10 Top California IPAs

Top 10 California

Food GPS beer editor Sean Inman chooses 10 great California beers by style.

It appears that the IPA (India Pale Ale) bubble refuses to burst, unless you count beers bursting with more and more bitterness with each passing year.  There are single hop, white or black, Imperial, Double and Belgian to name just a few of the variants available.  Then there are the new hop varieties, one year Nelson, another Citra, and this year it’s Mosaic.

Luckily for hopheads, California is ground zero for this hop explosion.  To the point where IPAs from Colorado or Oregon seem practically British in their moderate hop usage.

I have combed through my personal beer ratings, the RateBeer Top 50 as well as what keeps popping up on the lists for the L.A. Beer Blast to select 10 Top California IPAs that are readily available (or will be soon, in one instance) on tap or in bottles across L.A. County.

I won’t expand the list past ten choices, but I will say that by next year (or even in the next month or two), I will probably have a slightly different list with additions from Ohana Brewing and Haven Brewing on them.  Sadly, this list does not include my absolute favorite Cali IPA because it is a seasonal.  I will leave you to guess which it is in the comments.

10. The BrueryHumulus Lager.  Technically, yes, it is not an IPA but any Top 10 list must include the Bruery and this hoppy lager is the antidote, aperitif, appetizer for the wide range of big and barrel aged beers that this Orange County brewer has in its arsenal.

9. Smog CityAmarilla GorillaPorter won Great American Beer Festival gold for his Groundworks Coffee Porter and Little Bo Pils has quite a fan base, but his Amarillo hopped IPA is their equal in my eyes.  A well balanced beer that delivers the hops.

8. Ballast PointSculpin.  A mere few years ago this San Diego IPA was in such high demand that you would only have rare sightings.  Now, it is in cans and bottles and may even have jalapeños in it.  But it is still a classic. Great stone fruit and citrus notes.

7. Strand BrewingAtticus.  I keep seeing this around town in the distinctive bottle shape and the classy beach tower label.  A strong IPA that is at the edge of wrecking the palate but pulls up at the edge of that cliff.

6. AleSmithIPA.  Yup.  No pun filled name.  Just IPA.  And you can find it at Trader Joe’s for a killer price.  Value wise it is incredible.  This floral and peppery IPA is good any time of day.

5.Firestone WalkerUnion Jack.  Another classic.  You could make a case for Double Jack but the “single” is simple and classic and on shelves throughout the year.  Very much in the vein of the AleSmith IPA (and also a screaming deal at Trader Joe’s).

4. Russian River BrewingBlind Pig.  The beer snobs may sing rapturous praise over Pliny the Younger but for my money, Blind Pig is the better pick.  Not only because you can find it (usually at Blue Palms Brewhouse). And not only because you don’t have to stand in line and wait for a 4oz pour.

3. Kern River BrewingJust Outstanding.  Their Double, Citra, is a world class beer but hard to acquire unless you trek north to the brewery.  Their “plain” old regular IPA is Outstanding.  No hyperbole here.

2. Alpine Beer CompanyDuet.  Alpine has signed an agreement to have some of their line brewed at the much larger Green Flash facility in San Diego.  So I have ranked this one here in the sole effort to get more of this tremendous beer up here in Los Angeles.  Even the hop uninitiated can discern the two hops that are working in concert here.

1. Beachwood BrewingMelrose. This one is a bit of a cheat.  Julian Shrago has a seemingly endless stream of IPAs on tap in Long Beach.  Thrillseeker, Hopular Mechanics or Citraholic would fit the bill just as well.  All show off the character of the hops and don’t bombard the tongue into a bitterness submission.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman's writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

How could you have a top ten California IPA list without Green Flash’s standard California IPA?

It is spectacular!

If you put all the “classic” brews on the list automatically, there’d be no room left for the best ones.


Good point. Just because a beer is synonymous with a particular style doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still the best example.

And a Lager IS in the top 10 best examples of the IPA style? And giving Strand number 7 for its bottle and label? Beach wood at #1? I applaud your efforts to give props to the LA brewers, just don’t call the list Top 10 in California. You seem to focus on labels, bottles, and value price, and that’s fine, maybe its more appropriate to call this list “10 good-value and good-looking IPAs in California”…

I’m guessing the omitted seasonal favorite is Afterburner from Kinetic Brewing Company

Lagunitas Sucks is the seasonal that I would put on any top 10 list.

[…] few weeks back, I chose some of my favorite IPA’s for Food GPS, and tomorrow I have selected 10 of my favorite sour […]

Wow. This list is pure shit. You include the Bruery just for the sake of including them?

Agreed… Fail.

the lagunitas IPA is conspicuously absent from this list. not only is it an amazing IPA, but it’s extremely drinkable

overrated beer and way to much extract used.

Out of curiosity, what is the “too much extract” taste?

This is bullshit. How are you going to have a top 10 california IPA list and 1. Have non IPA’s on the list 2. Not mention any Stone Brewing beers.

agreed. the list is garbage. while i look for discoveries, none are to be found here. and personal taste IS mis-informed when the article is entitled ‘ 10 top ca ipas’. Append, ‘…that i like even if they are not ll ipas’ or even include the most hop-centric breweries in ca.’

Em, You bring up some good points, but I have a couple questions for you. Just because you already know these beers, does that mean they aren’t the best available? People are hunting for new finds, and so am I, but good is good. Also, just because a brewery preaches hop-centric beers doesn’t necessarily mean they produce the best hop-centric beers, does it?

[…] Inman made a list of his top 10 California IPAs. It didn’t look like the list I’d pick so I wondered what my list would look […]

Great list.

I’ve no gripes except for your insistence on Humulus. But, eh…

I’m a little surprise Liberty Ale from Anchor didn’t make the cut, was that because the brewery doesn’t call it an IPA?

My shot-in-the-dark guess for your omitted favorite: Heal the Bay.

I am a huge fan of Lagunitas Sucks IPA – Brown Shugga Substitute. But since it isn’t available now, I didn’t want to put it on the list and make people wait for it.


Jonathan Kleinbart

Duet is great, tho I prefer Pure Hoppiness. That’s a DIPA, though, as is Pliny the Elder. Hence Blind Pig is more appropriate for this list.

Alpine was another tough decision. So many choices (including Pure Hoppiness) that you could almost do a Top 10 Alpine IPA list.

The distinctions between Pale, IPA, DIPA and Imperial IPA are a bit blurry but I did try to stick with what the brewery itself labels each as.

I was a little surprised to see only one Northern California brewery make the cut. Then again, if you put the Top 10 Southern California IPAs up against the Top 10 IPAs from the rest of the U.S., it would probably be a close call.

So many ways to slice this list. You could do all San Diego, all LA, all “you name it”. I left out many good ones that I would happily drink.

Sean, sounds like those city-specific IPA subgenres could be worth covering in the future.

Russian River is fourth because it’s hard to get Pliny the Younger? Have you ever heard of Pliny the Elder? Terribly misinformed article.

Bob, if personal taste is misinformed then guilty as charged. I will take Blind Pig over either Pliny any day.

Writes article on California IPAs, doesn’t include two of the highest rated IPAs in the world (from a California brewery), makes sense.

I stand by my choices and I would love to see your Top 10. I bet most craft beer fans would construct as many different IPA lists as there are snowflakes.

Yeah. With good reason. I love CA IPAs and my top 10 list wouldn’t include Pliny either. (Well, the younger might sneak in near the bottom).

PtE is also a double IPA, and this list seems to stick to “standard IPAs”.

For my money, and with my tastes, Blind Pig might not even make the top ten.

[…] the first in a series of California-centric postings on Food GPS.  With the recent passing of the 2013 IPA day, I will select 10 bitter bombs brewed in […]

Leave a Comment