The Alchemist’s Heady Topper presents itself as a striking beer, pouring from the 16oz can into the glass with a brilliant pale golden hue. Unlike some of the more recent hazy IPAs, it maintains a less turbid appearance. The thick white foam crowns the beer, adding to its visual appeal.


Even adhering to the can’s directive to drink straight from it, the aromatic experience is pronounced. Through the small can opening, the dry-hop aroma unfolds, releasing notes of ripe papaya, fresh mango, and an enticing hint of orange creamsicle. Following the unconventional instructions heightens the olfactory pleasure, preserving the volatile aromas that could be lost if poured into a glass.


Heady Topper begins with a notable surge of white sugar at the front palate, accentuating the papaya and mango flavors. The mid-palate introduces a raw grain character with echoes of steel-cut oats and a touch of huskiness. Surprisingly, the bitterness is more subdued than anticipated, registering at a moderate 6/10 intensity. The residual sugar and a noticeable saltiness contribute to an excellent equilibrium, rendering the beer remarkably balanced and buoyant. Contrary to the reported 100+ IBUs, the bitterness remains mild, making this brew exceptionally approachable. The high carbonation further enhances its refreshing character, with the ABV discreetly playing its role without overshadowing the overall flavor profile.


Pouring the beer into a glass midway through doesn’t significantly compromise the aromatic experience but allows for a more generous amount with each sip. The liquid dances around the palate, maintaining a non-boozy and non-sticky quality. The tropical fruit character intertwines with a farmy grain character, imparting a unique flavor that might polarize preferences. The finish, common among hazy IPAs, carries a hint of chalky flavors from yeast sediment and unflocculated heavy proteins, indicating a somewhat raw and unfinished nature.


Heady Topper is undoubtedly a very good beer. However, it raises questions about the extent of its acclaim, which may be influenced by its iconic status and the effort required to obtain it. While undoubtedly a game-changer when it debuted in 2004, it faces stiff competition today from a plethora of local and global hazy IPA offerings. The beer’s historical significance is evident, laying the foundation for the NE-style IPA trend. Yet, in the current landscape, it’s challenging to unequivocally label Heady Topper as the pinnacle. A blind taste test against contemporary hazy IPAs at a similar alcohol level would provide a clearer perspective. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that what was once state-of-the-art in hoppy craft beer in 2004 is still celebrated today. This beer holds a place in the annals of history, a testament to its enduring impact on the craft beer scene.