By JIM McCUNE //
New England India Pale Ale is a conundrum. It’s not even a recognized beer style. But this new variation on the IPA has emerged as one of the most sought-after, highest-rated, incessantly talked-about beers in America.
For anyone who hasn’t heard, NEIPA is an unfiltered India Pale Ale (or Double IPA) that’s been aggressively hopped, giving it a hazy, cloudy or completely opaque appearance, not unlike orange juice. New England India Pale Ales are also known as Northeast-Style, Vermont-Style, Chowda, Milkshakes and Juice Bombs.
Why so popular? The variation restrains the bitterness of a traditional IPAs and bursts with intense citrus aromatics and flavors. NEIPAs combine a soft, smooth, rich mouthfeel with sweet and fruity characteristics derived from the hops – affectionately known as “juice.”
If you’re a beer geek, NEIPAs probably aren’t new to you. The Alchemist Brewery of Vermont got famous more than a decade ago with its cult beer Heady Topper IPA. More recently, the New England-style IPA has spread across the country, with beer enthusiasts waiting on long lines to score the precious juice.
Alchemist was brilliant in maintaining limited supplies and distribution for its Heady Topper IPA. It created scarcity and perpetuated demand. Heady Topper’s social popularity – and elusive five-star Untappd rating – fueled imitations across the country.
“Alchemist, along with many others, have inspired brewers across the Northeast to show beer drinkers the true potential of what craft beer can be,” said Mark Scoroposki, co-owner of Garvies Point Brewery in Glen Cove. “Once the consumer experiences a brewer’s true creativity, innovation and imagination, it’s extremely tough to settle for beer that’s less than extraordinary.”
A proper NEIPA is cloudy, smooth and fruity – orange, grapefruit, peach, melon, papaya and tangerine are common flavors – and there are various brewing techniques to achieve the desired level of haze. Brewers can dry-hop or use high-protein grains like wheat, flaked oats and flour. They can also use specialized yeast strains, water chemistry and carbonation, among other brewing techniques.
The IPA variation tends to have “low-attenuating and flocculating yeast strains,” Scoroposki noted, along with “tropical aroma hops” and plenty of oats and wheat.
“At Garvies Point, we make sure to have plenty of late kettle, or all whirlpool additions, while keeping the bitterness in check,” the co-owner added. “And a little mid-fermentation double dry hop never hurt anyone.”
What’s interesting about the NEIPA is that despite being one of the most controversial and polarizing styles to hit the industry in years, this new take on the IPA has gained serious momentum beyond its origins. NEIPAs are smack in the middle of a national debate about the validity of the style and its counterintuitive hazy appearance.
Until recently, crystal-clear was the brewer’s goal, and the least bit of cloudiness was a defect signal screaming, “Don’t drink me!” It appears the New England IPA haze craze is shifting perceptions about clarity-versus-quality.
The debate has actually manifested into an East Coast/West Coast beef. West Coast-style IPAs won the beer-clarity war years ago, with the East Coast falling in line with clear beers (albeit, sometimes with a slightly darker complexion).
It’s a shock to many brewers that new norms are shifting so quickly to haze – though Larry Goldstein, co-founder and brewmaster of Holbrook’s Spider Bite Beer Co., said the debate rages on.
“With all the excitement surrounding the style, it’s getting people to go out and try different breweries by chasing or trading cans,” Goldstein said. “The big downside is people are judging the taste and quality from just a photo of a hazy beer. Sadly, they don’t correlate.”
But for those who try it, the taste and quality shine. Craft-beer enthusiasts love their senses to be overwhelmed with bold hop aroma and flavor, so it’s only logical that demand for NEIPAs is soaring.
“We’ve recently seen a spike in demand for our juicy and fruity hops, as more breweries delve into New England-style IPAs,” noted Bill Elkins, who’s involved with Western U.S. and Canadian sales for New York City-based global hops distributor Hopsteiner. “Our hops varieties like Denali and Lemondrop contain the tropical fruit, citrus and fruity aroma and flavor that brewers are looking for when producing these new, big, juicy and hazy-style beers.”
For more than 10 years, the India Pale Ale represented the largest and fastest-growing beer style in a booming craft-beer industry. The IPA paved the path for its younger, hazier, fruitier brother, in more ways than one.
For instance, IPAs have taken to the 16-ounce can as their signature packaging, usually sold in four-packs packs with visually stimulating labels. This is another strange industry twist of fate, as brewers that were once can-hating, anti-marketing haze-avoiders are now prizing those things.
“Canning our beer proved monumental for the DUBCO brand,” noted Brad Finn, co-owner of Bay Shore’s Destination Unknown Beer Co. “Our growth and popularity grew exponentially upon canning.
“The cans keep our beer fresher for longer, and became our primary distribution model,” Finn added. “We always knew canning our beer would be a good thing, but we never imagined how popular cans would be today.”
Combine all these factors, and the popularity of NEIPAs seems to be more than a fad, with no signs of “clearing up” anytime soon.
Check out these local breweries serving their own “juice bombs:”
+ Garvies Point Brewery (Sea Spray NEIPA)
+ Destination Unknown Beer Co. (For Science 2.0 NEIPA)
+ Moustache Brewing Co., Riverhead (What Is My Purpose? NEIPA)
+ Spider Bite Beer Co. and Barrage Brewing Co., Farmingdale (Collaboration: Brów NEIPA)
+ Lithology Brewing Co., Farmingdale (Bringing Up The Rear NEIPA)
I expect that the NEIPA’s popularity and growing momentum will force the hand of the Great American Beer Festival to officially adopt New England-style IPA as a beer category. This will surely fuel brewers’ passions for further style exploration.