The New England IPA: Cutting Through the Haze

When it comes to beer styles in the US, the IPA remains the undisputed leader of the pack. Sure, stouts, porters, sours, fruit beers and all the rest rise and fall in popularity, but at the top of the heap, you’ll find IPAs. You only need to look at the shelves of your local bottle shop or grocery store to see just how many different types of IPAs there are today, too. There are West Coast style brews, Southern IPAs, black IPAs and several other options out there. One that’s quickly gaining in both popularity and notoriety is the New England IPA. What sets this style apart from its kin?

All About That Haze

There are quite a few differences between New England IPAs and those most beer drinkers are used to. For instance, East Coast IPAs generally tend toward the traditional, while West Coast brews are bitter from hops, or have citrus-y notes on the back end. Most are clear and light, or even drying, sort of like wine. New England IPAs are none of these. They’re juicy, wet and bold. They’re also hazy, which often gives them a much smoother, creamier mouthfeel than what you’ll find with other styles.

In some ways, it’s really the haziness or cloudiness of this beer style that sets it apart from the rest of the class. Most IPAs are brewed to be crystal clear – you should be able to see through the other side of the glass. New England-style IPAs are brewed to be opaque, though. That’s where a lot of the controversy surrounding this would-be style of beer lies, too.

Why Is Haze Controversial?

Haziness or cloudiness in a “finished” beer can be controversial for a number of reasons. One of those is that haziness can be a sign that the beer hasn’t quite finished aging yet, and isn’t ready to be served. Color and clarity are two of the qualities on which beers are judged in competitions, and cloudiness generally detracts from the score. In an interview with Westword magazine, Alan Simons, head brewer at Dry Dock Brewing, said, “I am not against haze. I just feel like the trend of unfiltered haze has morphed into some breweries not giving beers enough time. I don’t want to suggest that everyone is doing that, but I don’t want to see a bad practice become a methodology.”

Countering that, the brewmaster at Maplewood Brewing told the Chicago Tribune, “People bitch and moan, but it’s probably the most exciting thing to happen to IPAs in a while.”

What is the haze, though? Really, it’s nothing more than dead yeast and other debris left over from the brewing process left in the beer. Because it is not filtered out, it clouds the beer and reduces its clarity. It also adds to the body. While that might sound unsanitary, or at least not very tasty, fans of the style swear by it. Drinkers and brewers alike say that it adds another layer of flavor, a bigger, smoother mouthfeel, and more complexity. It’s also good for you, as yeast (even dead yeast) is high in B vitamins and other nutrients.

The yeast itself is very different from what’s used in most IPAs, too. The vast majority of breweries (but not all) use an American ale yeast to brew their India pale ales. However, New England styles are brewed using an English ale yeast because it doesn’t clump together and fall out of suspension in the same way American yeast does (called flocculation). 

Because it doesn’t flocculate as much, more remains suspended in the beer. This yeast also doesn’t consume as much sugar as its American counterpart. That results in not only a lower ABV (in line with the growing session beer trend), but it also allows excess sugars to bind with oils and resins, creating even more cloudiness in the brew.

No Bitterness

If you’re familiar with West Coast style IPAs, you know how bitter they can be. That’s a prized characteristic for some drinkers, but not for all. New England style brews turn the tables on that, giving fans a juicy, sweet dose of citrus without the sometimes tongue burning bitterness many associate with IPAs. 

That lack of bitterness stems from a change in the brewing process. Rather than adding hops at multiple points throughout the boil, usually with a big initial addition, brewers are now adding hops much later, and focusing on “dry hopping”. Dry hopping is the addition of hops after the boil has been completed, sometimes as late as during secondary fermentation. This changes the effect of hops on the beer. Instead of bittering the beer, late addition hops bring a myriad of flavor characteristics to the party. It’s all about taste.

Not Constrained to New England

Until recently, you would have had a hard time finding a New England style IPA anywhere outside of Vermont or other states in the Northeast. Today, that’s not the case. The growing popularity of the style has allowed it to make inroads into other states, even Colorado, where it’s being embraced by breweries and drinkers alike. It’s probably only a matter of time before breweries willing to do a little experimentation are offering up hazy, juicy brews to their fans in the South, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest.

So, what’s your take on it? Is the haze a beer-killer for you, or are you willing to let go of your bitterness and try something new? Would you be happy to try a hazy, juicy New England IPA? Should this beer be considered its own unique style, like a West Coast IPA, or should it stick with the standard nomenclature?