The hop war is over, and the bitter side lost.
We know because we gathered a group of judges to taste all 73 IPAs made within the city limits of Portland.
When Portland beer geeks sampled the beers blind, it turned out they preferred brighter, juicier versions like those in the Northeast, which have only recently popped up in Portland. The five best IPAs in the city come from brand-new breweries, and most of those have been influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.
For some, this will be a relief. While plenty of locals love the sizzle of 99 international bitterness units radiating off a pint of pine sap, you'll find that plenty of saison sippers will tell you they hate hops, turned off by an astringent burn that reminds them of garbage water.
We have to admit, we've been spoiling for this. When we released our inaugural Beer Guide in 2013, we said we were bored with the overly bitter recipes that had come to dominate locally. Our statement was controversial at the time, drawing fire from The Oregonian's John Foyston and several local beer bloggers.
You can understand why people would be defensive. BridgePort made the first widely available American IPA right here in town, and the style is still the flagship beer at most local breweries. Nationally, IPAs account for an astonishing 23 percent of all craft beer sold. Although there are no reliable statistics, industry insiders estimate hoppy beers make up half the craft-beer market in Oregon. And this state has perfected the old-school IPA you'll find described in beer-judging handbooks—Barley Brown's ultra-bitter Pallet Jack won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013, while Breakside's more restrained flagship IPA won in 2014.
But things have changed. Thanks to message boards and beer traders, new ideas leap across the country in days. And they have. The top five IPAs made in the city come from breweries that didn't exist in 2013. The top two trace to Ohio, while Nos. 3 and 5 come from a local upstart heavily inspired by Vermont's the Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, and use their Yankee yeast. Meanwhile, Hair of the Dog's Blue Dot double IPA, once the city's standard-bearer, landed near the bottom of the rankings.
Because we realized the inherent folly of drinking 73 beers in a single afternoon and attempting to judge them, no matter how small the sips, we cross-checked the results with a public blind-tasting of the top 10 at FoPo hop haven N.W.I.P.A. The results were remarkably consistent. In the public tasting, where several hundred people showed up to drink unlabeled beers, the same beer came out on top, and the rest of the top five only shuffled places.
Click here for our complete ranking of Portland-brewed IPAs. Chances are that many of the top beers on this list are unfamiliar, even to some beer geeks. If you like IPAs, get drinking—maybe you're tolerating the bitterness only because you love the fruity, flowery flavor of hops. If you think you hate IPAs, get drinking. These lighter, brighter New Portland IPAs aren't what you remember from the height of the hop war.