New England IPA… the mistake we love

A year and a half ago, I reported in this space about the release of Mile Wide Beer Co.’s Tessie, a New England IPA that, as I put it then, “broke the local craft beer scene.”

Many pundits since have labeled the style a fad, with its “juicy” character, curious and ultra-tropical aromas, with low bitterness. Here we are, nearing the end of summer 2018 and fanboys are still frothing at the mouth for the hazy, orange beer. Meanwhile, local breweries are responding with more, more, more.

Holsopple Brewing in Lyndon recently released a version of the beer on draft and in bombers, a beer called Obscured. Given the New England IPA craze, I decided to stop in and give one a try, and it’s just what the template calls for: lots of fruity aroma, like a mashed-up breakfast juice, a soft feel on the palate, a hazy body and finish that is low on the IBUs, unlike many IPAs. It’s not what my palate usually wants, but I increasingly feel like I’m in the minority.

I asked the bartender, whose name was Troy, how the stuff has gone over since its release in early August.

“It’s our most popular,” he said. “It’s my favorite too.” He said another New England IPA will be released at Holsopple Brewing this week.

Meanwhile, over at Gravely Brewing Co., its version of the style is selling well, too. Broken Face IPA, according to brewery co-owner Nathaniel Gravely, is “one of the fastest selling beers we’ve put on thus far.”

But hold up a second.

Not everyone loves the beer, and one of those is Monnik Beer Co. brewer Scott Hand, whose disdain for New England IPA is well known in the local brewing scene. But his distaste for the style goes beyond its trendiness or even his own palate — he also views it with a furrowed brow due to his professional knowledge of beer.

“The intentional introduction of haze into a beer kind of goes against everything you learn technically as a brewer,” he said, and the point is interesting. These IPAs are hazy on purpose, and Hand said the way the yeast is used can lead to a breakdown of the flavor of the beer in short order. This is why other IPAs typically are filtered and clarified. It ends up being a flavor thing as well as a shelf-life issue.

His other key reason is, well, a full-on flavor thing. He asserts that while the New England IPAs do offer wonderful aromas, thanks to the abundance of tropical hops used, the trade-off is on the taste buds, where the individual characteristics of the hops and malts get lost in the haze.

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“Instead of getting hop varietal flavor, you tend to get really generalized, washed out fruitiness,” he said. “In the context of that beer, you’ve lost what is unique about those hop varieties.”

He added, “Usually the aroma is by far the best thing. Some of them, you’re probably best off giving it a few good whiffs and dumping it down the drain.”

That said, Hand isn’t judging anyone. He believes if people like it, they should drink it. His belief is that the New England IPA craze may be a reaction to the bitter nature of West Coast IPAs, which more and more have used hops with tropical notes such as Citra and Mosaic. He believes the New England IPAs will eventually morph into beers more focused on individual hop characteristics and less bitterness, but without the haze.

“I think that’s what the market is really wanting and the haze part is basically a fuck-up that people have accepted along with the beneficial parts,” Hand said.

Don’t expect the style to leave anytime soon. Gravely, as proof, pointed to the Brewers Association’s decision to give New England IPA its own category at Great American Beer Festival this year. And as long as it sells, expect breweries to keep rolling it out to a thirsty public.

“It’s definitely sticking around,” Gravely said. “We will have it in regular rotation.”

Don’t expect to see one at Monnik anytime soon, though. Not unless the boss forces Hand’s, well, hand. “As long as the dollar signs don’t get to him, I don’t see me making one,” Hand said with a chuckle. “I think we can make money off being the one brewer in the world that doesn’t do that.”

What’s in the fermenter?

Speaking of New England IPAs, currently fermenting over at Mile Wide is a version that is a collaboration with three Tennessee Breweries: Heaven & Ale Brewing Co., Southern Grist Brewing Co. and New Heights Brewing Company.

It will be a double dry-hopped beer that head brewer Kyle Tavares called a “mashing together” of a beer from each of the three breweries. The IPA will be rolled out on Sept. 15 for Hops on the Hill, a special event taking place at the brewery.

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