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Style Guide: New England-Style IPA

Perhaps no other beer style has seen as much evolution and fragmentation in the last five years than the IPA. For many, the dry, bright West Coast IPAs like Ballast Point Sculpin and Russian River Pliny the Elder were the standard bearer for the style in general, though certain micro-trends emerged, usually according to geography: Oregon and Washington, being more temperate of climate, for example, tended to add a little more malt heft. By and large, however, these beers were fairly clear, filtered, with easily identifiable hops.

Then Vermont happened.

The genesis of the New England IPA is somewhat nebulous, but most people agree it started with The Alchemist and their Heady Topper double IPA. Packaged in the now ubiquitous tallboy can with the words “Drink it from the can!” emblazoned around the upper circumference–you can go here for an explanation from Alchemist owner and brewmaster John Kimmich–the beer set off a veritable tripwire. Interestingly, the hop profile of Heady Topper changes according to the brewery’s needs and availability, but the flavor remains remarkably consistent.

Other breweries, likewise, have made their bones on this style: Treehouse and Trillium, both from Massachusetts, are generally considered the pinnacle of such producers, but Other Half (NY), Monkish (CA), Bearded Iris (TN), Bissell Brothers (ME) and, of all places, Cloudwater (England) are hot on their heels.

But, okay: WHAT IS. Let’s break it down:

  1. Appearance – Haze is the name of the game. These beers are often described as juicy, and the opaque orange-gold appearance underscores that profile. Several factors contribute to this: for one thing, the beer sees little to no filtration. As a result, all the hop resins and yeast proteins are still hanging around in the beer, giving it a hazy appearance. Some brewers may also choose to use oats and wheat in the mash to enhance that appearance.
  2. Aroma – Juicy. Juicy. JUICY. Also, here’s where we start to get into a little bit of brew science. Early-addition hops are used to impart bitterness, not necessarily flavor or aroma. Hops added later on, particulary post-fermentation, come out more forcefully in the final product. As you might have figured by this point, NE IPAs utilize a large percentage of late hops, resulting in a more tropical, fruity, soft and, yes, juicy aroma and flavor profile.
  3. Taste & Texture – The taste largely reflects the aroma; there should be little to no bitterness, with flavors like pineapple, mango, and passionfruit coming through. The texture, however, is uniquely soft and pillowy, an element that, again, is bolstered if the brewer chooses to use oats or wheat. The beers, as a result, don’t necessarily come across as classically dry, but they are nonetheless imminently refreshing.

The style is very much taking hold, and that’s reflected in our current selection: our two draft IPAs fall into this style, with Evil Twin’s Pleasure to Meet You, I’m a Big Fan of Your Beers and Door County’s Everything Eventually, a beer they brewed for our 10th anniversary.