India pale ales or IPAs are arguably the poster children of the craft beer movement. They also tend to be a little divisive. Some people love the hefty smack of hops they’ve become known for, actively seeking out the most eye-watering and lip-puckering beers imaginable to test their mettle. Double and triple IPAs, higher in alcohol and even heavier on the bitter hops, take this right to the limit.
Others, though, actively avoid them. But, while the more intense American-style IPAs – packed tightly with bold citrus, pine and grassy hops – have come to characterise the category, there’s more variety than many people might think.
The original style of IPA is the English or British style, usually a burnished gold in colour and more akin to a traditional ale than the hazy New England IPAs that have come to dominate the market. And, while the turbo-charged IPAs and American hops are still hugely popular, more brewers are returning to mellower and more approachable styles.
Michael Alcock, CEO of craft beer retailer HonestBrew, thinks this trend is likely to continue. “Brewers have started to rebel and embrace more old-school approaches,” he says. “More balanced and bitter beers are hitting the market, while innovation has enabled lower-ABV IPAs to emerge as full-bodied as the stronger offerings.”
Given their popularity and the broad – and ever-growing – range of IPA styles out there, it can be quite overwhelming to know what might best suit your palate. With that in mind, we’ve sipped through a wide selection to cherry pick a top 12 that best represents the complexity of the style.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
The best IPAs for 2021 are:
- Best overall –ShinDigger shingri-la east coast IPA, 440ml: £4.25, Nationwide.shindigger.co.uk
- Best for surprising flavours – Adnams New England IPA, 12 x 330ml: £22.99, Adnams.co.uk
- Best for complexity –Quantock Brewery titanium west coast IPA, 440ml: £3.25, Quantockbrewery.co.uk
- Best for sunshine in a glass – Villages Brewery rafiki session IPA, 330ml: £2.95, Urbancellar.co.uk
- Best for pairing with food – Electric Bear above the clouds IPA, 440ml: £4.75, Electricbearbrewing.com
- Best for old-school flavours – Empress Ale IPA, 12 x 330ml: £29, Empressale.com
- Best for sipping in the sun – Seven Brothers juicy IPA, 330ml: £1.70, Groceries.asda.com
- Best thirst quencher – Amity party ice cold IPA, 440ml: £4.50, Amitybrew.co
- Best beer with purpose – Really Good Beer Society tidal save session IPA, 330ml: £2.40, Reallygoodbeers.com
- Best easy-drinker – Fourpure session IPA, 330ml: £1.80, Tesco.com
- Best for hearty flavours – St Peter’s India pale ale, 12 x 500ml: £26, Stpetersbrewery.co.uk
- Best for mellow maltiness – Shepherd Neame India pale ale, 500ml: £1.80, Groceries.asda.com