If you thought pumpkin beers were polarizing, there’s a new king of love-or-hate on the market: the hazy, juicy, New England-style IPA (NEIPA). For more than a decade, this IPA variant was relatively unknown outside of beer-geek circles. A handful of breweries in the Northeast – Vermont and Massachusetts in particular – brewed limited quantities of this innovative elixir, and it was nearly impossible to get outside of that region. But great secrets are never kept quiet, especially in the social media age.
The Alchemist’s now-famous Heady Topper IPA was first canned in 2011, about the same time Tree House Brewing opened with an array of juicy IPAs, and both breweries’ hazy IPAs quickly became some of the highest-rated and most-sought-after beers in the country. Within the last couple years, the “style” has spread – er, blown up – across the country. Now it seems like every other brewery is making a version of NEIPA, including some large, regional breweries that rarely succumb to trends, such as New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Ninkasi.
There’s always going to be backlash for anything that’s new, trending and exploding in popularity – whether it’s beer, music, food, fashion, or Tide Pods. And since there’s already a huge herd of pitchfork-wielding IPA haters out there, it’s easy for people to dogpile on this relatively new variant, especially since Black IPAs, White IPAs, and fruit IPAs are no longer in the spotlight.
Much of the vitriol toward NEIPA is focused on its controversial appearance. In most cases, the NEIPA gets its opaque cloudiness from its ingredients (e.g., wheat malt, flaked wheat and/or flaked oats, low-flocculent British yeast strains) and unique processes (using unprecedented amounts of late-addition and post-flameout hops, whirlpooling with hops, and dry hopping heavily – often multiple times), and from being unfiltered. I realize that some NEIPAs have unappetizingly dull, milky tones, but many more have beautiful hues that range from rich gold to deep orange.
I don’t get why some people are so hung up on appearance when it comes to these beers. Shouldn’t the content of the beer’s character be the most important thing? Certain beer styles should be brilliantly clear, but NEIPAs shouldn’t be compared to standard IPAs, just as cloudy Hefeweizens shouldn’t be compared to clear Kristalweizens. That said, I don’t want to see chunky floaties in my beer, but a consistent haze in a heavily hopped IPA that is made with adjuncts such as wheat and oats doesn’t bother me in the least bit.
To add, many NEIPA brewers eschew filtering because they believe it strips away delicate hop flavors and aromas. A centrifuge is a better option for removing hop particulates, polyphenols, spent yeast, and proteins, but its cost exceeds what most breweries can afford.
Brewers who make NEIPAs are not necessarily lazy or unskilled, either. Haze is the byproduct of the ingredients used and the hopping techniques employed, as well as the unfiltered and young (i.e., served as fresh as possible) nature of these beers. If a brewer is intentionally trying to infuse or increase haze, then that is indefensible, in my opinion.
Another argument I have read is that we’re giving so much attention to these “over-hyped” beers that it’s taking away from other more-deserving styles. I disagree, as there’s always going to be some shiny object out there filling up Insta feeds or whatever, be it a pastry beer or a barrel-aged this or that. Just because NEIPA happens to be one of the characters on stage right now does not mean other styles are threatened – including “standard” IPAs. I have this uncanny ability to regularly drink and give my attention to multiple styles of beer, and I think many others share that same super power.
Remember the high-IBU arms race not long ago? Sure, we may have lost some enamel, but the sky never fell, balanced IPAs survived, and we probably now have fewer 100-IBU beers than we did before that period. One could even argue that NEIPAs are the antithesis to those starkly bitter hop bombs, as most NEIPAs feature very low bitterness levels.
Speaking of which, many people who say they don’t like IPAs really just don’t like bitterness. “Hoppy” does not always equate to “bitter.” So for those who like hop flavors but not the bitterness, NEIPAs are the answer because they typically feature a low level of bitterness coupled with bold hop flavors and aromas, courtesy of new, fruit-forward varieties that exude juicy notes of citrus, passion and tropical fruits. Plus, new highly concentrated hop products such as hop hash, YCH’s Cryo Hops, and hop extracts are also helping brewers increase hop intensity without having to worry about the large quantities of kettle hops contributing grassy or vegetal notes.
Semantically speaking, some argue that NEIPA isn’t even a style, and that it’s really just another American-style IPA. I submit that NEIPA is worthier of sub-style designation than many other sub-styles out there. Its ingredients and processes clearly deviate from the traditional, American-style IPA, especially West Coast IPAs. A low-IBU, oaty-wheaty NEIPA fermented with an ester-forward English yeast shouldn’t be judged against a high-IBU, dry IPA fermented with a clean American yeast. Not to mention, water profiles for these two sub-styles are often at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Clearly, one’s an orange, the other’s an apple.
One thing NEIPA haters and non-believers should consider is that if we don’t recognize, label, and define this category of beer, how would they ever differentiate them from other IPAs on a tap list or in bottles/cans? If we simply label everything “IPA,” I imagine they’d end up accidentally ordering or buying quite a few beers that they didn’t like.
Having said all of the above, I do concede that any new “style” should prove itself with longevity in the marketplace, so it may take some time before NEIPA shows up on any official style guidelines as a separate IPA sub-style.
Regarding the current market, I do believe many breweries are jumping on the bandwagon to profit from this haze craze. I also believe some breweries are reluctantly putting out a hazy IPA to appease the high demand for them. Eventually, I’m sure the ubiquity of NEIPA will fade, and then the pendulum will start to swing in some other direction – infuriating another crowd of fanatics, I’m sure. I actually look forward to that time, when all the muddled messes out there drop out of the market so that the well-made versions can truly shine and endure.
I’ve had NEIPAs from many of the breweries that started or popularized this “style,” including Tree House, The Alchemist, Tired Hands, Trillium, and Night Shift, and all were mighty delicious. Unfortunately, out of all the NEIPAs I’ve tried from coast to coast, I’ve had more bad versions than good ones. Many were far too cloying, earthy, and unbalanced. And when you get one that isn’t optimally fresh, which is easy to do, it will be muted and bland at best or riddled with off-flavors at worst. With all their proteins, hop particulates, spent yeast cells and what-nots in suspension, these beers have a short shelf life and they are highly unstable.
Assuming you get a fresh one, however, there are lots of jewels out there. Some of my favorites are made by Great Notion Brewing of Portland, OR and The Veil Brewing of Richmond, VA – the latter of which not only makes some incredible NEIPAs, but its double and triple NEIPAs are some of the best double and triple IPAs I have ever tasted. Judging by the massive crowds I witnessed, many others seem to agree.
Locally, there are lots of great variants to try as well, most notably from Aslan, Structures, and Wander, who have all put out some spectacular beers. New NEIPAs from our region continually surface as well. Just last week, for example, Elizabeth Station got in some beers from the newly opened Mirage Brewing of Seattle, and its Second Point NE-style IPA was clean, citrusy, and bright, with a pleasant bitterness.
Keep in mind, not all hazy and hoppy beers should be lumped together, and not all breweries are trying to emulate NEIPAs from the New England area. Some breweries don’t even like to use the New England-style term (and some don’t even put it on their labels). There are more spins and twists than clones. Take Coney Island Brewery’s Merman New York IPA, for example, which is described as having “the bitterness of West Coast IPA with the strong malt backbone of East Coast IPA and the haze and juice of New England IPA.”
There’s also a lot more to making a great NEIPA than just dumping a bunch of hops into the kettle and fermenter. The ingredients, processes and techniques are much more varied and nuanced. Believe me, as a home brewer, I’ve taken multiple stabs at this style, and I’ve found it to be rather challenging and humbling.
To some, it may seem like it’s all “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” when it comes to NEIPA. But if you can get past the overarching popularity of IPA and look a little closer at this hazy phenomenon, you just might see the wonderfully creative innovations that are occurring. And if you can find a version of NEIPA with just that right balance of subtle sweetness, smooth bitterness, and bursting juiciness, the harmony of it all truly sings.
Lastly, if you don’t like the appearance, taste, or texture of NEIPAs, there’s nothing wrong with that. There are countless other options out there. Drink what you like, and don’t drink what you don’t like. I just don’t understand why some people bash a new style or trend just because it’s new, different, or doesn’t adhere to some arbitrary standard or style guideline. Invention, innovation, and having the courage to color outside the lines are some of the things that have made American craft beer great. Not every new idea works out, but I believe the NEIPA is one that did.