The Pacific Northwest is best known for it’s eccentric ideologies, magnificent landscapes and hoppy IPAs. But what makes west coast breweries the best at their craft? And what exactly defines an IPA or Imperial IPA versus a pale ale or amber? The 16 Tons IPA Fest over the weekend was the perfect place to explore the vast range of IPAs that the craft beer world has to offer. With 70 IPAs from Eugene to Copenhagen, 16 Tons’ normally great selection of 18 + taps expanded to bottles and specialty beers that brought in a crowd from Friday to Sunday.
An India Pale Ale, or IPA, is the best selling style of craft beer in the United States. IPAs first started as English IPAs, but American IPAs and Northwest IPAs are more aggressively hopped and commonly found on draft here in Oregon. They tend to feature citrus and piney profiles with a balanced malt backbone. A Double, also called an Imperial, IPA just means that they doubled or tripled the amount of hops (and sometimes malts) to enhance the hop characteristics and the ABV to match. If an IPA is “dry-hopped” like the popular IPAs in Eugene (Total Domination, Watershed and Alphadelic) it means that extra hops were added after fermentation. It doesn’t heighten the bitterness, but does add a burst of hoppy aroma.
The beer that perhaps encouraged the most excitement this weekend, and usually does in the beer world, was Pliny the Elder on tap. Pliny the Elder, an Imperial IPA from the Russian River (not to be confused with Pliny the Younger also from Russian River), is legendary in craft beer circles for being one of the best IPAs in the world and scoring the elusive 100% on the beer-rating site Beer Advocate. It’s brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops and is released in limited supplies, so Eugene folks go crazy when this California beer makes it’s way up north. I made sure I got a pint in first thing, but then was ready to explore the delicious IPAs we have right here in our own backyard.
McKenzie Brewing’s Twisted Meniscus is an IPA that I would recommend for those unwilling to jump 100% into hop bitterness overload. McKenzie Brewing brews here in Eugene out of Steelhead’s facilities, and you can find their beers all over town. This NW style IPA is brewed with seven hop varieties and is light on carbonation. The honey malt they use really comes through in the flavor profile, making for a sweeter IPA. McKenzie Brewing also offered up the Imperial Hopasaurus Rex. Claim 52 had their Lotuseater Imperial IPA and Oakshire surprised us with Watershed IPA on Nitro. Still on tap at 16 Tons is Block 15’s Sticky Hands IPA from Corvallis. This one takes after it’s name and was actually super sticky with a delicious aroma that would make any hop head excited.
If you’re a Eugene local you tend to migrate towards Ninkasi, and they never disappoint with a wide selection of hopped up beers on tap. At the IPA Fest, Babylon was on tap but if you go in today the KLCC English Style IPA is also on draft at 16 Tons. Ninaksi Brewing is always a fan favorite here in Oregon, and increasingly across the United States. (On a side note, check out their awesome new bottle labels released this week). Ninkasi first made a name for themselves with their flagship beer Total Domination IPA, released when the brewery opened in 2006. Total Domination has a great strong aroma and big hop flavor which perfectly demonstrates the Northwest style IPA that we’ve come to love. Babylon in comparison, is a double English IPA with Marris Otter malt and Fuggle hops that add a rich nutty backbone and earthy aroma.
Two other beers on tap that I would highly recommend are the Laurelwood Workhorse IPA and Breakside IPA both out of Portland. They are each perfectly balanced with citrus and floral upfront and a full-bodied piney malt backing. You can find these two IPAs here in town at 16 Tons or at the Bier Stein, though you may want to make trip to the Beer Stein before it closes at the end of the month to move to their new location on 15th and Willamette.
Until next week, I’ll be enjoying the best the Northwest has to offer. The range doesn’t just include the different types of hop varieties, but there’s also Cascadian Dark, or Black IPAs, IPAs bottled with Brettanomyces for a sour taste or the IPL; India Pale Lager. So, if you like floral or piney, bitter, sweet or even sour, it’s about time you hopped on the Northwest IPA craze.