BY: NATE REYNOLDS
It’s a call to arms! For the best IPA that is… and the East Coast is ready to defend.
For years the battle has been to create the next best IPA that steals the attention of craft beer enthusiasts. So far, the winning strategy has been to add more hops. IPAs now have skyrocketing IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and it’s nothing to be drinking at an 8.5% ABV to balance it out. West Coast bigger and “hoppier” beers have taken the show, that is, until now. The East Coast has a different set of tactics. They have engaged in creating IPAs and have thrown all of the “common” practices out the window. In an all-out Guerilla warfare, it’s a true Biggy vs Tupac rivalry, and the East is taking over the battlefield by storm.
Although it is not yet a recognized style by the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), I am talking about the mysterious New England IPA. Instead of a clear, dry, assertive bitterness IPA like the common American IPA, East Coast breweries are creating a hazy, creamy, juicy IPA. It all started with a few small breweries like The Alchemist andLawson’s Finest, who were looking for something a little different from their hops. Instead of looking to press your lupulin thresholds for bitterness, they focused more on citrus characteristics of hops, creating a softer, more rounded bitterness in their beers. These two breweries have been fan favorites for years, until the next generation came in and improved on what they had started. Breweries like Tree House and Trillium (both from Massachusetts) have now added a sweet and creamy backbone and transformed the citrus profile into tropical. What we are left with is a dense and hazy, but refreshingly juicy IPA that is meant to be your everyday drinking IPA that is highly sought after.
How do they do it? No one yet knows, but there are a few theories. From studying the subject and creating my own similar recipes, I have found a lot of the softness comes from water chemistry. Water chemistry is a whole science that is meant for another post, but I will just give you the gist of what I think they are doing. You want to first start with a water that is naturally soft… no brainer right? But what I’m trying to say is to avoid any water that has a large mineral content that will distract from the mouthfeel and hop profile. Second, you need to pay attention to the sulfate/chloride ratio. In a common American IPA you will find the sulfates outweighing the chlorides sometimes 3 to 1. This is because sulfates will help pronounce bitterness while chlorides will exemplify malt; this makes sense because more hops is what you want in a common American IPA. The proper ratio for a New England IPA is going to be in the 1.5:1 or 1:1 range with the ppm (parts per million) of both being rather high.
In addition to water chemistry I believe they are also focusing on wheat and flaked malts to add the creaminess to their beers. Wheat and flaked malts, such as flaked oats, add a texture to the mouthfeel of beer that is described as silky or creamy. This texture helps round out any bitterness from the hops, and turns their beer into a drinkability machine. Using these types of malts will inevitably create haze in your beer. So the haziness is a byproduct of the specialty malts needed to create the texture, and is not purposely done… so I believe.
Lastly they are focusing on hops, and more importantly their additions; additions meaning when they are being added in the brewing process. Making beer is like making soup, the longer something is in the boil the more pronounced that flavor will be. This is true when adding hops to a boiling batch of wort, except their flavor turns to bitterness the longer they are in the boil. What I believe these breweries are doing is using hop extracts for their initial bittering in the beginning of the boil and adding large amounts of hops for late additions. The advantage of using the hop extract is the ability to add straight IBUs to a beer without adding all of the additional plant material that can increase unwanted astringent bitterness to the batch. What this allows is a precise and clean bitterness that you need to help balance out the sweetness of the malts. The large amount of hops used for late additions will add the juicy flavors and aromas that are so highly wanted. Finish off this beer with a high flocculating and medium attenuating yeast, to allow some sweetness to carry through, in addition to a regimented dry hopping schedule… and I have confidence that you will create something very close to a New England IPA.
Unfortunately, these breweries who have mastered the New England IPA are still very small in size. You will need to drive to the brewery when they are open in order to get your hands on these high prized beers that I am talking about. If you’re not willing to make the trip, the closet beer that I have found in the capital area that helps explain what I am talking about is Long Trail Space Juice… but that again is very limited and is only released form the brewery in small amounts.
Beer fanatic is quite the understatement when describing Nate Reynolds. From brands to home brews, Nate knows it all (or at least wants to). Obsessed since early college years, Nate dreamed to make a career for himself in the beer industry. Posts written by Nate will be packed full of information (seriously, gauntlets of information) because frankly… that’s what he’s all about; educating people about beer. When he’s not working, Nate can be found brewing up something funky in the Adirondacks with his beautiful wife and Aussies, or at an EQX concert!