Brewery: Cigar City (FL)
Style: American IPA
What exactly does someone mean when they say something like: "I had this great IPA the other day"? Probably something different depending what kind of beer drinker you are. Such a declaration rarely actually means "this beer is so unique and amazing, it'll blow your mind." But to someone who is a bit obsessive, such as myself, and who is excited by new and exciting beers, also such as myself, always sort of hopes that that's what you're saying. Still, there's something to be said for a less hyperbolic reading of that sort of recommendation: sometimes you just need to know what's good. And if possible, what's great, and doesn't sell out within 10 minutes of hitting the shelves. It's important. (That's why you read my blog, right?)
Well, here you go. Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA is among the best IPAs I've ever had. And that's the point at which things get tricky — if I had all my favorite IPAs lined up in front of me, maybe I could pick out which ones were slightly better and tell you why, but I don't. I just have this one, and it's as good as one can hope for. It shoots right down the middle of what I want in an IPA — fruity hops dripping with tropical flavors, a mix of mango and citrus with a surprisingly big orange character, and fainter touches of dank pine. Bitter, but not aggressively so — Jai Alai is an extremely smooth drinker. More importantly, the fruit character seems richer and fuller than I'm used to in similar IPAs; it's incredibly satisfying.
The 7.5% ABV means there's a pretty hefty malt base here, for an IPA, and it provides just the right level of sweetness, a hint of caramel, along with a creamy mouthfeel and slightly bready character. For me, the bitterness only starts to push itself forward once you let it hang in your mouth — but that just compels you to take the next sip. Cigar City's Jai Alai goes right into the pantheon of IPAs I could drink anytime, all night, with no complaints.
Availability: Year-round, comes in six-packs. One of Cigar City's flagship beers, so it's relatively easy to find if they distribute to your area.