IPA Beer-Off

Buffalo Cauliflower

A few weeks ago, my friend Katie hosted a beer-off. This is seriously something we have talked about doing for years, and once we started living in the same city there was no excuse to put it off any longer.

We wanted to essentially do a blind tasting of several beers, make tasting notes, and pick favorites. We decided to make this one just about IPAs to limit the playing field a little. Also, we’re both incredibly biased towards IPAs anyways.

Before I continue, I’m going to go on a brief tangent…


Last summer, Matt and I discovered a beer called Lunch from Maine Beer Company on our trip to Portland. It was like no IPA I had ever had before…I was hooked. When we came back to Boston, we quickly realized that it’s a hard beer to come by. A couple of local shops get it in stock every few months, but they seem to sell out within hours and have a one bottle per customer limit. We literally stalk the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the stores we know usually carry Lunch. You gotta do what you gotta do.

So, Katie recently got a hold of a sacred bottle of Lunch and that set our whole plan into motion. We got our boyfriends on board and selected 11 other IPAs to taste with the Lunch, trying to pick a mix of known favorites, some we knew we didn’t love, and a few wildcards.

We wanted to make sure it was a truly blind tasting. Katie thought to group the beers in three sets of four tastings, allowing us to pick a favorite from each group to put in a final tasting at the very end. She categorized them based on hoppiness so that one beer wouldn’t overwhelm another.

For each round, we had one person first pour enough of each beer for four tastings into glasses labeled by number. That person wrote down which number corresponded to which beer, and put the list away in a safe place. Another person then went and labeled small tasting cups with numbers at the bottom, and poured the beer from the numbered glasses into the corresponding numbered cups. This allowed us to trace back each beer at the end without anyone knowing which was which while tasting.

Beer Off Mat

Katie designed this nifty tasting mat that she printed out for everyone. Nice touch on the “Name” at the top, Katie.

We were all on the fence about picking group or individual favorites to use in the final tasting. We settled on picking group favorites, but said we would maybe change the rules if there was a big discrepancy. Luckily, I think we actually agreed on all of the picks!

Round 1

Brew Free! Or Die, 21st Amendment Brewery (CA)
Lagunitas IPA, Lagunitas Brewing Company (CA)
Finestkind IPA, Smuttynose Brewing Company (NH)
Lunch, Maine Beer Company (ME)

Round 1

Our goal was to write notes on each beer. For me, at least, that didn’t really happen. My notes were limited to “do not like” and rankings. I guess I need to work on my beer tasting skills…

Also, I forgot to take a picture before I started tasting, so it’s clear which two I liked. Lunch was the clear winner of round 1 for everyone. I thought Brew Free was excellent as well, and Lagunitas was kind of neutral for me. I think everyone disliked the Smuttynose.

Round 2

Founders All Day IPA, Founders Brewing Company (MI)
Wicked Pissa IPA, Buzzards Bay Brewing (MA)
Racer 5 India Pale Ale, Bear Republic Brewing Company (CA)
AleSmith IPA, AleSmith Brewing Company (CA)

Round 2

Like round 1, we all had a clear favorite in round 2: the AleSmith IPA. This beer was new to me, so I was happy to have discovered it! The Racer 5 came in second for me, well behind the AleSmith but also much ahead of the Founders and Wicked Pissa. I thought the Founders tasted a little watery, and the Wicked Pissa was just…well…bad.

Round 3

Hop Stoopid, Lagunitas Brewing Company (CA)
Green Flash West Coast I.P.A., Green Flash Brewing Company
Flower Power India Pale Ale, Ithaca Beer Company (NY)
60 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head Brewery (DE)

The beers in round 3 were the hoppiest of the group. Because hoppy beers are usually my favorite, it was a difficult round to judge. We all ultimately decided that Flower Power was the best and the Dogfish 60 Minute was the worst, but had differing opinions on the Hop Stoopid and Green Flash. They both tasted excellent to me and I really couldn’t pick one I liked over another.

Round 3

Final Round

Lunch, Maine Beer Company (ME)
AleSmith IPA, AleSmith Brewing Company (CA)
Flower Power India Pale Ale, Ithaca Beer Company (NY)

Buffalo Cauliflower

The final round was tough to judge. We all ended up picking Lunch as our favorite, and I think we all had our own opinions on the other two. I literally could not pick a favorite between the AleSmith and Flower Power, so I just called it a tie. And really, all three of the final beers were pretty incredible.

With the amount of beer we drank, there had to be food. Katie provided the perfect beer-drinking food.

Salt and Vinegar Peanuts

Salt and Vinegar Peanuts

Buffalo Cauliflower

Buffalo Cauliflower with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

Sweet and Spicy Ginger Wings

Sweet and Spicy Ginger Wings

IPA Lemon Bars

I contributed some (blurry and poorly cut) IPA Lemon Squares*.

*The Beeroness, you are my new hero. Great recipe.

Needless to day, it was a fun night. Educational, even! Do you have any favorite IPAs we didn’t taste?

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