Welcome to the 15th (I can use numbers now, right?) in the Source of Style series, and for this one, we’re looking at a modern day classic – the New England IPA. If our Patreons hadn’t wanted to see us crash and burn enough with the American IPA, it was also deemed that we should do this. This could perhaps stem from my personal dislike of the style of beer, but I haven’t let it cloud my “professional” judgment of the beers.
History of NE-IPA
The history of the NE-IPA itself is actually very easy to sum up. A brewery in New England, USA, called The Alchemist started brewing a beer called Heady Topper that is deemed to be the prototype of the style. And thus New England IPA was born. However, that is rather short and there is actually a further, and deeper history to the beer than if often led to believe. In spite of the fact that American IPAs are supposed to be clear, or relatively clear, then how did the NE-IPA come about so recently?
John Kimmich, co-founder of The Alchemist, started out brewing beer with Greg Noonan at the Vermont Pub & Brewery in the mid-1990s. Greg Noonan had been an award winning brewer at the Great American Beer Festival, GBBF, and other beer competitions. Greg had also invented another polarising beer – the black IPA. At this point, IPAs were clear – think a golden straw colour which lets you see right through. Any kind of haziness to a beer was deemed to be faulty and undesirable both by the brewer and the customer. But both John and Greg were in agreement, if a beer tasted good, then why would its appearance matter to customers?
It wasn’t until 2003, when John and his wife Jen opened up The Alchemist in Vermont, that the NE-IPA began to become known to others. At the end of 2004, the first batch of Heady Topper was brewed – a double IPA clocking in at 8% with an IBU of 75 – that people began to hunt it down. In spite of the long drive for drinkers, the only place brewing IPAs that were cloudy, hazy, whatever you want to call it, was The Alchemist. The only beer The Alchemist brewed and canned was Heady Topper, and while it was only available in nearby towns, people from all over made trips to the area to buy Heady Topper to take home and share with others.
The presence of the haze was not an accident, but a resultant factor of utilising dry hopping in large quantities. Traditionally, hops used early in the brewing process makes for a more bitter beer, while hops used later on tend to impart more towards the aroma and flavour of the beer. The hopping process used in NE-IPA tends to be dry hopping, and in vast quantities to maximise the aromatic oils in the hops, which also tend to produce more particulate and haze in a beer.
But how did one brewery manage to kick start a new style of IPA? One of the drinkers at The Alchemist’s taproom was Shaun Hill, who then went on to open his own brewery called Hill Farmstead in Greensboro Bend, Vermont in 2010. Shaun shared the same ideas as John with freshness and flavour being paramount to drinkers. To this day, both breweries seldom ship outside of their local area as they want the beers to be drunk fresh, and serve how they both see them. For years, the style remained a small secret, with its availability being controlled, owing to the fragile nature of the beer. If most of these sat on store shelves for a couple months, their bright hop flavors would degrade and the beer would become drastically less appealing.
In conjunction with this was a new development of hops that could bring fruity citrus and tropical flavours that the brewers wanted in the beers. During the mid 90s, the most exciting style was the West Coast IPA, with its high levels of bitterness and usage of hops that could produce it. These were not the hops that found their way into NE-IPAs. Hops that we take for granted now, such as Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, were in their infancy and as such, were treated with disdain. The amount available to brewers was low, but with NE-IPAs, the demand began to grow for them from brewers wanting the flavours that these hops bring.
Yeast also began to be looked at in more detail and how it could help bring flavour to this style of beer. It is well known that yeast can produce a plethora of flavours – both pleasant and weird – but one strain of yeast has become synonymous with NE-IPA and that is the Conan strain of yeast, first originally used by Greg Noonan. This strain of yeast was originally shared by Hill Farmstead, The Alchemist, and the Vermont Pub & Brewery; though nowadays it has been made available on a much larger scale. The demand for this yeast was so great at points that people were buying cans of Heady Topper, with the final aim in being to harvest the yeast and make their own NE-IPAs.
With yeast and hops being two of the major contributors to the flavour, it seems that we’re ignoring the malts; however, that is not the case. Flaked wheat and flaked oats are often found in NE-IPAs, mainly for their contributions to the mouthfeel and body of the beer, with a reduction in the traditional malts of 2-row malt and light malts. They are all great for increasing head retention and creating nice creamy character that drinkers find desirable in a NE-IPA.
With so much talk about these beers being flavourful and in great demand, it was only a short amount of time that others began to notice and start brewing similar beers. New craft breweries that from the start offered several different NEIPAs, and some offering only NEIPAs with nothing else on the menu to cater for the slowly growing demand from drinkers. In tandem with this was the rise of the beer blogger and Instagram – the social media platform based on sharing of images. The cloudiness and colour offered by NE-IPA is perfect for the site, with drinkers showing off the colours and in turn, breweries across the country.
In 2017, there were dozens, if not hundreds of NE-IPAs on the market, with all the breweries playing catchup to the style. The freshness of a beer is an important factor, and these hyper regional breweries created a clamour for more NE-IPAs. The hop market changed to focus more on the demand for this flavourful hops, with flavours of peach and mango not being uncommon, and a dankness in flavour that actually helped name Heady Topper.
The style has also become popular over the years in Japan, though with the initial round of imports being “relatively” old, the freshness and hoppy flavours are not as prevalent as they should be. Some breweries have noted this and sent their brewers to the source to try the beers as they should be – fresh from the keg, and their ages measured in days, rather than weeks, or even months.
NE-IPA Appearance and Taste
Here’s the guidelines from the BJCP for what makes NE-IPAs such a delicious beer to drink. Yes, really.
Appearance: Color ranges from straw to yellow, sometimes with an orange hue. Hazy, often opaque, clarity; should not be cloudy or murky. Any visible floating particulates (hop matter, yeast clumps, etc.) are a fault. Medium to rocky meringue white head with high to very high retention.
Aroma: Intense hop aroma, typically with fruity qualities (stone fruit, tropical fruit, and citrus are most commonly present) reflective of newer American and New World hop varieties without being grassy or herbaceous. Clean, neutral malt in the background, potentially with a light bready sweetness without caramel or toast. Absence of any malt character is a fault. Neutral to fruity fermentation character that is well-integrated with the hops. A creamy, buttery, or acidic aroma is inappropriate. Any perceived alcohol character should be restrained and never hot.
Flavour: The hop flavor is high to very high, and reflects the same characteristics as the aroma. The perceived bitterness can be somewhat low to medium-high, often being masked by the body and finish of the beer. The hop character in the aftertaste should not be sharp or harsh. Low to medium malt flavor, generally neutral, sometimes having a bready, grainy, lightly sweet flavor. Noticeable toast or caramel flavors are a flaw. Fermentation character is neutral to fruity, but as with the aroma, supportive of the hops. Off-dry to medium finish. Creamy, starchy, or sugary-sweet flavors are inappropriate, although a high ester level and lower bitterness may give the impression of up to moderate sweetness. A moderate, supportive alcohol character is acceptable but should never be hot or dominating.
Characteristic Ingredients: Similar to many newer American IPAs but often with more oats or wheat in the grist, and less caramel or specialty malts. Restricted hop choice to American or New World varieties with a tropical fruit, stone fruit, or citrus character. Neutral to estery yeast strain. Water ranges from balanced between sulfate and chloride to using more chlorides. Heavily dry-hopped, partly during active fermentation, using a variety of hopping doses and temperatures to emphasize hop depth of aroma and flavor over bitterness. Biotransformation of hop oils during fermentation may add to the fruit character.
Japanese NE-IPA We Recommend
The key point about drinking the following beers is making sure you get them fresh – like within two weeks of bottling. Any longer than that and you face the real problem of the hops losing their punch and flavour. The following beers are ones that we’ve had fresh from the keg, and also in bottles soon after botting.
Ise Kadoya Neko Nihiki
The Bottom Line: If Ise Kadoya Neko Nihiki is what a NE IPA is supposed to taste like, then I recommend it.
The Full Review: Ise Kadoya Neko Nihiki by Ise Kadoya
Y Market Lupulin Nectar
The Bottom Line: All in all, Y Market Lupulin Nectar is a really good, flavourful beer. Get it fresh though.
The Full Review: Y Market Lupulin Nectar by Y Market Brewing
Black Tide Kesemoi by Black Tide Brewing
The Bottom Line: Lots going on in Black Tide Kesemoi, but a good, solid beer when fresh.
The Full Review: Black Tide Kesemoi by Black Tide Brewing
Devilcraft Cloudy Outlook by Devilcraft Brewery
The Bottom Line: No miserable outlook here – Devilcraft Cloudy Outlook packs a flavourful punch of flavour.
The Full Review:Devilcraft Cloudy Outlook by Devilcraft Brewery
Vertere Passiflora by Vertere
The Bottom Line: Vertere Passiflora is a well-made hazy IPA that focuses well on the fruitiness that hops can bring.
The Full Review: Vertere Passiflora by Vertere
West Coast Full Hop Alchemist by West Coast Brewing
The Bottom Line: West Coast Full Hop Alchemist is a damn tasty beer.
The Full Review: West Coast Full Hop Alchemist by West Coast Brewing
Let’s be honest – if you’re going to try a style of beer, then it’s also worth trying out some of the overseas beers. However, the key point about freshness doubly applies here, and as such, the beers are known to fade quickly, so you have to hunt them out overseas if you can. Usually we would place a list of beers here for you to buy in Japan, but as freshness is paramount, it would seem odd to list beers that are sometimes 2 months old before getting to Japan.