Four Iconic IPAs Every Craft Beer Fan Must Try 12 comments



When it comes to IPAs, I am typically the guy that immediately wants to start talking about New England IPAs. They are delicious but I think it is really important to remember the iconic IPAs that have helped shape the modern IPA. Many of the highest regarded IPAs are still quite difficult to get even if you are in the same region that it is brewed.

So I have come up with the top 4 IPAs that every diehard craft beer fan needs to make sure they try at least once. To make it fun, I chose one from each region (West, East, South and Midwest). Because no matter where you live; there is great beer close by.


West – Pliny The Elder by Russian River

Location: Santa Rosa, California  ABV: 8%  IBU: 100

Pliny The Elder Iconic IPAsThe green label with red circle on it is easily identified by any avid craft beer drinker. However, despite being easily recognized, this Imperial IPA is still quite difficult to get unless you are in California. And even then, the craft beer bottle shops that carry Pliny The Elder highly restrict how many bottles each customer can purchase because they only get a limited amount.

Many consider this the quintessential West Coast IPA. It is full of bitter hops that bring out piney flavors that tend to define this style. As an Imperial IPA, it has a solid malt backbone to help balance out the “in your face” hops.

If you are not a Californian, then trading is really the only option that you have to attain this delicious beer. But do not fear; many that can get this IPA are willing to trade to get the best beers from the rest of the nation. As you will see below; this beer scores perfect on both RateBeer and Beer Advocate so it is worth the effort to score a bottle or two.

Untappd Rating: 4.56 / 5 Stars

RateBeer Rating: Overall 100 / Style 100

Beer Advocate Rating: BA Score 100


Related Post – Haze Craze: Why The New England IPA Is So Popular


East – Heady Topper by The Alchemist

Brewery Location: Stowe, Vermont  ABV: 8%  IBU: 100

Heady TopperMany consider Heady Topper as the beer that started the New England IPA trend so you may be surprised to find out they have been brewing it since 2003. It’s only available at the Brewery in Vermont. So yea, this is hard beer to get your hands on.

This beer was brewed to feature fruit flavors of mango, pineapple, etc. And despite have very high IBUs, it is not as bitter as other IPAs which helped introduce the concept of an IPA that didn’t focus on hop bitterness but rather hop flavors.

In addition, they were canning this being long before it was cool. Needless to say it is a trend setting beer and if you are a craft beer fan then make sure you cross this one off your list.

Untappd Rating: 4.64 / 5 Stars

RateBeer Rating: Overall 100 / Style 100

Beer Advocate Rating: BA Score 100


South – Jai Alai by Cigar City Brewing

Location: Tampa, Florida  ABV: 7.5%  IBU: 70

Cigar City Jai AlaiCigar City Brewing is known for two things; Hunahpu Imperial Stout (which they have an entire festival to celebrate it’s annual release) and Jai Alai IPA. What these two beers have in common is you will probably mispronounce them more than once. Jai Alai is pronounced ˈhī (ə)ˌlī – think ‘hi-lie’.

What makes this beer unique to this list is its availability. While the others require luck and/or hard work to attain; Jai Alai is widely distributed in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. If you live in those areas then chances are you can go buy a six pack today.

What also makes it different than the rest of this list is I consider this a traditional IPA. Jai Alai is all about the sharp up front hop bitterness with undertones of citrus. It isn’t trying to be anything other than a stand out IPA. Anyone I know grabs a least 1 six pack when visiting Florida. If you want a challenge; look for the Jai Alai aged on white oak. It is a really unique variation that mellows out this IPA but is much harder to track down.

Untappd Rating: 4.04 / 5 Stars

RateBeer Rating: Overall 99 / Style 99

Beer Advocate Rating: BA Score 94


Midwest – Zombie Dust by Three Floyds

Location: Munster, Indiana  ABV: 6.2%  IBU: 50

Zombie DustOk, so they call this an American Pale Ale but an APA is pretty close to an IPA – right? I had to include it on the list; it is an epic Midwest beer that has gained fame for its delicious hop forward taste and undead inspired artwork.

You will notice the lower ABV and midrange IBUs in this beer which many will say adds to its appeal as it is easy to enjoy a few of them without over indulging or getting burnt out.

Three Floyd’s distributes into my hometown of Cincinnati but I still have a hard time tracking this one down. So if there are West and East Coast IPAs, I think this should be called a Midwest IPA and it is one of the best you can find.

Untappd Rating: 4.43 / 5 Stars

RateBeer Rating: Overall 100 / Style 100

Beer Advocate Rating: BA Score 100


Related Post – New England IPA: Just Another IPA Or A Style Of Its Own?


Have You Had These Iconic IPAs?

Through trading or travel, I have had the pleasure of having each of these hoppy beers. Each brings their own uniqueness to the style. Pliny The Elder is blunt with its hop bitterness. Heady Topper takes the opposite approach and focuses on easy drinking and fruit flavors. The classic taste of Jai Alai makes it an all time classic in this style. Then there is Zombie Dust which sits right in the middle (ironic since it’s from the Midwest). It has the bitter hops but also juicy flavor for a perfectly balanced beer.

Have you had a chance to try any of these? They aren’t easy to get but if you can; you will happily remember the time when you sipped on one of the most iconic IPAs.

Which iconic IPAs would you add to this list?


12 thoughts on “Four Iconic IPAs Every Craft Beer Fan Must Try

  • Keith

    I’m in California so I’ve had lots of Pliny. I’ve tried Jai Alai a couple times. Still haven’t had the other two.

    • Craft Beer Joe Post author

      Heady Topper and Zombie Dust are really good. I can normally get Zombie Dust if I try hard enough but Heady Topper is still really hard. Have you had Blind Pig? I think I may have liked it more than Pliny

    • Craft Beer Joe Post author

      It’s a great beer; hopefully you have the chance to try it some day. If you ever trade, there are lots of people in California that can get it.

    • Craft Beer Joe Post author

      I like the optimistic phrasing. Hopefully you get to try all of them soon!

  • indiveswetrust

    Very cool post! I’ve had the Jai Alai at one of my favorite craft beer bars here in NYC but I haven’t tried any of the others yet. I’d love to get my hands on Pliny – hopefully on my next trip to California!

    • Craft Beer Joe Post author

      Yes! Definitely get Pliny while you are there. I would think Heady Topper wouldn’t be too hard to get being in NYC.

  • tylerhoppydudes

    I’ve had three of them. The only one I haven’t had was Zombie Dust. I think Pliny was my favorite out of the three. It was soooo well balanced, I haven’t had something as balanced as that before

    • Craft Beer Joe Post author

      If you liked the balance of Pliny; then I think you would enjoy Zombie Dust. While it is technically a Pale Ale, it is well balanced but still has some good hoppiness to it.

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