The King of Ohio IPA crown goes to …

At long last we’ve reached the conclusion of the King of Ohio IPA contest.  Nearly 70 beers from every corner of the Buckeye state started off with a chance to win the title.  Through a series of reader’s polls (over 4400 votes were cast), blogger picks, and one blind taste test, that number was narrowed down to 15 beers. On a cold and blustery Saturday fellow beer loving bloggers Rick Armon (The Beer Blog), Tom Aguero (Queen City Drinks), Bob Lesher (The Artful Pint), Cory Smith and Ron DeGregario (The Brew Review Crew) rose bright and early to drive to Columbus and get down to the hard work of picking the best in IPA in the state from an elite field.  To get some food in our stomachs and go over logistical details of the contest we started by meeting at Wolf’s Ridge to experience their acclaimed brunch first hand.  After polishing off an order of eggs benedict and a beermosa (both highly recommended) I headed over to the Elevator’s 13th floor taproom with my companions for the contest.  Big thanks to Dick Stevens and everyone at Elevator for letting us invade their space for the final showdown.  I also want to thank the Ohio Taproom for sponsoring the event by creating an awesome traveling title belt that goes to the winner.

Beers and Belt

And then there were fourteen

Before we even had a chance to take the first sip we learned that the field had been further narrowed to fourteen beers.  Apparently Great Black Swamp whose Wild Duck IPA was the third beer coming out of the Toledo region, went out of business in the past week or so.  I’ve not tried Wild Duck IPA but the fact that it only received single digit votes in the poll, and a pretty lukewarm review from Cory and Ron, makes me think it would not have been that competitive, but the show must go on.

The Contest

We followed a very similar format to the one that I used for the Central Ohio IPA Blind Taste Test.  Namely we split the fourteen beers into two groups of seven, and the six judges into two groups as well.  Each group of three judges was tasked with selecting the top two beers from their group to advance to the final round where all six judges would review the top four beers in the contest.  Blake from the Ohio Taproom and Steve, who rode down from Akron with Rick, kindly agreed to pour the beers and moderate the contest so the rest of us could rate them blind to their identity using the BJCP scoring system.

judging_at_king ipa
My partners in all things beer, from left to right – Cory Smith, Ron DeGregario (mostly obscured), Rick Armon, Bob Lesher and Tom Aguero.

The Contenders – Group A

This side of the bracket included the following beers, listed below in the order they were served:

The judging panel for this group consisted of myself, Cory Smith, and Tom Aguero.  This was an ultra-competitive group of beers.  To give you a sense of the level of competition CBC IPA, a very respectable IPA that finished second in my readers poll, was the lowest scoring beer in this group.  In the end there were three beers that received a score of 40 or higher (the best score on the BJCP system is 50) from two of the three judges—Redemption IPA (Phoenix), White Rajah (Brew Kettle), and Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur (Hoof Hearted).  We then tasted these three beers again back to back and after a second taste we agreed to eliminate White Rajah.  Come back tomorrow for a summary of my tasting notes on these beers.

The Contenders – Group B

This side of the bracket included the following beers, listed below in the order they were served:

The judging panel for this group consisted of Rick Armon, Ron DeGregario, and Bob Lesher.  Unlike group A where each judge had a different top beer, Head Hunter emerged as the unanimous choice for the top spot in Group B.  It was a close call between JAF IPA and Golden Ratio IPA for the second spot, but after some deliberation the judging panel chose to send Golden Ratio onto the final round.

scoresheet_king ipa

The Final Four

Probably no one will be surprised to learn that Head Hunter was still in the mix as we reached the final four.  It’s the most decorated IPA in Ohio, winning medals at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival.  At the other end of the spectrum is Redemption IPA, a beer few of us had heard of when the idea for the contest was hatched, made by a brewery that has been open less than six months and is located in a former mortuary. Central Ohio beers round out the field, but while Columbus residents have come to appreciate how good Hoof Hearted and Seventh Son can be when everything clicks, their beers were not very familiar to my out of town companions on the judging panel.

After doing our best to cleanse our palates we got down to the business of finishing the job.  It was very difficult to discount any of these beers, but after some objections from Rick, we agreed that in this elite company Golden Ratio was a shade too malty for to be crowned King of the IPAs. Redemption IPA and Head Hunter were pretty similar, both bring an enticing mix of citrus and tropical fruits to the table with just enough dank funkiness to keep things intriguing. Although we didn’t know which beer was which at the time, the master (Head Hunter) had just a bit more flavor and crispness than the new kid on the block (Redemption).

That means the champion, the Grand Duke, the Sultan, the Czar, the Prime Minister, the King of Ohio IPAs is Hoof Hearted’s Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur.  This version, which is wet hopped with Citra and Mosaic hops, is the latest variation of the ever evolving recipe for Musk.  Its nose is fruity with a touch of dank earthy notes from the Mosaic hops.  The flavor is a delicate but unusual mix of fruity flavors that includes both citrus fruits like grapefruit and tropical fruits like mangoes.  There is relatively little bitterness, but at the same time the beer never seems too sweet.  It’s an unbelievably drinkable beer that is accessible to the non-IPA drinker while being interesting enough to captivate the most hard core hophead.

So the final standings are:

  1. Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur (Hoof Hearted)
  2. Head Hunter IPA (Fathead’s)
  3. Redemption IPA (Phoenix)
  4. Golden Ratio IPA (Seventh Son)


Musk of the Minotaur

Closing Thoughts

In comments that were left on various threads I saw several predictions about which beer would take the title—Headhunter, Truth, PsycHOPathy and White Rajah were all mentioned.  Not many people felt that a central Ohio beer could win (or at least they didn’t express that opinion online).  So I couldn’t be happier to see Musk of the Minotaur come out on top and Golden Ratio finish in the final four.  It’s reassuring to see Head Hunter near the top, which shows that our opinions are not out of line with what the rest of the world thinks.  It’s just that the rest of the world hasn’t tried the other three beers that finished in the final four.

Two beers that I thought had a good chance to win, White Rajah and JAF IPA, finished just outside of the final four. I would be so bold as to say that regardless of your palate if you love IPAs one of those six beers is probably your favorite Ohio IPA as well, you just don’t know it  yet (although I have to admit Gangster Frog had a unique mix of melon and tangerines that was appealing and different and unique).

I know they are still a pretty small operation, but Trevor Williams at Hoof Hearted is doing some amazing things that should not be missed. I would encourage everyone who can get their hands on one of their hoppy beers to do so at the earliest opportunity.  If you can’t find Musk of the Minotaur try Konkey Dong, or South of Eleven, or Dragonsaddle, or whatever magic Trevor is brewing at this point in time.  I’m also curious to see more of what The Phoenix Brewing Co. in Mansfield has to offer.

If you want to get some insights from the other bloggers in the contest check out the following posts describing the finals:


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