New England IPA: The Haze Craze

By John Moorhead

I’m an IPA guy. Like other hop heads, I’m always looking for new variations on the style. So recently, I ordered a pint of Odd13 Brewing’s Codename: Superfan, took one look at the beer, and facetiously asked, “Why does this look like juice?” Little did I know, I was gazing at a New England IPA.

The beer is cloudy and has a tropical and fruity aroma—you can understand why I asked the question. But one sip answers the skepticism when the senses are overwhelmed with flavor—grapefruit, peach, melon, tangerine. This cloudy IPA finishes smooth and creamy, with little to no bitterness.

The beer is exciting. Its appearance tricks you, and you wonder how the brewer managed to pack in this burst of flavor. It’s no coincidence that Odd13, like other breweries, is tapping into an IPA craze that’s taking the country by storm.

Origins of New England IPA

In defiance of American drinkers’ long-lasting penchant for bland beer, hop-forward India pale ales continue to dominate craft beer. It remains the fastest-growing sector of the industry, and just as craft surprised a drinking public accustomed to boring beer, controversy surrounding the IPA now captivates craft.

The New England IPA (sometimes called Vermont IPA) has made a big splash in the United States, with some claiming it’s the way of the future—cloudy, smooth, and fruity, with an artfully refined bitterness. What’s interesting is that those who brew the style usually attribute its name to the press and beer enthusiasts, not to the breweries themselves.

The style supposedly began with Heady Topper, the cult beer brewed by The Alchemist that prompted long lines to score a chance for a taste. Limited supply and distribution created scarcity and perpetuated demand for the beer, and its popularity naturally encouraged other brewers in the region to imitate it.

Dave Carpenter, editor of Zymurgy® magazine, when asked about the New England IPA, touched on an interesting aspect. “The impassioned ‘brewer’s lore’ that surrounds the style [is most intriguing]. Some speak in whispers about origins of yeast strains and swear by internet videos that suggest stratospheric levels of water hardness, while others draw battle lines separating haze and clarity. It’s like a secret society or the New England mafia. If you can stand on the sidelines and watch, it’s pretty entertaining.”

With the likes of New England breweries such as Fiddlehead BrewingHill Farmstead BrewingOther Half Brewing, and Tree House Brewing all pumping out cloudy, fruity IPAs, this new take on the style appears to have gained momentum beyond its region of origin and finds itself in a national discussion about the validity of the style and its hazy appearance.

Why the Haze Craze?

Appearance is the first thing we notice when a beer is placed in front of us, and a beer’s clarity—or its opacity—can influence our perception before we even take a sip. Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program Coordinator, wrote a treatise titled “Beer Haze: Clarity in a Topsy-Turbid World” that breaks down various causes of hazy beer.

It appears that the hop craze is shifting our assumptions about clarity and quality. Sparhawk notes, “Hop haze is a permanent haze brought on by aggressive dry-hopping… the addition of more and more hops can have repercussions on clarity—and some brewers, as well as their hop-head fans, are OK with that.”

Haze has many contributors, one of which is high-protein grains like wheat and flaked oats. When you include such grains in an aggressively hopped beer and leave it unfiltered, a robust haze can develop.

But it’s not just massive hopping that makes the New England IPA appealing to beer drinkers. Water chemistry is sometimes different than it is for other IPAs. There’s often a higher balance of chloride to sulfate, which lends a softer mouthfeel and a smoother, rounder IPA than what we typically associate with the West Coast.

Yeast plays a major role, too. Often a lower-attenuating strain of English origin, yeast creates fruity esters and remains suspended in the beer during bottle conditioning  Taken together, these factors deliver an unfiltered, cloudy appearance that might otherwise signal a defect in many styles. But craft beer drinkers can’t seem to get enough of it.

Is New England IPA a Style?

Does the high demand for the New England IPA mean it merits its own style? We took a look at the Brewers Association style guidelines.

American-Style India Pale Ale is allowed chill haze at cold temperatures and hop haze at any temperature. Hop aroma is high, exhibiting floral and fruity characters, while hop bitterness is medium. It seems as though the New England IPA is an unbridled hop-forward IPA and is made for the proudest of hop enthusiasts who sacrifice nothing to the filter.

While debate still looms over whether the so-called New England IPA is a fad or a style with staying power, beer enthusiasts’ admiration for hop flavors makes these beers no-brainers, and the excitement surrounding them is evident. When asked why demand for these IPAs is soaring, Sparhawk explained the hazy IPA “is part of an overall trend toward bold, bursting hop flavor. Craft beer lovers are accustomed to flavor, particularly hop flavor (not the same as bitterness).”

In the end, the question of whether the New England IPA warrants its own style category depends upon the continued influence of these juicy examples. Their popularity is growing and inspiring many imitators, but is it a flash-in-the-pan riff on the American IPA? Is it just a West Coast IPA with new hop varieties that change flavor and appearance? Or do high-protein grains and English yeasts herald a new style definition?

John Kimmich, brewmaster at The Alchemist told Eater in an interview, “There are people in the Vermont scene that really push the idea of Vermont-style IPA, but I am not one of them. Personally, I find it a little arrogant to try and claim that we do something so different that it deserves its own category.”

A perhaps surprising statement from someone who inspired a movement toward softer, rounder, juicier IPAs.


John Moorhead is the Director of the National Homebrew Competition and special projects coordinator for the American Homebrewers Association.

Sources

Homebrewers Association
Homebrewers Association

 
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