New England IPAs. Love them, hate them, say you hate them and drink lots of them?
Nearly twenty years after the first release of Heady Topper, the hazy or New England style of IPA has often divided opinion within the craft beer world. Many breweries have risen to prominence off the back of this phenomenon in the USA and across the globe, with many of Spain’s leading craft breweries focusing on the style. Many times it has been tipped as a fad or trend that will soon be replaced by the next popular style.
With resurgences in the popularity of more traditional styles such as lager or mild people have argued that Hazy IPAs have had their day. In my opinion they still lead the craft beer revolution. And here’s why.
People have gotten good at making them. Very good. When I first drank a New England IPA in 2016, I wasn’t convinced. Some of the beers coming over from the US were fruity, dank and juicy and had a lovely creamy mouthfeel that was really approachable. Others were full of trub that should have been dumped. Some breweries were advising people to shake the kegs before serving. Understandably there were brewers who didn’t see these as good practises, largely because these beers didn’t offer consistency - the brewer’s main objective.
Now breweries are able to produce consistently tasty core range New England IPAs and one off specials experimenting with different yeasts, malts, hops and processes. The standard of these beers that’s produced now - by those that do those styles well - doesn’t resemble what was being done in Europe five or six years ago.
As with any style, when done poorly, the outcome is poor. But now there are enough breweries doing hazy IPAs well that any informed consumer can find good quality.
They offer a point of difference from industrial beer. Many large scale breweries - not speaking large craft but big big breweries - cannot compete with these styles. Unfiltered and unpasteurised, these beers don’t have the shelf life that suits the massive supply chains of large industrial breweries.
It will always be difficult for a small or medium sized craft brewery to compete with the German giants of lager such as Augustiner and Weihenstephaner. These breweries have literally hundreds of years of expertise and have the production set up that favours brewing those clean, crisp styles at a price which is impossible to match for small production levels.
They’re gaining craft beer new followers. Those that love Test Match cricket or the annual four dayer between Lancashire and Yorkshire turned their nose up at Twenty 20 cricket. I myself love the long format of the game but I also recognised that something needed to change to make cricket more accessible. I think there is a similarity with New England styles. They don’t have the bitterness of the pallet wrecking IPAs of ten years ago, that led to many people deciding ‘I don’t like IPAs.’
By giving people a more simple, pleasing format of IPA we see more and more beer drinkers willing to experiment. This is a good thing for the diverse world of craft beer that offers so many wonderful styles of the drink we love so much.
So what next for New England IPAs? I wouldn’t bet against them. Time and time again the resilience of the popularity of the style has surprised the detractors. People drink them. People like them. And they also deserve respect when well-executed. The idea that these brews are as simple as chucking in a load of hops during dry-hopping is clearly false. You just need to look at some of the beers with a high grams per litre that don’t follow through on body, taste or balance.
Here at Oso we plan to include New England beers or various strengths in our core range, as well as other styles we feel we can do well and that we like to drink. Joe, our head brewer, we feel is a master of the style and we’re always excited to see what we’re going to brew next!