Before juicy, hazy IPAs came into fashion, session IPAs were all the rage. In a year or two from now, yet another delicious sub-style will surely capture the attention of our tastebuds (sour IPAs, anyone?). But way back in the early ‘90s through ‘00s, before the craft beer boom of current day, the IPA was just beginning to attract American hop lovers. As fast as the world moves now, many of those once-beloved beers have been pushed aside in favor of newer, sexier brews.
Well, we’re here to bring sexy back. (Kudos to us for singlehandedly making up that dope phrase.) We think it’s about time to shine a light on a few old-school IPAs from some all-time-great brewers that are still as delicious as ever.
BridgePort Brewing IPA
5.5% ABV, 50 IBU
To talk about Portland, we have to first tip our cap to craft brewers like Widmer Brothers and Portland Brewing, which helped set the table for the PDX beer boom and all the phenomenal breweries that came afterwards. But of all the standout Portland pale ales that have stood the test of time, BridgePort’s IPA is perhaps the most influential. It’s not an IPA that will slam your tastebuds and shock the palate with a billion IBUs, but a balanced expression of the style in the Pacific Northwest featuring five hop varieties from the local Willamette Valley: Cascade, Golding, Sterling, Crystal, and Chinook. Order a pint at BridgePort’s Marshall Street brewpub in Portland in order to rediscover the reason that this beer has stuck around for more than 20 years.
San Diego, CA
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Green Flash West Coast IPA
8.1% ABV, 95 IBU
You know how you can call any type of tissue a “Kleenex” even though the word is actually a brand name? That’s the kind of influence Green Flash’s West Coast IPA has had on beer. Sure, there might have been other similar IPAs brewed out west before it, but this ultra-hoppy beaut -- first brewed in 2005 and officially trademarked in 2011 -- is the ideal model for the “West Coast” style, as produced by one of the best breweries in Cali. It has the requisite hop bite, but also provides plenty of grapefruit and citrus notes that balance bitterness. Green Flash’s other beers (like the refreshing Tangerine Soul Style IPA) might get more buzz in 2017, but without the West Coast, the IPA wouldn’t be what it is today.
Goose Island Beer Co. IPA
5.9% ABV, 55 IBU
It might seem incredibly convenient for us to select a beer owned by Anheuser-Busch (which also funds this site), but try to name a more classic old-school IPA from Chicago that’s still around. Kinda tough, no? While Goose is more widely known for spearheading the bourbon-barrel aged beer revolution with its Bourbon County Series, the brewery also won a Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal for this English-style IPA way back in 2000, well before the craft beer boom (and the AB buyout). True to style, the beer isn’t going to overload you with hops -- with just 55 IBUS, it’s incredibly well-balanced with dry malt and a slightly fruity aroma.
Pyramid Brewing Co. Thunderhead
6.7% ABV, 67 IBU
Founded in 1984, Pyramid was once the brewery you had to mention when talking about the Pacific Northwest craft scene. This IPA debuted way back in ‘02, with Nugget and Simcoe hops allowing for its herbal, floral, earthy aroma. Yup, even the hop bill is old-school -- no Centennial or Cascade hops in this bad bot! To give you an idea of the love and loyalty this beer generated back then, here’s a quote from a BeerAdvocate review posted the same year the beer debuted: “The drinkability [is] flat-out amazing. One of the best beers I have had in a long, long time.”
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
6.7% ABV, 99 IBU
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Ninety-nine IBU. That’s… a lot of international bitterness units. But there aren't many beers out that are so hoppy -- and still go down so outrageously easily. The popularity of this beer certainly helped Surly to expand to the point where they could open an enormous beer hall in the Twin Cities. Not surprising, either, seeing as nearly every Surly beer has its own cult following. But five years after Furious first hit draught lines in 2006, the brewery was able to change Minnesota law so that it could sell pints of it in its own brewery taproom. Pretty amazing what one old-school IPA can mean to a brewery, the state, and an entire style of beer.
San Francisco, CA
Anchor Liberty Ale
5.9% ABV, 47 IBU
Any brewery around since the 1800s deserves a serious nod for this list -- and Anchor Brewing fits that (malt) bill. Their Anchor Liberty Ale -- not to be confused with Anchor Liberty IPA, a beer first bottled in 2016 that serves as a “reimagining of the craft beer classic Liberty Ale, envisioned through the lens of today’s IPAs” -- is one dry-hopped beauty of a beer. Before it debuted in 1975, dry-hopping (which is practically standard for IPAs these days, and is why your IPA smells so damn citrusy/piney/fruity) wasn’t really a thing. We can thank Anchor for changing the landscape considerably.
Great Lakes Commodore Perry IPA
7.7% ABV, 70 IBU
Outside of Goose Island’s brew, most of the IPAs in this rundown are as American-style as Kid Rock high-fiving a bald eagle amidst 4th of July fireworks. But not this Great Lakes classic: the brewery even named it after the guy who defeated the British Navy for a hilariously ironic twist. Opening in ‘86, when the city had nary a production brewery, Great Lakes went on to win a GABF medal in ‘92. And unlike many of the IPAs launched today, its hop character is balanced by an “arsenal of caramel malt flavors,” according to its official description. (Catch the war reference?)
Lakefront Brewery IPA
6.6% ABV, 46 IBU
When Miller Brewing got its start in Milwaukee in 1855, the now global brand changed the game. You could make the case that Lakefront did the same for Milwaukee craft beer when it debuted in 1987. And while their IPA was created more than 20 years after the brewery was, it’s still one of Lakefront’s most enduring and popular brews. Despite its fairly tame 46 IBUs (by modern standards, at least), it still features more than a few hop varieties, including the requisite Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Centennial, and the not-so-requisite Zeus! Zeus hops can give off a spicy aroma, but overall, this brew has floral and citrus aromas common to modern IPAs.
Fort Collins, CO
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Odell Brewing Co. IPA
7% ABV, 60 IBU
While Denver is unequivocally the foremost Colorado beer hub, Mile High OG breweries are known more for their stouts, amber ales, and experimental brews, like Great Divide’s big, bold Yeti, Wynkoop’s amber Rail Yard, and the Patty’s chile beer, respectively. For an old-school, hop-filled treat in Colorado, look to influential beer city Fort Collins to lead the way. While many of the IPAs listed here may feature one or two hop varieties, Odell’s flagship, namesake IPA is so bold as to include nine different types of hops. But don’t let this description lead you to expect a bitter hop bomb that belligerently assaults your tastebuds -- Odell has crafted a balanced beer with an intensely fruity aroma. Since the IPA's debut in 2007, the brewery’s portfolio has grown to include a number of other classics (e.g. Cutthroat Porter; Myrcenary DIPA), but their IPA remains a standout to this day.
Grand Rapids, MI
Founders Centennial IPA
7.2% ABV, 65 IBU
With a guaranteed place in the Beer Hall of Fame (if one ever gets built, that is), Founders celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Nowadays, those looking for a Founders IPA are most likely reaching for All Day IPA -- one helluva session beer. But Centennial, a dry-hopped brew from 2001, is the ageless old-school pick. Surprisingly, the beer only came to life after a friend of some Founders employees refused to buy a discounted keg of the brewery’s IPA for a birthday party. Hurt and frustrated, the Founders team tweaked the recipe to rectify the beer’s shortcomings, and Centennial was born. Sixteen years later, the beer endures.
Widmer Brothers Brewery is owned by Craft Brew Alliance, a public company partially owned by Anheuser-Busch. Goose Island Beer Co. is a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.