What do I do if someone offers me a New England IPA? Can we still be friends? I’m not so sure, but I’m willing to be convinced.
New England IPAs are the skinny jeans riding on a unicycle of craft beer. All the cool kids are into them, but none of us — not even the cool kids — can really say why. They’re uncomfortable sometimes, and not always practical.
There are several things that irk some folks about this alleged style. We aren’t really sure it is a style. Is it? A sub-style maybe? And it steers so far away from its purported father, the IPA, that there’s a good argument that it should be labeled something altogether different.
So what makes the NEIPA different? The goal is to deliver hop aroma and flavor, but without the bitterness (I just can’t let this go… if it ain’t bitter, how exactly is it an IPA?). They tend toward a hazy, golden body and some sport a sort of milkshake-like texture.
For some brewers and beer purists, offering them a NEIPA is a declaration of war. This beer deviates from so much of brewing tradition it’s just a little hard to swallow for some folks — literally and figuratively. For centuries of brewing, bitterness has been sought after, haziness was an enemy that generally signified poor brewing technique. Surely, you can understand the hesitation.
So, they’re irreverent. They’re trendy. But is the NEIPA tasty?
Obviously, that largely depends on what you like. I’ll go out on a limb and say yes, they can be enjoyable. Yeah, they deviate from the IPA standard, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. If you like to explore the flavor of hops — citrus, juicy, floral, resin-y notes — dancing around a neutral malt stage, then this is all you. I think they’re great for warm-weather drinking, and even though they inspire a wailing, “Get off my lawn!” from old beer nerds like me, they certainly have their place in a fun beer lineup.
So let’s taste some!
Epic’s NEIPA: Epic has released a series of slightly different NEIPAs, each with its own distinctions. This one delivers on the standard NEIPA promise. It pours a hazy golden, nearing bronze. The aroma is of pine, orange, and grapefruit, the common American hop aromas. It drinks very much like hop-enhanced orange juice with minimal bitterness in the finish
This one gets five out of seven Handlebar Moustaches. Moustaches as the standard mark of the hipster, and rating out of seven just to be different.
Fortnight’s Call the Hops: Hop aroma — resin, grapefruit! — hits you as soon as you crack it open. This one is brash from the start and heavy on Amarillo, Citra, and Mosaic. It’s more clearly golden than the other offerings on this list, but is still a little cloudy and has a slightly viscous mouthfeel. What sets this one apart is the almost IPA-like bitterness at the finish. This beer perfectly bridges the gap between needlessly gimmicky and innovative in its use of hops. The aroma is outstanding, and worth the price of admission on its own, but the bittnerness reminds you that you’re drinking a beer.
Rating: Nine out of seven Handlebars.
Gizmo’s Fake News: Here you’ll find a NEIPA that’s murky like the others, but drinks a lot like a mildly bitter pale ale. Piney/resiny hops are the focus here, and there isn’t that citrus theme that seems to be present in the other offerings. The can talks a lot about the citrus hop character, but it didn’t seem as apparent as promised.
Rating: Four out of seven Handlebars
Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing: From the craft brewery revolutionary, we would expect nothing less than the best. While it’s not as murky as some other examples, this take on the NEIPA gives you a bubbly golden aroma-coaster ride with just enough bitterness to make you feel like you earned it. It’s good enough to please the hipsters and the hardline old-schoolers alike.
Rating: All the Handlebars in All of Williamsburg
While I am generally a curmudgeon about new beer styles, this one has its place. Go try a few and let me know what you think!