Everybody loves a good Top 10 List, right? At some point, I’d like to do a list of my favorites of a lot of different styles of beer, but I think I’ll start with IPAs seeing as they are probably the most popular among craft beer drinkers. Originally I was only going to do a “Top 5” list, but I quickly realized that there are way too many good NC IPAs for that. My list of contenders was 17 candidates long and I could have done a bigger list…but where’s the fun in not leaving some of them off for arguments sake. The one rule I made for myself in creating this list was only one IPA per brewery. No sense in having only a handful of breweries take up the majority of the list…anyone who had read this blog post knows my man crush for Wicked Weed and their beers, so I won’t go there again. With that in mind….let’s go…..
1(a). Freak of Nature by Wicked Weed Brewing
Was there any doubt…come on…you know me better than that. I can’t get enough of this stuff. I seriously wanted to make trips to Asheville for the sole purpose of going to Wicked Weed and having this beer. I was really excited to see it recently hit the Top 50 IPAs on Beer Advocate. For a beer that has only been out a relatively short amount of time, that’s pretty impressive. I would be willing to wager that once they start bottling this beer, it will continue to skyrocket up that list as more and more people get to try it. It is that good.
1(b). Hop Drop & Roll by NoDa Brewing Company
It was extremely difficult for me to decide which of these two beers to put in the top spot, so I copped out and put them both there…and deservedly so. Talk about another easy-to-drink IPA that packs a hop punch. This is another one that cracked the Top 50 IPA’s on Beer Advocate, so apparently the general public agrees with my assessment of these top two beers. They also make an Imperial Hop Drop & Roll which is a little higher in alcohol and just as tasty, but I’m giving the nod to the regular version due to its availability. It also helps that they come in tallboy cans which I’m a big fan of.
3. Jade by Foothills Brewing
There aren’t a lot of beers out there made with Pacific Jade hops and when Foothills started experimenting with it several years ago, they hit the jackpot. It’s not the only hop they use in Jade, but they sure know how to use it. Since its inception, it was only available at the brewery or on tap at certain spots and people went crazy for it. It’s one of those beers that if someone is in from out of town and you’re at a bar that has it…you are required to make them try it. There has been a high demand for it to be bottled and here in the last couple of weeks, Foothills granted that wish to its patrons and you can find it in most bottle shops around the state.
4. Vortex I by Pisgah Brewing Company
Although this IPA isn’t as readily available as the ones ahead on this list… I was hard pressed to keep it down this low. I’ve had it on tap several times when I’ve been in the Asheville/Black Mountain area and it has always impressed me…especially when really fresh. I’ve also been lucky enough to run across a few bottles at Beer Study in Chapel Hill in the past, and was still impressed. They do not distribute to the Raleigh area, but there are certain shops that make the trip to western NC and stock up on Pisgah stuff on the way to Asheville. With it being a seasonal (I believe they did it sometime in the summer), it’s going to be harder to come by, but if you ever run across it, make sure to try it.
5. Wilma’s Wandering EyePA by Double Barley Brewing
The thing I love about Double Barley is that they push the envelope with every beer they brew. This beer holds true to that belief. It’s not your average double IPA and with an ABV of 12%, it can get you in trouble since it doesn’t drink like 12%. This beer is a little sweeter than the others on the list, which will make it stand out. I would highly recommend making the trip out to the taproom in Smithfield and not only trying this, but all of Double Barley’s beers, because I haven’t been disappointed yet. They did recently start bottling the Wilma’s Wandering EyePA so check your local bottle shops to see if they have gotten or will get any. Be careful not to drink too much though and let those eyes start wandering.
6. The Rainmaker by Green Man Brewery
This beer will definitely make it rain. I had tried The Rainmaker on draft several times in the Raleigh area and really enjoyed it, but when I went down to the brewery last year it must have been a fresh batch because it was way better than what I remembered. There are tons of IBUs in this one (I had to look it up and found 158 as the number), so if you like that style of IPA, this one will not disappoint. This is another IPA that has a fairly high ABV of 9.3%, but doesn’t really drink like it. I haven’t had it out of the bottle, but I know that it is available so be on the lookout.
7. Centennial IPA by White Street Brewing Company
There are a lot of breweries that do single hop IPAs or pale ales and most of the time I am not overly impressed by them, although this one is the exception. When this beer was released late last summer, I happened to stumble into a White Street tasting. I was excited to finally be able to try some of their beers, although I was a little disappointed that this beer was a single hop (since like I said, single hop IPAs aren’t my favorite). I tried it last and although I really enjoyed the others, this was my favorite of the bunch. I would even go as far to say that it’s my favorite beer that White Street does, which is saying quite a lot seeing as they have done some excellent brews.
8. Carpetbagger Collaboration by Trophy Brewing Company and Deep River Brewing Company
Back in August 2013, during Raleigh Beer week, I heard that two of my favorite breweries in the Raleigh area were doing a collaboration on a double IPA, so I was really excited to try it. I was down at Trophy 30 minutes before the keg got tapped to ensure that I had a place to sit at the bar. This is another high IBU IPA that isn’t too overpowering. I wasn’t fortunate enough to grab any of the bottles when they got released, so I’m not sure how it was out of the bottles, but both the draft and cask that I was able to try were delicious. I haven’t heard anything about either Brewery re-releasing it, but I think that they should. I would definitely buy it.
9. Big Mon IPA by Steel String Brewery
This is just a really well done, straight forward west coast style IPA. It is citrus forward with not crazy high IBU’s (70) or ABV (6.5%), but it gets the job done. I started to put Crying Holy, their double IPA, on the list because it is really good as well, but I thought that relative to the style, Big Mon deserved the nod. If you haven’t ventured out to Carrboro and tried this beer yet, you need to make the trip. Chapel Hill is one of my favorite places on earth, and I travel out there numerous times a year for games and whatnot. Now every time I go out there, I make it a point to stop in downtown Carrboro to have a Big Mon, amongst others.
10. Noon Day IPA by Nantahala Brewing Company
I first had a Noon Day at the Hickory Hops Festival several years ago, shortly after the brewery had opened. I had a sample…and then another….and then another. Before you knew it, I had been standing at the Nantahala tent for 30 minutes. With the brewery located up in Bryson City, I knew it was going to be hard to come by, so I was really ecstatic when we started getting growlers in Raleigh several months later. Nantahala beers still weren’t easy to find, so I was even more pleased last month when I discovered that they started bottling this delicious treat.
Honorable Mention: Deviant Dale’s by Oskar Blues
I had a really hard time leaving this one off the list because it’s one of my favorites. My rationale was, even though Oskar Blues has a brewery in Brevard, I haven’t been there yet, so I still think of Oskar Blues as a Colorado brewery. I’m not going to go into all the others that were on my initial list because this post has been long enough already, but I wanted to specify why I left Deviant Dale’s off the list. Once I visit the brewery and actually see Oskar Blues as a NC brewery, it will probably warrant moving up the list.