IPA Face-Off: Five of the Best in the Mid-Atlantic
The past decade has seen an impressive crop of breweries sprout and flourish in the Mid-Atlantic, and in recent years, the talent of these craftsmen has become known throughout the country. Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware are no longer a beer backwaters – far from it, in fact, with numerous companies churning out kegs, drafts and bottles that compete with or set standards for with the best beers in America.
One category in which the region excels – and is perhaps doing better than anyone else right now – is India Pale Ales. Traditionally a West Coast brew, where hops grow easily, several East Coast companies are raising the IPA bar with some of the nation’s most intense ales. Check out some prime examples, below.
There are IPAs, and then there is the gold standard, the one which everyone else bases their work off of. These days, that glory goes to the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, DE, thanks to their flagship beer, the 60 Minute IPA. The beer’s name is derived from its brewing process, during which hops are continuously added during a 60 minute boil. Most of the flora used comes from the West Coast, and when fermentation is finished, this beer is a 6% ABV homage to the Pacific Northwest.
The beer opens with a strong, floral first sip, any sourness complete masked. In fact, it’s difficult to pick up any bitter notes at all, even though the beer comes in at 60 on the International Bittering Units (IBU) scale. The full-flavored bite without any bad taste is one of the reasons this ranks with the best.
Starr Hill Brewery opened in Charlottesville, VA in 1999, but in recent years offerings have exploded in quality, and they’re now cranking out some of the better beers this side of the Mississippi, from their crisp Jomo Lager to their take on the India Pale Ale, Northern Lights.
It’s a bit tamer than the 60 Minute on the hops, weighing in at 52 IBU, but it is stronger (6.5% ABV), and has a more prominent bitterness. This derives from the Cascade Hops used in the steeping process, a favorite strain of flower among IPA brewers. The hop flavor is followed by a bevy of subtle flavors, with notes of pine, orange and grapefruit.
Much newer to the East Coast brewing world is Evolution Craft Brewing Company in Delmar, DE. Though new, the brewers here most certainly do not lack timidity. For their Lot No3 IPA, they pack each barrel with over two pounds of hops, which brings the label in at an intense 65 IBU. Evolution uses Amarillo hops, an exclusive strain from (again) the Pacific Northwest.
These pungent flowers bring a pleasant spiciness to the beer, which lingers just in the background behind the citrus flavors. Though strong (6.8% ABV), Lot No3 is very easy to drink, smoother than several of the even stronger IPAs on the market.
A much stronger quaff than any of the above comes from the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, PA.
Victory is one of the stalwarts of the East Coast scene, and the brewers have put several years of craft knowledge into the Hop Wallop. It’s almost an onomatopoeic beer – at nearly 70 IBUs and an astounding 8.5% alcohol by volume, this beer can seriously smack your face.
But it’s also an intelligent craft, with very little carbonation, giving the beer an English-style cask ale feel. Hints of berries make it through, as well as an earthiness, not at all hidden by the upfront, obvious hops. It’s a beer that can challenge any IPA in the nation.
One of the newest IPAs on the scene is The Corruption, DC Brau’s take on the genre, and it’s just about the hoppiest on the market. It is also the only one of our selections to be shipped exclusively in cans, instead of bottles.
Each barrel is brewed with an impressive amount Columbus hops, such that the final product registers at 80 IBU. But the beer doesn’t back that up with an overly strong alcohol presence; it clocks in around 6.6% ABV.
The herbaceous flavor is studded with pine notes and an earthy bite. But it’s the forward, heavy hops that make this one of the most intense IPAs on the East Coast.