Western Pa. brewed IPAs among the nation's best
If you like hoppy India Pale Ales — and most craft beer drinkers do — then be happy you live in Western Pennsylvania, where two local breweries recently found their beers ranked among the 50 best IPAs in the country.
Penn Brewery's Penn IPA landed at No. 33 in the survey, judged by the national beer publication Draft Magazine , and Brew Gentlemen's General Braddock's IPA was ranked No. 25.
“We were obviously pretty geeked,” says Asa Foster, co-founder and creative director of Brew Gentlemen in Braddock. “It's exciting to see our year-round IPA finish so highly amongst so many other national brands. We're in great company on that list.”
“Super proud of the Penn brew team — they personify passion and determination,” adds Nick Rosich, head brewer at Penn Brewery in Troy Hill. “Kudos to (Brew Gentlemen) for the win, also.”
First Draft spoke to Draft Magazine's beer editor, Zach Fowle, to learn more about the list and the judge's thoughts on our local brewers.
Turns out the rankings are the result of a survey that was both ambitiously large and notably small.
On the one hand, 386 IPAs from across the country were submitted for consideration by Draft's team of seven certified beer judges, making it possibly the largest such survey ever undertaken. As Fowle notes, the IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver — the largest craft brew competition in the country — drew 312 submissions last year. So this survey was significant.
On the other hand, there are roughly 5,000 breweries in America today, and pretty much every one of them has at least one IPA. In that context, 386 entries is far from representative.
It should also be noted that the list of submissions lacks many local favorites. No East End, no Grist House, no Hitchhiker, no Roundabout, and no Dancing Gnome, which specializes in hop-heavy beers. Fowle says the magazine invited every brewer in their database, which they have spent a decade building. If a brewer did not participate, it's either because they did not get the invitation or decided not to submit.
In short: Draft's survey is not all encompassing, but it's still the biggest IPA field in recent memory, if not ever.
And Penn Brewery and Brew Gentlemen stood out.
Penn IPA was a surprise, Fowle notes, as Penn Brewery is noted more for its German-style lagers.
“But this was really well made,” he says. “They used seven different hops which gave it this really complex flavor profile. A very well-constructed beer.”
As for General Braddock's IPA, Fowle and Draft are no strangers to Brew Gentlemen.
“We enjoy pretty much everything they send us,” Fowle says. “What I like most about General Braddock is the texture. It's like a blanket you've just fluffed and is laying down perfectly on your tongue. And there's just a little hint of garlic, which adds a level of interest to it.
“They are really skilled at pulling a mosaic of hop flavors together and making them work. They make some amazing stuff.”
General Braddock's IPA last year ranked No. 2 in a national survey of 247 IPAs by Paste Magazine, which also ranked their recent farmhouse release No. 7 in the country in a separate blind tasting. Pete Kurzweg, co-owner of the Independent Brewing Co. in Squirrel Hill, says he's not surprised Brew Gentlemen has become “a darling of the national beer media.”
“Deservedly so,” he says. “For what it's worth, I think that putting General Braddock at No. 25 is an insult to that beer. I would have placed it in the top five.
“In many ways, the Brew Gentlemen's success with General Braddock is responsible for Pittsburgh breweries rapidly trying their own hand in the hazy IPA category,” Kurzweg continues. “You have many Pittsburgh breweries that are now brewing IPAs within that style, and on the whole, they have improved their execution considerably over the last year. I think it would be foolish not to credit the Brew Gentlemen, at least in part, for pushing them to compete in that category.”
Expect more national attention for local brewers, Kurzweg says, not just at Penn Brewery and Brew Gentlemen. The craft beer scene here is growing and improving, and outsiders are taking note.
“I would not be surprised to see breweries like Dancing Gnome or Grist House make that list next year,” he says, then adds a shout-out to Steve Sloan, head brewer at Roundabout in Lawrenceville, who is widely considered among the best, if not the best, brewer in the region: “I wish Steve would enter more competitions.”
If he does, he'll have to hold off on submitting an IPA, at least when it comes to Draft Magazine.
“We're going to wait a long time to do another one of these,” Fowle says. “Our palates are kind of wrecked from all the hops.”
Chris Togneri's first homebrew was an IPA that was outstanding. Subsequent batches, in which he pushed all humanly acceptable hop levels, were not. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ChrisTogneri.