The New England-style IPA. You’ve seen it on taproom menus from LA to New York; you’ve heard believers extol its virtues; you’ve heard craft purists talk smack about it. You’ve gazed into its velvety orange soul, smelled its juicy papayas, its melons, its mangos, its zesty grapefruit, and fresh cut grass. But what is this mysterious cloud in a can?
Let’s take a deep dive into the NEIPA’s sweet, sticky waters.
It all started in -- you guessed it -- New England
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If you're a beer fan, odds are you’ve probably heard of the Alchemist Beer’s Heady Topper: that shiny, impossible-to-find 16-ounce can that first introduced drinkers to the hazy, bitterless IPA. Shortly after its popularity caught on, interest in the style soon spread, and other tiny breweries (primarily in Vermont and Massachusetts), threw their hats in the ring. Folks began to view these tasty concoctions as a different breed than the standard fare, much like a West Coast IPA (huge hop character! bitter!) differs from an English-style IPA (floral! malty! balanced!). Determining that the style needed its own category, the beer community christened it the "New England IPA," a tribute to its Northeastern roots. "Hazy IPA" soon became an interchangeable term for those brews with a similar profile, but differing provenance.
These days, brewers all over the country are cranking out the stuff with gusto. The coastal states are currently leading the way, fueled by overwhelming consumer demand and a thirst for something new in a world where new breweries open every week and the classic American IPA still reigns supreme. Not everyone is down to clown with New England’s finest achievement (more on that later), but the style’s surging popularity is without question.
It's all about the juice
One of the most telling features of NEIPAs is that they tend to be super-hoppy on the nose, but lack all of those dank, bitter, palate-wrecking flavors so common from their West Coast big brothers. Instead, a cornucopia of fruit flavors washes over you with each greedy gulp: citrus like grapefruits, oranges, lemon balm, and lime zest; stone fruits like peaches and apricots; tropical numbers like pineapple, papaya, mangos, and melons. It’s a truly wild ride.
Now, you might be shouting at your computer, “How can a beer be hoppy but not bitter? Is everything I think I know about beer wrong??”
The truth is, hops are a huge component of pretty much every beer -- not just IPAs. How the hops are expressed in the final product, however, has to do with when you add them, how much you add, and what type of hops you’re using. For those more familiar Cali joints, brewers might opt for notoriously dank, piney hops like Chinook, Cascade, or Centennial, dumping them into the mix at the beginning or middle of the beer's boiling stage. Because these guys are hanging out inside the hot top/brew kettle for a longer period of time, they infuse the bubbling liquid with more of their bitter oils, and lose much of their nuanced flavor.
But if you shorten that infusion time by tossing in hops closer to the end of the boil -- during the lower temperature, faster moving whirlpool stage, or during secondary fermentation (a.k.a. dry-hopping) -- you’ll end up with a much more floral, juicy, and aromatic effect. It’s especially pronounced when the brewer uses fruit-forward varieties like Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, Galaxy, or El Dorado hops.
And while a lot of brewers balance their IPAs by incorporating different kinds of hops throughout the process, New England devotees heavily favor late-addition hopping with extra-juicy, not-so-dank hop varietals. That means when you crack open one of these mimosa-like bad boys, you’re getting all of the burst...but none of the bite.
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They’re cloudier than summer in San Francisco
Pour one of these juicy beauts into a pint glass and the first thing you’ll notice is its curiously thick texture and almost tangerine-like hue, topped by a bright white head. Unlike their crystal clear counterparts, NEIPAs are left unfiltered, meaning that all those odds and ends used in fermentation are still swimming around inside your beer. It might sound gross, but it’s harmless and quite common! Plenty of non-IPA styles are unfiltered, including the ever-popular Hefeweizen (hefe means yeast in German). The thinking goes that a creamier, softer mouthfeel better showcases the New Englander’s crashing waves of ripe fruit flavors and aromas, since there’s no crisp edge to dry it all out. Also, it looks damned cool.
In order to ensure that perfect creamsicle finish, some brewers integrate low-flavor, high-protein grains like oats and wheat into their malt bills as opposed to relying on the traditional barley or rye. Or they'll forgo American ale yeast for English ale yeast -- which tends to clump together and fall to the bottom of the tank -- to increase floating residue. These additives are, in a way, stickier than the usual suspects: they bind more easily to the hop residue and create a smog-like consistency.
Freshness is key
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Popular as they are, a good NEIPA is hard to find (or even a bad NEIPA, for that matter). Many breweries churn these puppies out in limited batches, mainly because they are meant to be consumed as soon as possible. The very things that make them so unique and tasty -- buckets of fresh, aromatic hops, and a dense, lively mouthfeel -- also make them vulnerable. Like all things beautiful, hops fade over time, trading in delicate layers of flavor for a one-note (and sometimes even metallic!) tasting profile. As the particles inside the can settle and sink to the bottom, the texture can also lose its silky luster. NEIPA makers often choose not to flood the market with their precious brews, perhaps for fear that bars and beer shops won’t respect the almighty born-on date and try to sell the stuff past due. Bottom line: no matter where you drink your NEIPA, it pays to drink it fresh.
It remains controversial
These East Coasters might be easy on the palate, but for a lot of folks out there, they’re a tough pill to swallow. Googling “New England IPA” is like tapping into a Pandora’s Box of hot takes, with beer nerds from around the word waxing poetic on how these hazy hellions represent the very downfall of sudsy civilization. Some claim brewing the style requires no real talent or effort, since the combination of intensely aromatic hops and a murky body can cover up a secretly unbalanced beer. Some see haziness as a sign that the beer isn’t actually read to drink, since clarity is one of the factors that indicate proper maturity. Others chalk it up to a money-making fad that plays into an oversaturated, undiscerning market, even going so far as to accuse brewers of adding flour to their beer for artificial cloudiness. And many take offense to its very name, insisting that it’s not an IPA at all. These haters have some serious support: while Beer Advocate proclaimed the NEIPA an official style back in May, the Brewers Association has yet to do so.
My take? Change is never easy, and I don’t blame people for being weary of any trend that sweeps through an increasingly competitive industry with such speed and vigor. Healthy debate is always a good thing, but divisiveness is pointless. Whether savored at a five star restaurant or crushed at a tailgate, our beloved beverage is meant to bring us joy, spirited conversation, and most importantly -- it’s meant to bring us together. It’s only beer, after all.
For your drinking pleasure, here are some of our favorite examples of the style:
The Alchemist Beer Heady Topper
Imperial IPA, 8% ABV (Stowe, VT)
The one that started it all! Supremely aromatic, surprisingly dank, and juicier than an econo-sized bag of Gushers. Tough to find, sure, but worth the hunt.
Lord Hobo Brewing Co. Boomsauce
Imperial IPA, 7.8% ABV (Woburn, MA)
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This Massachusetts-born offering starts out a tad piney, but don’t let that deceive you -- it’s a NEIPA through and through. A complex, yet crushable mix of grassy, floral, and rich citrus, it’s extra smooth on the palate thanks to its supple caramel backbone and expertly-executed balance.
Modern Times Beer Accumulated Knowledge
IPA, 6.4% ABV (San Diego, CA)
This San Diego-brewed beer is cloudy as can be, and tastes of grapefruit, lime, and lemon pith with a bit of underlying bitterness for balance -- plus, it’s capped with a gorgeous snow white foam.
The Veil Brewing Co. Dirt Nap
Imperial IPA, 8.8% ABV (Richmond, VA)
Mark my words: The Veil is your new favorite brewery. Get your hands on one of these floral big boys, teeming with lingering citrus and tropical notes with just a touch of earthiness to move it along, and you won’t be sorry.
Great Notion Brewery Orange Creamsicle IPA
IPA, 7.0% ABV (Portland, OR)
This Portland original is all about the nose. Dosed with citrus concentrate and lactose for added body, cracking one of these open will make your sweat sock-strewn bedroom smell like an orange grove. It’s a textbook NEIPA -- even if it is from the "wrong" coast.