ra story with this one, and it almost made it. In fact, based on my opinions alone throughout this whole tournament, it basically did everything it could to earn the 6th spot in the Hex of Beers. The reason why I have it as 8th is because there's just a tinge too much flavor which I believe would let me only have a couple of these, and then it'd get old, whereas the seven that beat it most likely won't have the problem. Make no mistake about it though, I put this up against Dogfish Head on more than one occasion and it beat it every time. Dogfish Head however, financed my campaign, so what are you gonna do?
7. Fish Tale – IPA
This tasty IPA brewed in Washington state broke my stereotypes against organic beer. More importantly, it came up huge in the "friend" test. When friends of mine were over, they pretty much preferred this one to almost all the others in front of it. It was initially my 12th favorite, but here it is, bam! (and ya say god damn! This is a dope jam).
The Hex of Beer
When this contest started, it really wasn't about coming up with a #1, it was about coming up with six, so one could make a mix-six of IPAs and bring them to a party and have the absolute cream of the crop that you can get down here in Tampa Bay. That being said, and me being me, here's the Top 6 IPAs from the tournament.
6. Dogfish Head – 60 Minute IPA
Naturally, the more minutes added, the better the IPA (sort of). Dogfish Head was the grand winner of the "Clout" award, meaning, it probably only made the Top 6 due to its brand. It came up pretty poorly in the blind tastings. However, I've had several Dogfish Heads in one sitting before, and it is a remarkable beer. A distinction was made between how this one may be better in the winter, due to it being smokier, whereas something like Fish Tale or Northern Lights may be better in the summer. Either way, if I was making the Sixer, I'd rather include this than either of those beers no matter what the season, so here's #6.
5. Stone – Ruination (or just the plain ol' IPA)
We didn't want to use two IPA's from the same company in the competition, so Stone's regular IPA was not included, merely just tasted at the end of the competition to see how it would stack up (and yes, it probably would've finished here at #5 anyway). The biggest reason why the Ruination only gets #5 and not any higher is due to its much higher price. This is an expensive beer, and though you are rewarded with a superb taste, the reward doesn't outweigh any of the beers ahead of it.
4. Bell's – Two Hearted
This was one of the pre-tournament favorites. I remember thinking it was going to probably come down to either this, or Dogfish Head. It's crazy that something this good can come out of Michigan. I wouldn't think such a dilapidated state could produce such a fine beer. Without this beer, the whole HopOff doesn't happen though, so maybe the fact that I'm so used to drinking this one didn't help it in the end. In football, any team can win on any given Sunday, and with beer, there will be times this beer is the best of the bunch. It just didn't win it all in this tournament. The 2011 HopOff however … (just kidding, there won't be one).
3. Cigar City – Jai Alai
Memo to friends outside of Tampa and the state of Florida: If this beer pops up in your package store, get it! I'm way too spoiled with not only this particular IPA, but the brewery in general being within cool weather walking distance from my condo. Maybe this one is so good because it's local and the beer doesn't have to travel very far to get to my mouth, but then again, this whole competition is based on the availability of the beers in Tampa. This beer, like all in the Top 4 has a right to #1 as well. Their Humidor IPA is even better, but unfortunately, that doesn't come in six packs … yet.
2. Lagunitas – IPA
At the beginning of this tournament, I knew this would be a contender for the Top 6. I did not know that it would be a contender for #1. I remember I'd always go out to bars, and if I saw this on tap, I wouldn't think twice, I'd just say to myself, "Oh, there's Lagunitas, in case there's nothing better, at least I can have that." That thought has turn into, "Awesome! They have Lagunitas!" just because of the HopOff. I will always be excited for a new Lagunitas beer from here on in. I'd say they may be the best brewery in the United States, which is a bold statement, but I am a bold man.
1. Terrapin – Hopsecutioner
Is it a turtle? No. A Grateful Dead song? Nope. A brewery in Athens, Georgia? Yes. From the get go, I didn't even think this would finish Top 6. Before the blind tasting, I was ready to give it a nice low rank. It KILLED in the blind tasting. After the blind tasting, I was still in disbelief so I drank full beers against the other big ones. I got over my Georgia stereotypes and realized this is a tremendous beer. I must warn however, that though the brewery may be good, I wouldn't compare it to any other brewery in the top 6, but in pure IPA terms, this one is the winner.