Written by Jesse Weinkauf, Brewer
The New England style of IPAs has now firmly seated itself in the brewing repertoires of many of Michigan’s well-established breweries as well as some of the newer ones. Some tend to scoff at the hazy, unfiltered nature of the beers that fall into this increasingly popular category, and their concerns of settling and shelf stability do not fall on deaf ears. After all, these beers do have some issues pertaining to stability. They are definitely less stable than the majority of other styles that exist namely due to the lack of filtering. But this is not a concern for me, nor is it a concern for the many lovers of the style. Why you ask? Because, these beers are meant to be drank as fresh as possible. They are not being brewed to sit on store shelves for a certain amount of time or to spend possibly the same amount of time in the hands of a distributor.
Most East Coast brewers producing this style are doing so in amounts just large enough to sell out in a couple days of being packaged. That’s the nature of the beast at hand. According to Tree House Brewing’s Twitter account, they are “Freshness Crusaders.” They specifically tell people to never cellar their beer, not even their darker styles. They produce enough beer to sell out in a short period of time. They usually start selling pours of their beers as well as canned versions the same day they are packaged or at the latest the next day. They also do not distribute their beer so the only way the public can obtain any of it is to travel directly to the brewery or to get it from someone who has been there. This is obviously a different business model from a production brewery, but smaller batches can be made in-order-to ensure the product moves in a timely fashion.
Onto the style itself. We at Perrin are lucky to have a reverse osmosis system. This gives us a blank slate in terms of mash water. We start with neutral RO water and then build our salt and acid profile for each beer brewed here. New England style IPAs focus on the chloride to sulfate ratios in terms of mash water. The chloride part tends to lend to mouthfeel and haze retention and the sulfate part affects more the hop character and bitterness. Acid additions such as lactic are added during mash-in to control PH and later in the boil to accentuate the tropical fruit characteristics of certain hops. Using acidulated malt is another way to control the PH of the mash. Whatever method is used, a soft mouthfeel and a solid haze is sought after.
As far as the preferred malt bill in this style of beer, brewers are primarily staying away from most caramel/crystal malts in favor of just a base grain such as 2-row coupled with wheat and flaked oats and maybe a lower Lovibond specialty malt for some added color. Caramel characteristics are not desired for the style, whereas bready flavors or even something more neutral is preferred. Flaked adjuncts such as oats help give a creamy and soft mouthfeel to the beer. The malt character is meant to be a support for the amazing hop aromas and flavors, but not a dominant player like it is in most Midwest style IPAs. These are not “malty” beers, but rather hop monsters.
Speaking on the hops that are primarily used, brewers seek cultivars such as Galaxy, Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo, Simcoe, Nelson, Motueka, etc. that have intense tropical fruit characteristics that lend themselves so well to these IPAs. Big flavors and big aromas are the name of the game here. Usually the bittering comes from the last 10 to 15 minutes of the boil and not from the beginning. First wort hopping or start of boil hopping is kept to a minimum since this tends to produce a harsher bitterness. Late boil hopping in large amounts allows us to obtain our desired IBUs, but a much softer bitterness compared to most other types of IPAs. Massive whirlpool additions lend mostly to the aroma and the flavor with a small effect on IBUs which lessens as the temp drops below 200 degrees. Some breweries will even run the finished wort through their heat exchangers and back into the whirlpool vessel before adding the whirlpool hops in-order-to lower the temp to a desired amount and lessen the IBU increase. This does, however, increase the chances of DMS formation and possible infection so care must be taken if this is the desired method. Either way, whirlpool additions are a must.
Yeast choice is crucial here as well. English strains seem to be the favorited types used in these beers. They tend to not flocculate as well as American types, which lends to haze retention, and the fruity esters that form from these strains accentuate the fruitiness of the hops used. Traditional American strains such as California Ale can be used and will still create great beers, but a lot of the New England-y character comes from those fruity esters.
Dry hopping this style is where the real magic happens. Massive dry hop amounts in the range of 2 to 4 lbs per barrel are desired using hops with high total oil content such as Mosaic, Galaxy and Citra for example. Higher total oil means more flavor and more aroma from the dry hop charge. Brewers are even experimenting with cryo-processed hop hashes that contribute aroma and flavor in a much more concentrated form. Whatever hops you decide to dry hop with, daily agitation is key.
In conclusion, however you decide to package the beer, whether it be in cans, kegs or both, the flavors will dance across your tongue and into the realm of the olfactory where the scents of ripe mango and orange juice mix with some pine and pineapple, and maybe a little bit of berry as well. No matter your like or possible dislike of the style, I do not believe for a single second that East Coast IPAs are going away. They are here to stay and they have proven to be more than a legitimate style of beer. For some breweries they are a way of life.
Cheers and many more hoppy beers