The Taste Test: Blind-tasting 53 Minnesota IPAs

IPAJudging-24

BJCP Judge Brian Johnson // Photo by Aaron Davidson

These beers, listed in no particular order, were selected by our judges for best exemplifying the American IPA style as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program.

LynLakeLynLake Brewery Take 6 IPA

Specs: 5.7% ABV, 77 IBU

Hops: Amarillo, Centennial, Cascade, Citra,  Nugget, Zythos

Tasting Notes: Spicy and resinous. Take 6 is on the dank end of the IPA spectrum—lots of sticky pine and floral qualities to it. Background grapefruit citrus elevates the bitterness. Challenging, but rewarding.

Hop line

LakeMonsterEmptyRowboatLake Monster Brewing Company Empty Rowboat IPA

Specs: 6.9% ABV, 80 IBU

Hops: Cascade, Crystal, Meridian, Columbus

Tasting Notes: Our runner-up in the tasting. Straw-colored with pleasant malt flavors of toffee and caramel. The hop bitterness is on the low end, though it contributes just enough intrigue to keep it balanced. Pure and straightforward. Nicely restrained.

Hop line

WaconiaWaconia Brewing Company Single Hop Centennial

Specs: 7.3% ABV, 72 IBU

Hops: Centennial

Tasting Notes: Orange, tangerine, and lime zest on the nose. That same citrus pith flavor follows through to a mild, medium-bodied sip with a floral and dry finish. On the lighter side of the style, but memorable in its pure expression of citrus.

Hop line

IndeedIndeed Brewing Company Let It Ride IPA

Specs: 6.8% ABV, 90 IBU

Hops: Mosaic, Calypso, El Dorado

Tasting Notes: Aggressive and unabashed, Let It Ride takes no prisoners with an all-consuming hop bitterness, before leveling out to an astringent, sap-inflected finish. Not subtle. For the dedicated hop-head.

Hop line

ForagerForager Brewing Company Hip Hops IPA

Specs: 7.5% ABV, 70 IBU

Hops: Citra, Mosaic

Tasting Notes: Intense lemony-grapefruit citrus on the nose leads to a creamy sip of fresh pine and light caramel malt that finishes dry. Alcohol presence is a tad high, but not detrimental.

Hop line

FairStateFair State Brewing Cooperative IPA

Specs: 6.4% ABV, 64 IBU

Hops: Horizon, Chinook, Crystal, Columbus, Amarillo

Tasting Notes: Bready malt and gentle citrus on the aroma lead to an exceptionally balanced sip of tropical fruit and light caramel. Body is lighter than average, and the sip finishes dry and pleasant. A middle-of-the-road winner.

Hop line

BentPaddleBent Paddle Brewing Company Bent Hop Golden IPA

Specs: 6.2% ABV, 68 IBU

Hops: El Dorado, Centennial, Glacier, Sovereign, CTZ

Tasting Notes: A milder IPA. Light on body, lower on perceptive bitterness. Peach and apricot flavors present with a light graininess, and a resinous note comes through on the finish. Confident and clean.

Hop line

SteelToeSteel Toe Brewing Size 7

Specs: 7.0% ABV, 77 IBU

Hops: “Good hops.” – Jason Schoneman

Tasting Notes: Often regarded as one of the best IPAs in the state, and our panel confirms it. Size 7 features a substantive malty caramel sweetness countered by a wallop of resinous hops, which do battle on the palate before finishing clean with a persistent lingering bitterness. Yum.

Hop line

BadAxeBig Wood Brewery Bad Axe Imperial IPA

Specs: 9.8% ABV, 76 IBU

Hops: Columbus, Centennial

Tasting Notes: Deep golden color, full and creamy, with juicy grapefruit and pronounced malt. The sweetness and alcohol levels push this imperial IPA nearly out-of-bounds for our tasting, but a well-attenuated body and off dry finish keep us coming back for return sips.

Hop line

BadgerHillBadger Hill Brewing Company Traitor IPA

Specs: 7.0% ABV, 70 IBU

Hops: Citra, Centennial, Cascade, Galaxy

Tasting Notes: An easy-going IPA. A piney hop expression dominates this beer, which is noticeably less bitter than many in the field. A refined malt character buoys a clean and lively fruit profile. A West Coast-style IPA that doesn’t go off the deep end with hops.

Hop line

And Best in Show goes to…

Fulton 300Fulton Beer 300

Specs: 6.9% ABV, 74 IBU

Hops: Mosaic

Tasting Notes: Fulton first made this Mosaic-hopped IPA as a one-off special, in commemoration of the 300th batch brewed at their original downtown Minneapolis brewery. But the reception to 300 was instantaneous and overwhelming. Minnesotans have an ever-growing taste for the unabashed bitter citrus of West Coast-style IPAs, and clamored for Fulton to make 300 a year-round beer.

300 quickly rose to the top of our tasting. Our panel was instantly endeared to its juicy, tropical profile and assertive, zesty bitterness. The beer features just enough toasty malt sweetness to keep it balanced throughout the sip, and the mellow sting of that bitter citrus hangs on the tongue long after its finished. It’s direct, expressive, and downright delicious.

As our panel was narrowing the field, we began dissecting the nuances of hop aromas, and how they affect the flavor profile of a good American IPA. A couple tasters immediately recognized Mosaic hops in the aroma of 300. Mosaic is a complex and versatile hop—it was even named for the wide variety of flavors it imparts. One of those flavors, though, is a wet, vegetal-tasting bitterness. It’s been compared to the sweetness of Vidalia onions, and the funk of ripening garlic.

A few tasters picked up that note in 300, but only as they dug through countless layers of orange zest, stone fruit, and pine. The tasting was a reminder that a good IPA teeters on the edge of imbalance. And with less malt character to hide behind, IPAs will show off the full range of hop flavors, for better and for worse.

Luckily, 300 manages the complexity of Mosaic with confidence. And with a supply of Yakama Valley Mosaics confirmed, 300 will now be made 365 days a year. Look for six-packs on shelves now.

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Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint About Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint

Michael has a passion for beer. He is Minnesota's first Certified Cicerone (think sommelier for beer) with the Cicerone Certification Program, and a National Beer Judge with the Beer Judge Certification Program. In addition, Michael is himself an award-winning brewer. He writes a monthly column on beer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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