When I first started beer blogging, I was an avid Sessioner. Alack, I’ve been remiss of late and see that I participated once a year since 2013. That ends now. I’m recommitting myself (even if a few days late). And happily that means jumping back in as my friends Gail Williams and Steve Shapiro up at Beer By BART ask us to sniff on this:
(The) still-emerging – though no longer new – unofficial beer style. This kind of beer has gotten so much buzz (and some mocking) in the last decade and a half that it’s surprising it has not come up on The Session yet. New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers, they are being made everywhere now and people are definitely buying them. So fire up your keyboard – let’s hear about your own encounters with these strange IPAs.
I like beer, all kinds of it in fact. And I certainly care more about the end result—its overall pleasantness as a factor of aroma, texture, and flavor—than I do about what style the brewer calls it or if it’s the “right” beer to be drinking either in terms of popularity or seasonal appropriateness. As such, when half the beer lovers I know are enamored of New England IPAs and the other half abhor the idea of opaque IPAs, I guess I’m firmly in the camp of take it or leave it.
I do faintly recall my first Heady Topper. It garnered a live-action Meh emoji. At the time, living in close proximity to Russian River and ergo fresh Pliny the Elder, I just figured the can I’d been handed (unsure how long it had been in transit) was the East Coast’s best stab at a bold IPA. It didn’t pop the way PtE does. Maybe I’d have dubbed it Pliny the Middle-aged. By the time I had it a second time, I was actually in the state of Vermont where the can at the Burlington airport failed to meet the tastiness of even the other Vermont-style IPAs I’d naturally sampled at breweries like Prohibition Pig (established in the same space where the Alchemist Pub suffered its fateful flood), FOAM, and one a bit less off the hype-grid, 14th Star Brewing up in St. Alban (where Verizon charged me as if I was in Quebec because it’s so close to the border). Their B-72 Double IPA, I got the sense, was brewed begrudgingly for tourists clamoring for this marketing terroir, but it really was hazy/juicy/smooth and I’d happily drink it again if I’m in Vermont. Because when in Rome.
There are signs NEIPA is in full-fledged fad mode, and it’s fast-tracking all the fads IPA itself has gone through. We’ve seen NEB(lack)IPA (or as I’d prefer to call it: a New England Cascadian Dark Ale—a hilarious oxymoron given that it’s both New England and Pacific Northwest in origin and would probably be brewed out of the Midwest). Oh, and we’ve seen the Citrus-infused NECDA!
Oh, and speaking of NEIPAs from Cascadia, back in Portland—which I already miss greatly—the first brewery to jump on the Vermont wagon was Great Notion Brewing. Their Juice Box (8.2%) and Juice, Jr. (6%) set the tone for PDX’s race to out-NE everyone, wherein even early poo-pooers are now hazing to the max. Among Great Notion’s litany of beers with the word “Ripe” in the name and “New England” in the description, there was one called Orange Creamsicle IPA. I’d never had Tree House’s infamous Julius—nor have I had it yet—but my first sip of Orange Creamsicle, made with both orange and vanilla flavors—instantly brought me back to my childhood spent at Orange Julius. And I think that’s why some adult beer drinkers slag these adult-beverages that sorta-somehwat appeal to more juvenile palates. They are fruity and juicy and sweet and, well, nostalgic. But hey, it’s not like the industry doesn’t have its share of famous beers that famously taste like Mexican chocolate cake or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so there’s no reason to get sanctimonious about what other people enjoy in their glass of beer.
All kidding or ribbing aside, I just enjoyed a few beers at one of my new local breweries, M Special in Goleta, where I got a beer they honestly dubbed an NEIPL. And you all remember how much you scoffed the first time you saw the IPL acronym. Back to my original point, I only care if the beer I’m drinking is good, not if it’s a good style. And it had all the attributes those five letters denote: it was certainly citrus and tropical fruit forward, more sweet/less bitter, and some of the clean, crisp expression of lagering over top/warm fermenting you’d look for in a lager and before you get all bunched up that lagers are ultra clear, then you need to have a kellerbier my friend. I think even some progressive German brewers could clearly see their way to appreciating an NEIPL or NEIPA, even if they can’t see through it clearly.