Results and reflections from the 2019 King of Ohio IPA Contest

The 5th iteration of the King of Ohio contest is now in the books. The King of Ohio contest comes around once per year, and this year we chose the broadest, most American category you can imagine, IPAs. Close to 100 breweries entered, roughly 1/3 of the craft breweries in the Buckeye state. We divided those beers up into five categories and a panel of certified beer judges, beer writers and bloggers met up in an event space at the sprawling MadTree Brewing complex in Cincinnati for what I must say was a most enjoyable Saturday. The winners in each category are as follows:

Traditional American IPA (28 entries)

  • 1st place = Fat Head’s Strange Magic
  • 2nd place = Noble Beast Evil Motives
  • 3rd place = Platform Speed Merchant

Hazy IPAs (33 entries)

  • 1st place = Streetside #Blessed
  • 2nd place = 16 Lots Soak City
  • 3rd place = Magic City Florida Stanley

Imperial IPAs (14 entries)

  • 1st place = Combustion Now We’re Talkin’
  • 2nd place = Wadsworth River Styx
  • 3rd place = Rhinegeist Knowledge

Hazy Imperial IPAs (9 entries)

  • 1st place = Masthead Extra Extra
  • 2nd place = Sixth Sense Disco Hips
  • 3rd place = Saucy Brew Works Love you, bye

Specialty and Session IPAs (10 entries)

  • 1st place = Seventh Son Miracle
  • 2nd place = Urban Artifact Phrenology
  • 3rd place = Nocterra Bus Eater Grapefruit NE IPA

The top beer in each category advanced to the best in show table where three experienced beer judges were tasked with choosing the new King of Ohio. After some discussion, the judges narrowed the list down to an unlikely pairing: Fat Head’s Strange Magic vs. Seventh Son Miracle.

I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that Fat Head’s have helped define the American IPA style. Head Hunter IPA has twice been named Grand Champion at the National IPA Challenge, in addition to picking up an impressive four medals at GABF and World Beer Cup competitions. Their Imperial IPA Hop JuJu can boast two GABF gold medals (2013, 2015) and one World Beer Cup gold medal (2016). It must have been hard for Matt Cole and company to decide which IPA to enter in a contest like the King of Ohio, where each brewery is limited to one entry. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Strange Magic was well received by the judges. In the other corner is a new offering from Columbus’ Seventh Son Brewing, a hazy, low calorie, session beer that weighs in at a modest 4% abv.

I probably don’t have to point out that picking between a Pomeranian and a Bloodhound is not an easy task, but in a 2-1 split decision the judges chose Fat Head’s Strange Magic as the new King of Ohio.

Final Table_King of Ohio 2019
Roxanne Westendorf (left) and Tom Morgan (right) assess the beers at the final best of show table.

Now that we’ve got the results out of the way, I feel liberated to go off on a tangent about this contest, the showing of Central Ohio breweries, and my own take on the outcomes.

Firstly, one has to say there’s something reassuring about Fat Head’s winning a contest that is designed to choose the best IPA in Ohio. Just like last year’s triumph for Rockmill in the Belgian Beer category, Fat Head’s victory as Ohio’s premier IPA validates the existing world order. I should also point out that Fat Head’s victory avenges the runner up finish for Head Hunter in the inaugural King of Ohio competition, when Hoof Hearted Half Wet Musk of the Minotaur edged out the highly decorated Fat Head’s IPA.

On the other hand, the emergence of Seventh Son’s Miracle as a challenger is completely unexpected. Given a label that boasts 115 calories and 5 g carbohydrates, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume this beer was conceived as a challenge to the insipid hard seltzer movement, an appeal to those blindly seeking a buzz from a beverage with little flavor. The aptly named Miracle gives me hope in the future and that’s no small thing.

Scoresheets_King of Ohio 2019
The mini-Best of Show at the Imperial IPA table.

Central Ohio Accolades

Having helped organize this contest for five years it’s strange how much you can get attached to the entries from breweries in your part of the state. Kudos not only to Seventh Son, but to Combustion for winning the Imperial IPA category. This is the style I was judging and while there was stiff competition I can tell you that in the end all five judges unanimously selected Now We’re Talkin’ (8.9%, 80 IBU) as the best Imperial IPA. It’s always a pleasure to head out to Pickerington to see what Keith Jackson has on tap.

Kudos also to Sixth Sense Brewing and Burritos in Jackson for a runner up finish in the Imperial Hazy category for Disco Hips. One of the few breweries in south central Ohio, they graciously agreed to drive up to Columbus and drop off a couple of crowlers, saving me from driving halfway to the West Virginia border. (Note to self: A visit to Jackson for some Chili Verde and a glass of haze sounds like a great way to spend a lazy fall day.)

Nocterra Brewing in Powell rounds out the Central Ohio medalists. In a category with entries that ranged from session IPAs to Brett IPAs to Black IPAs to Imperial Fruited Hazy IPAs, their Bus Eater Grapefruit NE Imperial IPA took home a bronze. I can attest first-hand that there are fresh 6-packs of Bus Eater available at the taproom (at least there were as of Thursday evening).

Trends and Thanks

The spread of entries was evenly split between hazy and non-hazy beers, something that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s recently visited a brewery taproom. With only one black IPA and one red IPA entered, the rise of hazy IPAs seems to correlate with the decline of non-pale, India Pale Ales. The paucity of session IPAs (only Seventh Son’s Miracle and Collision Bend’s Square One were entered) came as a bit of a surprise. Based on my own field research, I might have expected to see more than three fruited IPAs in the contest.

Finally, I’d like to thank Brady Duncan and everyone at MadTree for graciously hosting us. Their expansive brewery and taproom is like a temple to beer, and judging from the crowd on a Saturday afternoon, it seems to play an integral part in the lives many Cincinnati residents. I also want to recognize my co-organizer and friend, Rick Armon, for his efforts to put on this unique event. He was responsible for picking up all of the entries for the northern half of the state, logging many miles over the past week. He recruited most of the 35 or so people who volunteered to judge and steward. He’s really the heart and soul of this event and I think the Ohio craft beer community couldn’t ask for a better ambassador.

One question for everyone out there to consider, what style of beer should we do for the 2020 King of Ohio contest? Ideas such as lagers, German and Czech styles, British beers, fruited beers, and sours have been thrown around.

Vultures descend_King of Ohio 2019
Feeding frenzy – dividing up the left over beer at the end of the judging.

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