Why we're here...

Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Showdown: IPAs: Bear Republic vs Lagunitas vs Rubicon



Racer 5
Hops: Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, Centennial
IBU: 75+
ABV: 7%
2009 & 1999 Great American Beer Festival GOLD
2006 & 2005 Great Amercan Beer Festival SILVER
Beer Advocate Score: 4.21 out of 5
Rate Beer Score: 3.89 out of 5

Lagunitas IPA
Hops: Cascade, Centennial and 41 other hops.
IBU: 45.6
ABV: 6.2%
Beer Advocate Score: 3.85 out of 5
Rate Beer Score: 3.53 out of 5

Rubicon IPA
Hops: Cascade, Columbus, Chinook
IBU: 65
ABV: 6.5%
1989 & 1990 Great American Beer Festival GOLD
Beer Advocate Score: 3.85 out of 5
Rate Beer Score: 3.47

Well, West Coast IPAs are one of the most popular styles of beer right now. Every brewery worth their barley has an IPA in their line-up. So which are the best? If you're at a bar or store staring at dozens of IPAs, which one should you choose?

With so many to choose from the Blog thought that we'd start with a good mix of North Cal IPAs. Rubicon was the first brewery to win Gold for the American IPA style when it was first created at the 1989 Great American Beer Festival. Bear Republic has been a constant award winner and is usually on the top of most people's list of favorite IPAs. Lagunitas always has solid brews, but they claim that their IPA is the #1 IPA in California.

There was 5 of us and we set up a blind taste test, as the picture shows above. Each person would then rank each beer 1, 2, and 3. The beer with the most number ones would be first and so on. Each drinker could do multiple sips if they had to re-think.  Interestingly only 1 of us could correctly pick out each beer, although only after a a second tasting. Good job Chris.

So we did the tasting and here are the results:

Racer 5
#1: 5
#2: 0
#3: 0

#1: 0
#2: 1
#3: 4

#1: 0
#2: 4
#3: 1

Racer 5 takes it hands down, followed by Rubicon in a definitive second - proving it still has the quality it did 22 years ago. Racer 5 had a nicer sweetness and balance, but the flavor of Rubicon was really good. Lagunitas seemed to lack the big flavors of Rubicon and Racer 5.

What do the professional beer judges look for in an American IPA?

Aroma: A prominent to intense hop aroma with a citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, and/or fruity character derived from American hops. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional grassy aroma, although this is not required. Some clean malty sweetness may be found in the background, but should be at a lower level than in English examples. Fruitiness, either from esters or hops, may also be detected in some versions, although a neutral fermentation character is also acceptable. Some alcohol may be noted.

Appearance: Color ranges from medium gold to medium reddish copper; some versions can have an orange-ish tint. Should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy. Good head stand with white to off-white color should persist.

Flavor: Hop flavor is medium to high, and should reflect an American hop character with citrusy, floral, resinous, piney or fruity aspects. Medium-high to very high hop bitterness, although the malt backbone will support the strong hop character and provide the best balance. Malt flavor should be low to medium, and is generally clean and malty sweet although some caramel or toasty flavors are acceptable at low levels. No diacetyl. Low fruitiness is acceptable but not required. The bitterness may linger into the aftertaste but should not be harsh. Medium-dry to dry finish. Some clean alcohol flavor can be noted in stronger versions. Oak is inappropriate in this style. May be slightly sulfury, but most examples do not exhibit this character.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, medium-light to medium-bodied mouthfeel without hop-derived astringency, although moderate to medium-high carbonation can combine to render an overall dry sensation in the presence of malt sweetness. Some smooth alcohol warming can and should be sensed in stronger (but not all) versions. Body is generally less than in English counterparts.

Overall Impression: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale.

Ingredients: Pale ale malt (well-modified and suitable for single-temperature infusion mashing); American hops; American yeast that can give a clean or slightly fruity profile. Generally all-malt, but mashed at lower temperatures for high attenuation. Water character varies from soft to moderately sulfate.      


  1. Why didn't you use A Lagunitas brew with a similar IBU? Maybe a Maximus?

  2. Bill, I think you pointed out an interesting discrepency with Racer 5's labeling. The Beer Judge Certification Program says American IPAs have an IBU of 40-70, and an Imperial IPA 60-120.

    So technically Racer 5 along with Maximus are Imperial IPAs. Our goal with this showdown was simple - if faced with a choice between each brewery's flagship "IPA" which did we like better. We didn't look into IBUs until after the tasting.

    I think the next showdown will be with Imperial IPAs, so we'll be sure to check the IBU's first.

  3. You have your work cut out for you. There are so many good DIPAs to choose from. Dogfish 90, Pliny, Hopsickle etc. Keep up the good work!