With increasing regularity, I field similar questions behind the bar at Triangle Wine Company, about New England style India Pale Ales (NEIPA). Often, they are in the form of “What make this a NEIPA”, to “What beer is that, it looks like orange juice”? NEIPAs are all the rage today and are the most sought-after style by beer lovers. It’s common to see people take trips to New England (where the style first became popular), only to drive from brewery to brewery, loading up their vehicle with limited 16oz cans of NEIPAs.
So, what makes a beer a New England style IPA? There are two organizations that categorize beer styles for the primary purpose of judging beer at professional and home brewing competitions. Both organizations have yet to define the NEIPA style, which leaves it up to us to fend for ourselves when describing NEIPAs to anyone who happens to ask, “what are you drinking, is that beer?”. Most people inevitably respond that it is a hazy IPA. Logically this makes sense because we drink with our eyes first. The next descriptor commonly mentioned is “Juicy”. The last aspect discussed is NEIPAs are very low in bitterness. Let’s break these aspects down in greater detail to understand this undefined style better.
Most people believe brewers try to make a hazy beer to fit the style. Another common refrain is that this style is unfiltered. Both comments are inaccurate. Brewers do not set out to make a hazy beer, the haze is a byproduct of the flavor and mouthfeel the brewers are shooting for. A good NEIPA will have a velvety texture to it and is also thicker than your average IPA. This is because NEIPAs use a heavy amount of oats mixed in with traditional malted barley and some wheat. Both oats and wheat are high in protein, which causes haziness. A traditional German Hefeweizen is hazy just like NEIPAs because they must be made with a minimum of 50% wheat by German law. A German Hefeweizen is unfiltered because having yeast in the glass makes for a more enjoyable drinking experience. Therefore, most people assume NEIPAs are unfiltered as well. Some of the larger breweries will make one of their flagship IPAs “unfiltered” in an attempt to compete with the NEIPA market. As someone who professionally brewed a NEIPA that was sold on draught in three places, I can tell you that we filtered the beer prior to kegging, to ensure no yeast or hop particles made it into your glass.
We can lump the last two aspects together since they both describe the hops and how they are used. NEIPAs are described as juicy because most hop varietals used have a tropical fruit or citrusy aroma/flavor. You won’t find many producers using hops that produce a pine or resin aroma commonly found in West-coast IPAs. A combination of a thick, hazy beer with tropical fruit, leads us to make a memory connection to juice. NEIPAs are very low on the bitterness spectrum considering it is still an IPA. This is because most, if not all the hops are added at the very end of the boiling process and throughout fermentation. The more hops you add to the beginning of a 60-90min boil, the more bitter your beer will be. NEIPAs are exclusively late hop additions which bring out more aroma and flavor, while leaving the bitterness behind. You will get some bitterness from hops added during fermentation (a process called dry hopping), but it will be at very low levels.
One of the last defining aspects of a NEIPA is the use of British yeast strains. British yeast is known for being highly flocculent, meaning the yeast will work hard for a short period of time, clump together and sink to the bottom of the fermenter. This is important because yeast will “clean up” byproducts of the brewing process during the secondary fermentation phase. If you used traditional American Ale Yeast, the yeast would drive off some of the hop aromas during primary and secondary fermentation. A good NEIPA will have a burst of hop aroma as soon as you open the can, almost as if you cut open a bag of fresh hops.
My definition of a NEIPA is: A velvety thick, hazy beer that is low in bitterness, high in tropical hop aromas and flavors, with a dry aftertaste. Consume as fresh as possible because the hop compounds won’t hold up well over time. If you want to have one of the best NEIPAs ever made, head to New England or Richmond. If you can’t do that seek out NEIPAs from Mikkeller, which are on draught regularly at Triangle Wine Company.