Harpoon IPA

    Review Date 9/20/2000   Last Updated 11/13/2020   By John Staradumsky

Ok class, pull up a chair. Oh, and a glass too. Today we're discussing India Pale Ales. What? You've never tasted one? Wellyou're about too. Grab that bottle of Harpoon IPA over there. Yes that's the one, with the blue label and orange flowers. Ok now tilt your glass slightly and pour the beer down the side. There you go. See the bright orange color? The nice, full head formation? Sniff the top of the glass. Do you get that perfumey hop aroma? You do? Good! Ok take a sip now. There's a biscuity malt body, more perfumey hop flavor, a light fruitiness, and a spicy and subtle bitter finish. Congratulations! You've described Harpoon IPA, passed IPA 101!

Seriously now, Harpoon IPA is definitely a beginner's India Pale Ale. In the bottle it is pretty much as I have described above and is underhopped for the style. I have enjoyed it on draft at times when it was much hoppier, but in the bottle I have always thought this beer on the light side as an IPA. But wait! Is this perhaps intentional? Consider that Harpoon IPA is a very good selling beer for the Brewery, and that Harpoon is perhaps the most successful brewery on the East Coast aside from Boston Beer. Harpoon had to add a second and then a third shift at their small Boston brewery. Still, that wasn't enough to satisfy demand for their beers, the India Pale Ale included. Hey, they must be doing something right.

I wrote this on 8/17/98 about a draft glass enjoyed at the Mews Tavern:

Harpoon IPA: Fairly good hop bitterness, some aromatics but they were more
subdued than in past tastings, still a good hop presence (and good hop
burps). Excellent complement to a cup of the Mews spicy Cajun Scallop soup.

So what did they do? They bought the financially beleagured Catamount Brewing Company, rescuing their brands from extinction and setting the stage for further expansion of the Harpoon line of beers. Harpoon IPA may be on the light side for the style, but it is a flavorful, accessible beer that just might open the door to further craft beer studies to many beer drinkers who might have otherwise flunked out.

Class dismissed.

Update October 13, 2006:  Or is it? As I type this little addendum to my review, it appears that Harpoon has partnered with Cabot cheese to release a true beer cheese, which Cabot makes with, you guessed it, Harpoon IPA. This is a truly New England concoction since Cabot is made in Vermont, a neighboring state to Harpoon's Massachusetts (and Harpoon has a brewery in Vermont as well).

The cheese is delicious, smooth and creamy cheddar that melts in your mouth. I was surprised at just how much of the beer flavor comes through, especially the hops. This is a real treat for beer enthusiasts, just be sure to allow the cheese to warm before serving. As with beer, serving cheese too cold detracts from the overall flavor. Perfect with a glass of (what else?) Harpoon IPA.

Dare we offer a class on pairing beer and cheese?  

Update May 28th, 2015: Tonight I'm enjoying a draft mug of Harpoon IPA at Taco Mac. Now I know that I've had this beer on tap here before, most likely while watching a Patriots game. But this month, Harpoon is featured as a brewery of the month, and for just $5 I got a mug of Harpoon IPA and a beautiful glass to go with it and take home. It's fairly priced at $8.99 a six-pack bottles these days, too. The beer has a bit of caramel malt up front and its not as hoppy as most examples of the style these days. Its still a very delicious beer all the same and one I find myself returning to again and again.

Update 11/13/2020: Harpoon IPA has a new label (again), and I'm enjoying a bottle fresh from the 2020 "Tis the Seasonal Winter Mix sampler 12-pack. It's as delightful as ever with a respectable caramel malt backbone infused with herbal, spicy  and citrusy American hops. The Cascades come through nicely here, but this is not an in your  face hop blast; rather, it's more of a gentle but delightful hop breeze. I've enjoyed this beer since it's inception in 1993, and I am so glad Harpoon beers are available in Georgia. My current bottle is stamped PKG 09/21/20, and the 12-pack runs $19.99 at Total Wine. You can get a 12-pack of Harpoon IPA alone for three bucks less. The beer has an alcohol content of 6% by volume with 42 IBUs.

From the brewery website:

New England’s Original IPA | As enjoyable today as it was in ‘93, IPA is a regional favorite and a craft beer classic. Styled after an English IPA but brewed with distinctly American hops, it’s citrusy, refreshing, and perfectly balanced– as perfect on a Cape Cod beach as it is in a VT ski lodge or Boston dive bar.

And from the bottle label:

Back in '93, our brewers couldn't find anyone that sold toasted malt, so for the first batch of Harpoon IPA, every employee grabbed a bag of malt and toasted it at home. Every so often we brew a celebratory batch of IPA with malt that is toasted by our employee owners. Things have changed a lot over the years, but our handcrafted spirit remains the same.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned