Our IPA Taste-Off Methodology

How we attempted to wrangle 73 growlers in a single day

There is no perfect way to rate 73 IPAs in a single afternoon.

Wrangling so many beers is a logistical nightmare. Even with the hardiest tasters we could find, plus plenty of crackers and water, palate fatigue and intoxication inevitably affected the results after so many strong, bitter samples. Here's what we did to make this tasting as fair as possible.

A month before the tasting, we built a spreadsheet of every brewery in the city with notes on any IPA each was likely to have on tap at the time of our tasting. We included only beers with ABV between 4.5 and 7.5 percent, and excluded beers that used Belgian yeast, sour cultures or heavy fruit additions. Breweries like the Commons that don't make IPAs were omitted. Breweries like Upright that very rarely make IPAs were contacted to see if they happened to have one available. Breakside's much-beloved flagship IPA is made in a suburb called "Milwaukie" [sic], and was ineligible. Anticipating complaints about this, we included a growler purchased in Milwaukie as a control—it narrowly missed the top 10.

The week before our tasting, we emailed and called breweries to ask whether they could provide us with one growler of any IPA they had on tap. About half the breweries graciously donated beer to the tasting, the rest we happily bought. We requested growlers instead of bottles or cans—Gigantic was the only brewery to insist on submitting bottles, which we allowed. Coalition's Spacefruit also came in bottles because of a submission snafu.

Every beer was acquired Wednesday, Jan. 27, or the morning of Jan. 28. All but one beer was acquired directly from the brewery's tap room to assure the brewery itself had control over the quality. (The IPA from Humble, which does not have a taproom, was purchased at Chill N Fill in St. Johns.) All beers acquired Jan. 27 were stored in a cool, dark place overnight.

We conducted our blind tasting Jan. 28 at our office on Northwest Quimby Street. The list of tasters is here.

The tasting began at noon and continued until 5:30 pm. Beers were served in flights of five in plastic cups marked with letters. The cups were rinsed and refilled between rounds to avoid waste. Tasters had access to saltines, oyster crackers and Juanita's corn chips. There was no notable disparity in rankings based on when beers were sampled—among the top 10, one beer was in the third flight and one came in the 15th.

Every taster kept a separate ballot and rated each beer on a 100-point scale.

The top 10 beers advanced to a final round Feb. 6 at N.W.I.P.A. on Southeast Foster Road. There, the general public could sample 4 ounces of each and vote for their top three via smartphone. We allocated 20 points for every No. 1 vote, 10 points for every No. 2 vote and five points for every No. 3 vote to determine the order of the top 10.