Irie IPA

Tighthead, Mundelein

The cream of the crop, the judges agreed. “Definitely for the hopheads,” said Maloney, who liked the “long grapefruit finish.” Quinn declared it a now “classic” in the West Coast style.

Score: 90

Fiddlesticks Belgian IPA

Buckledown, Lyons

We secretly threw a Belgian-style IPA in the mix—and the panel called it at once. “Great for those who like a Belgian spice with American hops,” said Maloney.

Score: 89

Farmer’s Hand IPA

Begyle, North Center

“Big hop flavor with solid malt backing,” said Quinn; Domingues praised the “nice hop punch” on the finish. Maloney found two brews in one: “It was hops, then sweet. No transition. Not in a bad way, but . . . notable.”

Score: 88

Resistance IPA

Two Brothers, Warrenville

This easy drinker—the only IPA in the group aged on wood— scored solidly for its balance, complexity, and restrained hoppiness. “It has a nice amount of body and a good finish,” Domingues commented. Why didn’t it score higher? It could use “more character,” Quinn said.

Score: 88

Snaggletooth Bandana

Solemn Oath, Naperville

The judges welcomed this understated, atypical brew. “Fruity, acidic, and bright,” said Maloney. Domingues liked the “punch of hops, followed by a nice malt finish.”

Score: 86

Shark Meets Hipster

Dryhop, Lake View

Maloney compared this beer to AC/DC’s career: “One note, but a good note.” Everyone agreed it was “seriously unbalanced,” but Quinn liked the flavor: “Not bitter, but still tasty.”

Score: 86

Municipal IPA

Ale Syndicate, Lake View

This fresh and fruity ale received high marks for flavor but lower scores on the intangibles, meaning that the judges weren’t overly impressed. “It has notes of an apricot or tangerine— but one from the bottom of a box,” Quinn said.

Score: 81

Confessional IPA

The Lucky Monk, South Barrington

Quinn praised the “bright, clean flavor,” but Domingues thought it too bitter. She and Maloney agreed that they wanted a more malty backbone.

Score: 80

Front Towards Enemy

Flesk, Lombard

“I want more hops!” two judges proclaimed after sampling this soapy-scented concoction. The citrus, caramel, and spice notes were too sweet for Domingues. Maloney pointed out the intense carbonation, which could be a plus for some drinkers.

Score: 79

Watch the Judging Process

The Pale Ale Judges

The judges blindly tasted 18 beers and scored them in five categories—appearance, aroma, flavor, body, and the intangibles—with a perfect score being 100 points. (The scores shown are averaged.) The scorecard was crafted by Chicago in consultation with Pat Fahey of the Cicerone Certification Program. Download it and have your own tasting party.

Melani Domingues, 42
Owner of the specialty beer bar Green Lady

Melani Domingues

Michael Maloney, 35
Craft beer distributor for Stoller Beverage

Michael Maloney

Chris Quinn, 36
Cicerone and owner of the Beer Temple

Chris Quinn