The ever-popular India Pale Ale serves as a versatile, year-round beer that’s as drinkable on a warm summer day as it is in the heart of winter. They’re also a hotbed of experimentation for brewers, including many of West Michigan’s finest.
One could argue that Bell’s Two Hearted Ale helped define the style, but we here at Revue West Michigan wondered how it stacked up with other IPAs from around the region. We gathered an extensive sampling of the standard IPAs from West Michigan breweries that are available in bottles or cans year-round and held a blind tasting with four beer aficionados on our staff to find out which were the best.
Joe Boomgaard, 33
Beer Czar of Revue West Michigan and Managing Editor of MiBiz
Kim Kibby, immortal
Creative Director of Revue West Michigan
Nick Manes, 29
Beer Bro/Juggalo Correspondent for Revue West Michigan and Staff Writer at MiBiz
John Wiegand, 24
Staff Writer at MiBiz
All of the beers were purchased the day before the tasting at Siciliano’s Market on 2840 Lake Michigan Dr. NW in Grand Rapids. The exception was Greenbush Brewing’s Dunegräs, which was bought the day of the tasting at Bottlenecks Party Store at 2355 Fuller Ave. NE, also in Grand Rapids.
The judges did a blind tasting of 13 beers (two were later disqualified for being double IPAs) and rated them based on appearance (10 points), aroma (20 points), flavor/finish (30 points), body (20 points) and overall impressions (20 points). The scores listed here are an average of the judges’ ratings based on a 100-point scale, with 100 being a perfect score.
Two Hearted Ale
Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo
The judges agreed it was their clear favorite. Many thought it was creamier than most IPAs. Hopheads would “drink this again and again,” Boomgaard wrote. It’s just right: Not too bitter, not too intense, but really solid overall. The king still has it after all these years.
Score: 83.75 [WINNER!]
Arcadia Brewing Co., Battle Creek
A “quintessential IPA” that “stays true to the style” without doing anything crazy. Nice head and lacing. Fruity finish. A great IPA, even if a bit basic.
Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids
This IPA has a fruity or grapefruit-y nose with a light body. Kibby praised the “nice balance of hops to malts with a smooth finish.” Boomgaard wrote that the beer “f***ing rocks. I could drink a lot of these.”
Crooked Tree IPA
Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall
A bit cloudy in appearance, with plenty of fruity aromas. Nice body. “Super yeasty,” Wiegand noted. Something in the finish was slightly off, but the flavor was all around “pretty good,” according to the consensus.
Greenbush Brewing Co., Sawyer
The citrusy, pungent nose was backed up by a super hoppy taste. Judges noted the biting hop intensity of the beer, but were split on whether it was overkill. Likewise, they were split on the finish and its tidal wave of hoppiness. An intensely hoppy beer for hopheads.
Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids
Bright coppery appearance, but a thin, watery body. The nose had slight notes of apples and fruitiness to it. The flavors of the Belgian yeast really shone through on this beer. Judges liked the beer, but questioned if they’d want to have more than a couple at a time.
Huma Lupa Licious
Short’s Brewing Co., Bellaire
Very easy on the eyes. This one had a syrupy, boozy aroma. The flavor didn’t seem very complex – just really hoppy – but it gets the job done. Full of resinous hops that hung on into the finish.
Blackrocks Brewing Co., Marquette
Bright and light, but it smelled syrupy. Somewhat dank, piney taste. The judges wondered about the age of this one as the flavor just did not seem to hold up. Both Kibby and Wiegand described it as “meh.” (A check afterward found no date on the can.)
Saugatuck Brewing Co., Saugatuck
The appearance was good, but aroma was nonexistent. Some pear and hops in the taste, but overall, there wasn’t much going on in this one. All four judges noted a metallic aftertaste.
Wood Oaked IPA
Round Barn Brewing Co., Baroda
Cloudy look with a unique, complex aroma of green apples and other fruit. The body was really light. The overwhelming taste of smoky wood all but covers up the hops – which the judges noted was anathema in an IPA.
New Holland Brewing Co., Holland
Something was just plain off with this one. It was cloudy, with little lacing. Taste was buttery with possible caramel flavors. Weak on hops. Notes of rotten fruit in the finish, and not in a good way. (A check afterward found no date on the bottle.)