It wasn’t that long ago when I didn’t even know what a New England IPA (NE IPA) was. In fact, I thought NE stood for Northeast. Now I can’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing about them.
If you aren’t quite sure what this New England IPA thing is all about, don’t worry. Just check out this post where I dive into the Haze Craze trend.
Is the New England IPA a unique style? According to the Brewers Association, there are 4 different styles of IPA and New England is not one of them. Some would claim that it is a style of its own and should be recognized as such. Others think it falls under one of the current IPA styles.
Since I am not a beer style expert, I decided to do some research and see how this style of IPA compared to the Brewers Association’s style guide. It can be quite confusing to understand all of the nuances that separate each style and figuring out where the NE IPA fits is quite perplexing.
Does the New England IPA fit into one of the current IPA styles or do these juicy brews fall into a category of their own?
The Brewers Association IPA Style Guidelines
It seems like the number of styles of beer can go on for ever. To help us understand beer styles, the Brewers Association lays out very detailed descriptions that divides them up in a manageable fashion. On this list, there are four beers listed as India Pale Ales (IPA). They are the American-Style India Pale Ale, Session India Pale Ale, Imperial or Double India Pale Ale and the English-Style India Pale Ale. Each of these styles have their own uniqueness that qualifies them as their own style.
If you review the details, you will find that these styles are very similar but have characteristics that set them apart. The American-Style IPA is fruit forward and has a moderate ABV while the English-Style IPA is flowery and a lower ABV. One thing they all have in common is the bitterness level. Minimally, they have a medium level of bitterness but often lean towards high levels; this is a critical factor.
So Which Category Does the New England Style IPA Fit?
Let’s start across the pond and see if the NE IPA can fit into the English-Style IPA. Here are just a few characteristics that define this beer; earthy and herbal hops, crisp, dry and medium to high bitterness. None of these fit the NE Style IPA so we can move on and look at the next style.
Let’s give the Session IPA a quick look. While it does allow for hop haze, the ABV limitation of 5% and medium to high bitterness eliminates this style from being a possible fit.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Imperial / Double IPA. This high ABV craft beer is one of my favorite styles of beer and where I initially thought the NE IPA might belong. It has haze created by dry hopping which is very common with the NE IPA. Lots of hop aroma and a full bodied beer all fall in line with the New England variation. However, we are presented with two issues: very high bitterness and notable alcohol in the flavor. Both of these characteristics do not fit the NE IPAs that I’ve had.
Finally, we have the American-Style IPA. This is probably the category where most put the NE IPA. It has a lot going for it; it allows for hop haze, has a fruit forward flavor profile, and the ABV is more in line as well. However, there is one major factor working against it. Hop bitterness is supposed to be medium-high to very-high in the American-Style.
Based on these comparisons, I don’t think it fits into any of the current IPA style guidelines.
What Sets The New England-Style IPA Apart
Lack of bitterness is one of the distinct characteristics of the New England IPA. All of the other IPA styles have at least a medium level of bitterness while most have high levels. Without the bitterness, these IPAs are easy drinking but still pack a ton of flavor.
The citrusy, fruity flavors make these IPAs unlike their counterparts described above. Yes, American IPAs are often fruit forward but the NE IPA features mango, pineapple, and other tropical flavors on a level that exceeds other IPAs.
Finally, the hazy appearance is the most notable characteristic, there are thousands of pictures on Instagram showing off the heavy, juice like appearance of these craft beers. Other IPAs can have some haze but most are actually praised for their clarity but New England IPAs are ideally opaque. However, I caution you not to judge a beer simply by it’s appearance. This is probably where the NE IPAs gets the most scrutiny. Some brewers believe that the look of these beers is just a novelty and add little to the actual beer.
What The Community Is Saying About NE IPAs
Regardless of your opinion of the New England IPA, you can’t deny their popularity. Lines form at any brewery that releases a canned New England IPA. While I don’t want to get into whether this hype is justified; I will say that these people are lined up for a reason. We can’t get enough of these beers.
Speaking of craft beer fans lining up for New England IPAs; do you wait in line for beer releases? Learn why one craft beer fan won’t.
What is even more remarkable is how this style of IPA is winning over craft beer drinkers that traditionally did not like IPAs. The harsh bitterness of the IPA is not for everyone but the New England style makes fans with the low bitterness and fruity flavors. I think that is a true testament for how far removed this style is from the four that the Brewers Association has listed in the style guidelines.
But does hype and converting IPA-hater to IPA-lover justify creating a new category?
So Is The New England IPA Its Own Style?
I am not connected to the Brewers Association in any way and therefore have no control over how they define beer styles. Nor am I even close to being qualified to suggest a change to their style guidelines. There are brewing experts that could probably punch holes in my arguments but it is impossible to deny that this trend has a lot of momentum.
My opinion is the New England IPA is its own style and should be defined as such.
There are too many types of IPAs for the four categories that we have today. At any bottle shop or beer bar, IPAs dominate the available options yet we try to fit all of them into a handful of styles. This has forced the community to use terms like; American IPAs, New England IPA, East Coast IPA, West Coast IPA, etc. The community is saying there are not enough official IPA styles to describe the wide range of flavors we are experiencing.
Craft beer is evolving; the style guidelines should evolve too.
What do you think? Is the New England-Style IPA a unique style?
Is there a current style that you think it does fit into?