Best of Boulder County IPA 2015

Who made US the judge of the American-style IPA?

You might be asking yourself this question, as we asked ourselves when we set out for the first-ever blind tasting to see who we at Eat Drink Boulder would pick as Best of Boulder County IPA 2015. ‘How do we judge so many great beers?’…’I’m giving everyone such high scores!’…’I’m giving everyone low scores!’…’I have no idea what I’m doing’…These are some of the candid thoughts of our nine brave tasters from Eat Drink Boulder who decided to tackle who is the best at brewing one of the most popular and fastest growing American craft beer styles – the American IPA.

Ah, get to it who’s the winner? We – the tasters – are clearly the winner here. We’re talking about some of the greatest beers in the country. Here in Boulder County, brewers are competing with the best of the best to brew some of the cleanest, most well-rounded and pronounced hoppy brews. It isn’t fair, but when we set out to declare the “Best” we have to finish what we started, so here it goes.

EatDrinkBoulder team members discuss the blind tasting

EatDrinkBoulder.com team discusses the blind tasting

About the tasting: Nine people gathered in a house, each with bottles, cans or growlers in hand. We started with 17 different Boulder County IPAs. Did we test every single IPA in Boulder County? No, but we tried to get as many as we could. We covered up the labels as best as we could using brown paper bags – creating the most eloquent display of “hobo bags” known to man. (Try putting your growler into a paper bag next time you buy one and try not to chuckle.)

Bags were labeled with only a number, we went over scoring guidelines and the sipping began. It is worth mentioning that we tasted in glass cups and rinsed with water after each sample – about 1 ounce – was tasted.

We at Eat Drink Boulder want to urge you to drink responsibly. During our blind tasting, we also munched on some delicious grub every so graciously donated by The Post Brewing Co. and FATE Brewing. We thank you very much for your generosity.

Scoring:

50 points for entering

Best of Boulder County IPA 2015

Best of Boulder County IPA 2015 blind tasting. Samples were lined up and covered with paper bags to keep it as blind as possible.

10 points for smell

10 points for our first impression

10 points for our second impression

10 points for finish

10 points for overall opinion

—————————————-

100 total points possible

After the tasting, we discussed our standouts – and some misses. Next we tallied the results and provided the Beer Advocate scores just for comparison; however, these scores were not made available at the time of the tasting, and have no impact on our impressions or opinions. (Not all beers have been rated by Beer Advocate, and that’s fine with us. It is only a second state of reference for those who are interested.)

Finally we calculated the Tasters’ Averages: In order to keep things consistent, we threw out the highest and lowest scores to determine our tasters’ average. This accounts for any flukes – too high or too low score – that can have a huge impact on average score. We kept the values into consideration and posted them as the “High v. Low” score in order to show the wide difference in opinions among tasters. High v. Low “Value” is the difference between the highest and lowest scores; the higher the value, the more polarizing the beer was perceived by our tasters. Also included are my own notes, for a personal touch.

THE RESULTS: Listed highest to lowest scores as determined by the EatDrinkBoulder.com judges.

Boulder Beer Mojo IPA

#1. Boulder Beer – Mojo IPA 7.2% ABV / 70 IBU, Boulder

Description: The unique Amarillo hop creates a big, grapefruit-like citrus flavor and aroma, making Mojo a very zesty IPA that’s crisp and refreshing.

Awards: 2010 US Beer Tasting Championship – Grand Champion – IPA; 2008 Great International Beer Competition – First Place – American Pale Ale

  • Beer Advocate Score: 88
  • Tasters Ave Score: 86.2
  • Tasters High v. Low: 71 to 93 Value: 22
  • Rachel’s notes: Good hop aroma and flavor, intense but not overwhelming bitterness. Overall like*

#2. Großen Bart Brewery (Grossen Bart) – Chin Curtain IPA 7.7% ABV /109 IBU, Longmont

Description: *ß=SS Grossen Bart: German for “BIG BEARD”. This IPA is as full as it gets. Very hoppy, yet smooth as silk. This makes us all very hoppy, hoppy, hoppy. You may just feel inclined to mow your teeth afterwards!

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 84.21
  • Tasters High v. Low: 69 to 88.5 Value: 19.5
  • Rachel’s notes: Floral aroma, banana smell from yeast, strong hoppy bitterness, smooth finish. Not too bad for 109 IBUs. *Overall Like

Bootstrap Brewing

#3. Bootstrap Brewing – Insane Rush IPA 7.2% ABV / 60 IBU, Niwot

Description: Music: AC/DC, Scorpions, Great White, and Leslie’s hot tub party mix. Insane Rush IPA is the relatively new brewery’s flagship brew.

Awards: Silver at 2015 Denver International Beer Competition. Silver at 2014 U.S. Beer Open Championship Silver at 2013 Colorado State Fair Beer Competition.

  • Beer Advocate Score: 84
  • Tasters Ave Score: 84.14
  • Tasters High v. Low: 79 to 89.5 Value: 10.5
  • Rachel’s notes: Funky nose, bold citrus and herb-y hop flavor, mild finish. Overall Like.*(We even matched the Beer Advocate Score of 84 which means we got this one right!)

fate-brewing#4. FATE Brewing Company – Moirai (moi-ri) India Pale Ale 7.2% ABV / 70 IBU, Boulder

Description: Citrus forward hops make this totally drinkable Moirai IPA our #1 seller both on draft in our brew pub and to local restaurants and bars.

Awards: Best In Show 2013 Fight Fire with Beer Governor’s Cup Beer Competition; Gold 2013 Fight Fire with Beer Governor’s Cup Beer Competition – IPA Category; Silver 2013 Denver International Beer Competition – American IPA Category

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 83.64
  • Tasters High v. Low: 66 to 95 Value: 29
  • Rachel’s notes: Tasted a bit like alcohol on first taste, slight bitterness. Mellowed out for second taste.

Crystal Springs#5. Crystal Springs Brewing Co. – 13 (Anniversary IPA) 7.1% ABV, Louisville

Description: India Pale Ale using a very unique combination of hops in stunning proportions.

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 83.4
  • Tasters High v. Low: 69 to 89 Value: 20
  • Rachel’s notes: Good aroma; earthy, hoppy but not too overpowering.

#6. Gravity Brewing – Golden Mosaic “Summers Ale” IPA 5.8% ABV (Session IPA) / 35 IBU, Louisville

Description: Golden Mosaic is a dry-hopped session IPA with Mosaic and Citra hops. “We decided to call it Summer’s Ale just to differentiate it from the saturated IPA crowd,” said John Frazee, founder.

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 83.33
  • Tasters High v. Low: 73 to 88.5 Value: 15.5
  • Rachel’s notes: Slight saltiness, medium hop flavor, ginger maybe? Overall Like.

upslope#7. Upslope Brewing Company – India Pale Ale 7.2% ABV / 65 IBU, Boulder

Description: Upslope India Pale Ale has a complex malty character and is more well-balanced than most IPAs, but still offers that bitterness that IPA lovers seek. Complex malty character meets the bitter side.

  • Beer Advocate Score: 82 (Bros Score: 90)
  • Tasters Ave Score: 83
  • Tasters High v. Low: 66 to 91 Value: 25
  • Rachel’s notes: Mild hop flavor, smooth on the nose, drinkable and mild.

#8. Avery Brewing Company – India Pale Ale 6.5% ABV / 69 IBU, Boulder

AveryIPADescription: In the 1700s one crafty brewer discovered that a healthy dose of hops and an increased alcohol content preserved his ales during the long voyage to India (as depicted in our label) to quench the thirst of British troops. Today, we tip our hat to that historic innovation by brewing Colorado’s hoppiest pale ale. Avery IPA demands to be poured into your favorite glass to truly appreciate the citrusy, floral bouquet and the rich, malty finish.

  • Beer Advocate Score: 87
  • Tasters Ave Score: 82.66
  • Tasters High v. Low: 71 to 96.5 Value: 25.5
  • Rachel’s notes: Crisp and hoppy flavor; light mouthfeel.

Sanitas#9. Sanitas Brewing Co. – Sanitas IPA 7% ABV / 80 IBU, Boulder

Description: Sanitas IPA is a definitive Colorado IPA. Gold in color with a harmony of ripe pineapple & dank, grassy hop undertones followed by a bold bitterness. A medley of organic malts provide a delicate sweetness and medium body.

  • Beer Advocate score: N/R but Bros Score of 81 (*Bros score is a score given by Beer Advocate co-founders the Alström Brothers, Jason and Todd )
  • Tasters ave score: 80.42
  • Tasters High v. Low: 69 to 92 Value: 23
  • Rachel’s notes: Good hop flavor, not too lingering bitterness; medium bitterness *overall like

AsherGB-IPA#10. Asher Brewing Company – Green Bullet Organic IPA 7.0% ABV / 45 IBU, Boulder

Description: By sending the hot wort through a bed of organic whole cone hops in our “hop back,” the Green Bullet wields complex hop flavor and aroma without cringing bitterness. Organic barley malts give a caramel, earthy deepness to the beer. At the same time, our dry-hopped fermentation process brings forth the bold tanginess of quality organic American hops.

  • Beer Advocate Score: 85
  • Tasters Average Score: 80.21
  • Tasters High v. Low: 70 to 90 Value: 20
  • Rachel’s notes: Full delivery of hop flavor, clean mouthfeel, crisp and hoppy; not bitter. Overall like*

#11. Liquid Mechanics Brewing Co. – India Pale Ale 7.4% ABV / 62 IBU, Lafayette

LiquidMechanicsDescription: American IPA is moderately hopped with tropical fruit and tangerine flavors. Dry hopped with Chinook hops.

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 80.0
  • Tasters High v. Low: 70 to 91 Value: 21
  • Rachel’s notes: Overall good hop flavor, not too bitter. A satisfying American IPA. Overall Like*

Vindication#12. Vindication Brewing Co. – Momentum IPA 5.7% ABV, Boulder

Description: Momentum IPA is a fruity, floral session IPA with Colorado Crystal Hops for aroma.

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 79.21
  • Tasters High v. Low: 74 to 85 Value: 11
  • Rachel’s notes: Surprising amount of carbonation, this is sort of like a hoppy champagne, which we kind of like. This brewery, formerly The Kettle and Stone Brewing Co., changed its name to Vindication Brewing last May. One of its founders, Eric Huber, is a 2011 GABF Silver Award Winner with years of brewing experience at the Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder and Oskar Blues in Lyons.

#13. Finkel & Garf Brewing Company – IPA 6.5% ABV / 80 IBU, Gunbarrel

Description: Dry + Citrus + Aromatic (Finkel & Garf)

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 75.42
  • Tasters High v. Low: 68 to 91.5 Value: 23.5
  • Rachel’s notes: Intensely bitter. For some people, that’s a good thing.

Postbrewing#14. The Post Brewing Co. – Summer TEAth Summer IPA 4% ABV (Session IPA), Lafayette

Description: Summer TEAth is a 4% ABV summer IPA brewed with American 2-row barley malt, red wheat malt and light crystal malt and fermented with our house ale yeast. It’s well hopped in the kettle and in the fermenter with a blend of two dwarf hop varieties called Azacca and Pekko which offer intense tropical, citrus and herbal aromas. This is complimented by a kettle addition of Sunny Green Tea from Boulder’s Pekoe Sip House. This is a tea blend that features dried papaya and pineapple whose aromas shine through along with the hops while the tea delivers an herbal flavor and gently astringent mouthfeel which evokes the sensation of sipping on iced tea. It’s dry, light bodied and utterly refreshing.

  • Beer Advocate Score: N/R
  • Tasters Ave Score: 74.3
  • Tasters High v. Low: 58 to 89 Value: 31
  • Rachel’s notes: This was our most controversial beer because of the addition of green tea. I personally enjoy this beer because I love green tea. Others were thrown off by the green tea flavor after saturating their palates with traditional hoppy IPAs, which resulted in a negative opinion of the beer.

*Descriptions, for the most part, were copied verbatim from the brewery’s website.

Conclusions:

The difference between the highest and lowest average score is a mere 11.9 points. Paste Magazine had similar findings when they set out to find the best IPA. What does that mean? It means the difference between the highest and the lowest scoring beers was only 11 points, that’s about a 2-point difference in each judging criteria. (It turns out The Post Brewing Co.’s Summer TEAth was the most polarizing to the tasters (Value: 31), and our most consistent beer was Bootstrap Brewing’s Insane Rush IPA (Value: 10.5). )

***Some noteworthy results were that 5 out of 9 tasters voted Boulder Beer – Mojo IPA in their top 3 beers. This was understandable to some and a surprise to others. Could it be that Colorado’s first microbrewery still makes the best IPA around? Well, duh. With so many innovators and novelties in the market these days, it’s understandable finding the best takes us to the place where it all began.

Another noteworthy finding was that one third of tasters chose Sanitas Brewing’s Sanitas IPA in their top 3 beers. It is interesting because when the averages were calculated, Sanitas fell to #9 – it just shows how scoring and judging is not the end all to beer judging.

Disqualified:

Some of the beers were disqualified after the tasting because they aren’t American IPAs. It was a blind tasting so we didn’t know what was what until the end. Next year we promise to compare apples to apples. We apologize to the breweries who, for no fault of their own, were disqualified.

Oskar Blues Brewery – Dale’s Pale Ale, Longmont: At the time of the tasting, one of our tasters brought in Dale’s Pale Ale, which is classified as an American Pale Ale. Since the tasting, however, Oskar Blues has released a traditional American IPA called “IPA” – check your local market for cans available across America. IPA has not yet been rated by Beer Advocate.

Left Hand Brewing Co. – 400 Pound Monkey IPA, Longmont: On first glance, this is an American IPA right? Not exactly. This beer is classified as an English-style IPA with 6.8% ABV and a Beer Advocate Score of 81. Perhaps if we had judged Warrior IPA we would not have been in this pickle. Our apologies to Left Hand. (Warrior IPA is an American IPA with a Beer Advocate score of 86 which is one heck of a score and we regret not having a chance to taste this.)

***A note on Session IPAs: We had three entries that were session IPAs, meaning they have a lower ABV of 4-6%. We took what breweries had at the time, some of them only had sessions available. We decided to keep them in the running as long as they qualified as a traditional American-style IPA. The entries include Gravity Brewing Summer Ale, Vindication Momentum IPA and The Post Brewing Co. Summer TEAth Summer IPA. If you disagree with our decision, feel free to let us know!

What is YOUR favorite Boulder County IPA? Let us know in the comments below.

Rachel Dugas

About Rachel Dugas

Rachel Dugas is a craft beer writer and photographer from Lafayette, Louisiana. Now living in Old Town Lafayette with her husband and daughter, Rachel can be seen snapping her camera incessantly while enjoying craft beers throughout Boulder County. Rachel was an official Beer Geek for GABF 2015. Follow Rachel on Instagram @boldtowngirl or on Twitter @R_Worthy

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