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Ratings: Top-Rated Seasonal IPAs and When to Drink Them

Ratings: Top-Rated Seasonal IPAs and When to Drink Them

Talk to any craft beer lover about what they’ve been drinking lately, and before long, the topic of India pale ale—commonly known as IPA—will likely come up. After all, it’s the best-selling category in craft beer and shows no signs of being dethroned anytime soon.

Broadly speaking, IPAs fall into one of two categories, both of which drinkers have embraced: the traditional style, which includes clear and beautifully bitter offerings, and the modern hazy style, with its many juicy iterations. Of course, there is nuance to both styles, as brewers seek both to honor history and push the envelope. Lately, another element has come into play: seasonality.

The Rise of Seasonal IPAs

For many years now, IPA fans have eagerly awaited early autumn, when the wet-hop beers (made with field-ripe flowers) and fresh-hop beers (made with fresh-harvested and kiln-dried hops) begin arriving on tap and on shelves. This is because in the northern hemisphere, hops are harvested in August and September.

While most will be dried or pelletized, some are picked directly from the bines and sent immediately to breweries to be brewed fresh or near-fresh. Some breweries, especially those close to hop fields, can brew with these hops within minutes of harvesting. Others will work with shippers to receive and brew within 24 hours of picking. The results are often lush and vibrant ales that carry a green hop character and a true sense of terroir.

There are few examples of wet-hop or fresh-hop IPAs available nationally; Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, which is available towards the end of each year, is a noted example of the wet-hop style. Most drinkers, however, will have to visit Oregon, Washington or Idaho breweries for a proper wet-hop or fresh-hop IPA. Or, have a local connection in other hop-growing states.

You May Also Like: 10 Top-Rated American IPAs, from Session Beers to Hazies

When to Drink Seasonal IPAs

While there has been some conversation about how long one should wait to drink fresh-hopped IPAs (some brewers advocate giving the beer a few weeks in the can or keg to mature) most are gone from shelves by late October or early November.

If autumn is for fresh and wet hop beers, what about the other three seasons? That’s a bit more complicated, but some brewers are looking to solve the problem.

For one, Short’s Brewing in Bellaire, Michigan, is constantly releasing beers that try to evoke the current season. “One way to think about seasonality is through abv,” says Christa Brenner, the brewery’s marketing and brand director. “[Our IPAs are] lighter in the warmer months, heavier in the colder ones. The summer usually features summery ingredients [and is] lighter and crisper. Winter will go darker, richer, stronger.”

It also has a seasonally-driven Pure Michigan line of IPAs that plays into the state’s tourism campaign and uses only state-grown hops and malt. (The current offering, Fall IPA, is straw-colored and slightly hazy.)

In Washington State at Reuben’s Brews, owner Adam Robbings says that of the more than 150 different beers the brewery made last year, it put a lot of thought into seasonals, especially IPAs. The brewery’s Summer IPA, brewed with wheat, has been its best-seller for the last seven years.

The brewery releases a Cold IPA that is available from Labor Day through December. In the past, Reuben’s also released a chocolate rye IPA for the winter months, but it proved too niche and was pulled back into smaller production runs.

Evolution is part of the seasonal IPA game. The brewery’s springtime offering has also experienced changes over time. “We had was a beer that I think the concept was great, but I think it was confusing to wholesalers,” explains Robbings. “Every year we were going to put out a beer that was a reflection on what we learned in the previous years. It was the same name but had a different recipe every year. It was confusing to communicate.”

Its current springtime IPA is a beer called Spot On, which is available from January through April. It’s a showcase of a specific hop lot picked from the Yakima Valley.

“The seasons give you a great opportunity to show something new to give some breadth and variety,” says Robbings. That said, he’s wary of relying too heavily on them. “We must be very careful that we don’t overextend [when leaning] into the season.”

Brenner agrees, saying that a successful seasonal IPA ultimately comes down to finding interesting flavors inspired by seasonality through experimentation. For Short, it means relying on the region and showing a passion for place.

“We’re always going to have drinkers who want our flagships, or their favorites, or to try something new,” Brenner says. “But not having a seasonal IPA would be a miss.”

Best Seasonal IPAs

Wayfinder Cold IPA

The cold IPA is a style that originated with Wayfinder brewing in 2018 and uses an alternative malt bill from normal IPAs including corn and rice. The use of lager yeast at warmer than usual temperatures and a similar process for dry hopping, the success of this style relies on biotransformation for its signature flavor. Crystal clear and with moderate bitterness, this has aromas of citrus peel and pine, that yields into a floral honey character and light fruitiness. The finish is dry and pleasing, easily setting the palate up for another deep swallow. 98 Points  —John Holl

Craft Shack

Blackberry Farm Lemon Groove

An enjoyable diversion from the norm with rich lemon herb and a floral herbal quality at the forefront. The lemon comes on in additional layers including candied peel and lemon verbena. It still finishes dry, with a lager snap. Pair with summer vegetables or a simple roasted chicken to bring out the best in both. 97 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

Samuel Adams Cold IPA

From a brewery that knows how to deftly maneuver in the lager space, this well-hopped IPA is golden and clear as a bell, with a modest head that lasts and laces the glass. The earthy hops are never overwhelming but add to a noticeable bitterness that engages the olfactory senses. 96 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

Highland Trailbound

Deep straw-colored haze, this IPA has faint tropical coconut aromas paired with soft, overripe melon and a touch of candied orange. Flavors twist and evolve with each sip, letting different characteristics land at different times, leading to an enjoyable session. 95 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

Reuben’s Summer IPA

Pours a bright, clear golden yellow that can make one think of a crayon-drawn sun in the sky. Maybe that’s the point with this “summer” IPA, which isn’t really a style of beer but maybe should be. Soft and easy all around with candied malts, easy resinous hops with bits of lemony citrus and a touch of flowery whisps around the edges with low-to-moderate bitterness. This IPA evokes thoughts of warm weather no matter the season its consumed. 95 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

Maine Woods And Waters

This was brewed with locally harvested ingredients to commemorate the establishment of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument this IPA has a lot of traditional hop aromas in grapefruit and pine. The hops are strongest in the aroma and muted on the palate. It has a pleasing bitterness that builds over the consumption of the bottle. 91 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

Ecliptic Phaser

With the color of unfiltered grapefruit juice and a thin head, this IPA has a lot of tropical fruit aromas, including mango and pineapple, but stays more on the bitter side of the hop coin rather than sweet. Enjoyable and well executed, it’s an IPA with some heft that is just right for the swing seasons. 91 Points  —J.H.

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Deschutes Tropical Fresh IPA

Muted but pleasant pineapple and mango aromas with a mineral water backbone. Slight earthy dankness comes on towards the finish. An IPA for summer afternoons with no plans on the horizon. 86 Points  —J.H.

Total Wine & More

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