IPA Blind Taste Test: Label Drinkers vs. Value Drinkers

Just in time for IPA Day (whatever the hell that is) Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine published a blind taste test of some 300 offerings of this popular elixir, ranging from wait-in-line exotics to workaday stuff you can pick up at the 7-11. Titled “309 of the Best IPAs, Blind-Tasted and Ranked,” it reports the findings of a group of Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) graduates.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, BJCP judges are the folks who evaluate homebrew competitions, craft brew medal competitions, that sort of thing. They may not have the same tastes and preferences as you do, but they know beer, and their opinions are worth a listen. Unlike the poseurs on the rating and advocate websites, BJCP judges learn the craft in-depth, and score based on:

• Aroma 12 points
• Appearance 3 points
• Flavor 20 points
• Mouthfeel 5 points
• Overall Impression 10 points

…for a 50 point total. Apparently most of us are too dumb to do math, so Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine doubled the scores to reflect a 100-point system, and published the results.

Regardless of your preferences, the judges’ findings range from the expected to the incredible.

Of particular interest to BeerTheEast.com enthusiasts, seven IPAs tallied a perfect score.  Of those, five are based in the northeast:

• Maine Beer Company Dinner
• Tree House Brewing Green
• Tree House Brewing Alter Ego
• Lawson’s Double Sunshine
• Dogfish Head Burton Baton

Of the other two, one is WeldWerks Double Dry Hopped Juicy Bits from Colorado, which is specifically labeled as “New England Style.”  The seventh is the one that label-drinkers and the wait-in-line crowd will find most troubling: Firestone Walker Union Jack.

Now I’m not saying it’s as good as the other six, but at about ten bucks for a six pack plus whatever line you wait in at the corner store, it’s worth another try.

Bubbling Under

So what’s the difference between a “100” and a “99” or “98”? Probably not much. Again, I’m not saying your taste buds will agree with the findings of a BJCP judge, but it’s worth a look.

So who do we find here? My personal fave, Foley Brothers out of Brandon VT, has a pair in the 99 tier with Fair Maiden and Pieces of Eight. Sixpoint Resin, Trillium Artaic, and Tree House Julius are other notables from the northeast.

And two worth mentioning from elsewhere: New Holland Mad Hatter, and darn it again, Firestone Walker Leo vs. Ursus Fortem. Both are easy to find, and affordable.


Go through the 98s, 97s, the northeast is well represented by some more expected stuff from Lawson’s, Trillium, Tree House, plus Lord Hobo, Two Roads, Wormtown out of Worcester MA, what have you. Down in the still-great ranking of “96” is where our pocketbook finds the most pleasant surprise of all: Rebel IPA. Yep, that Rebel IPA, the one from Sam Adams piled up on end caps that everybody passes by to get to the better stuff like Grimm Artisanal Tesseract and Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, which incidentally also scored a 96 in this blind tasting.

Now keep in mind that according to the publisher, IPAs ranked between 95 and 100 are “Extraordinary World-class beers of superlative character and flawless execution.” Again, maybe your taste buds say differently, but the trained palate of a group of BJCP judges who didn’t have the privilege of seeing that goofy red label say that Jim Koch’s everyday IPA out of the Lehigh Valley is world-class. Now keep in mind the other two Rebels, Rider and Rouser (the blue and green label session and imperial offerings) didn’t fare nearly as well, scoring in the low 80s which is still “solid.”

And for what it’s worth, our BJCP judges gave the Heady a score of 91, same as Sam Adams Rebel Grapefruit and — ack! — Goose Island regular old IPA.

So here’s the link to the article. Next time I’m picking up a 12-pack, gonna give that Sam Rebel another try. Cheers!

Maybe I’ll scrape off the labels.

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