I think the first time I ever heard IPA mentioned was when Brian (Mitch Cumstein) was describing another beer and said something to the effect of, "This tastes almost like an IPA." I don't recall the beer in question since this conversation likely occurred sometime between 1995 and 1997.
I do remember being in Asheville, North Carolina, however, for a friend's wedding, and discovering Highland Kashmir IPA. I remember thinking, "I should get some of that, it's supposed to be a good style of beer." After our mini-vacation, where I also sampled Highland's St. Therese's Pale Ale, and the Gaelic Ale, we returned to Pensacola with 13 bottles of Highland, one of which was a 22 ounce bottle of their IPA. When I tried it, I thought, "Wow, that's got some bite to it." But I did enjoy it, and thought that IPAs would be my new favorite style of beer.
Beer desolation in Pensacola along with the fact that I was still mostly pining how I couldn't get Leinenkugel's in Florida kept me from pursuing IPAs. On my many moves over a five year period, I tried an IPA here and there, was reminded how much I liked them, and then hit the motherlode when I finally moved to Indiana.
Here then, are some interesting IPAs to try:
For Beginners: The Loose Cannon, from Clipper City Brewing, or Heavy Seas. I wish they would stick with one name on the label. This one will be hoppy for those used to Budweiser, but will not totally blow you away or scare anyone off. Nice mouthfeel to this one.
Long Hammer by Red Hook is a pretty good beginner IPA as well. It's very mild.
Once you get into IPAs, you'll move along into more interesting ones. Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA is pretty decent, a good standard. I think Bell's Two-Hearted Ale is a great example, if not the prime example of what an IPA should taste like. For the heavy hitters, I suggest the Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA, which is probably hands-down the top IPA I've ever had. Very fruity and very smooth. The hops are there but they don't sting you.
Then there are the "extreme" IPAs: Things like Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA at 21%ABV, which should probably be enjoyed with a friend. And that's the 12-oz bottle. Hopsickle by Moylan's was one I tried at the same time I had Three Floyd's Dreadnaught IPA. I thought the Moylan's was a bit hoppier. Three Floyd's doesn't officially make a regular IPA, but their Alpha King is close enough. It's probably one of the better "pale ales" if not the standard everyone should be trying to copy.