There’s a scene early in Skyfall where James Bond meets his new Q, a university age hacker with a disproportionate air of superiority. Seasoned spy and cocky tech nerd begin sniping at each other. Amid the barbs is this interchange:
This badinage articulates the dueling contradictions of an era where experience counts for less each day. In entertainment, in business, in government — outsiders and disruptors appear to be the most prominent leaders. Think Uber or AirBnB, with their brash leaders. Or the young, meteoric filmmakers of the last ten years, like Ryan Coogler and Josh Trank, who have leapt directly from personal projects to tent-pole studio pictures. Think of the out-of-nowhere political neophytes that have upset establishment figures: a gun control activist in Georgia, a bartender from the Bronx, a second-tier developer turned reality TV host.
The anti-experience trend can mean innovation and idealism — a new generation entering the public square, unencumbered by cynicism and caution. Dismissing the historic arc, after all, is often how you change things. Of course, it’s also how you get away with conning an entire society. And often, the work created without historic context or institutional knowledge can be feckless at best cases, dangerous at worst.
Which brings us to IPAs.
Much has been written about the paradigm shift in hoppy beers. Away from crystal clarity and toward haze. Away from seismic bitterness and toward pinpoint flavor. Away from fortification and toward delicacy. The emergence of the New England IPA (or the hazy IPA or what-have-you) might just be the biggest craft brewing innovation since Fritz Maytag, Ken Grossman and Jim Koch led the good beer vanguard in the sixties, seventies and eighties. And its ascendance is fueled not by the dominance of a large production or distribution operation but by hundreds of small breweries, often self distributing to bars or exclusively serving in their taprooms. Powered by Untappd ticks and Instagram posts, the NEIPA is recalibrating consumer demand. But while iconoclasm gave rise to the haze revolution, experience is taking it national.
To be clear, the relatively new brewers making New England IPAs are not amateurs or interlopers. To the contrary, these men and women largely honed their craft in established breweries before striking out on their own ventures. But they do not necessarily have the institutional knowledge, infrastructure and decades producing beer of more established companies Like Boston Beer Company or Sierra Nevada Brewing. When these more seasoned hands take on the NEIPA, it raises questions. Can a company with a national footprint really guarantee a quality ale that’s popularity is predicated on green flavor and turbidity, both of which fade pretty quickly? Can brewers that have long produced pale ales built crafted on the high bitterness, high clarity West Coast model — effectively shift focus to East Coast recipes?
No large-scale brewer is better positioned to nationalize the NEIPA than Boston Beer Company. Its headquarters is located in the heart of juice country, and it has a development and production capacity unmatched in craft brewing. Samuel Adams might be BBC’s lifeblood, but it currently lists 28 other unique beers on its website. Beer Advocate lists 168 beers in production and another 153 archived recipes. So, Jim Koch’s team can definitely make a 50-states-and-beyond push in the haze market, which they have with the less-than-imaginatively-named New England IPA.
The beer may not look full-on Tropicana, but it does have a remarkably matte-coat gold-orange palette. Its aroma strongly resembles Sip of Sunshine, a cumulus cloud of tangerine. What follows in taste is less vibrant but by no means unpleasant. You’ll get all the hip hop notes, be it the fruit of Citra, the resin of Simcoe or the pith of Mosaic. Yet New England IPA’s unfiltered weight feels overdetermined, which is probably due to its oat component. This beer is heavy, off-putting-ly so. But it’s still a tasty brew, lacking only the semi-miraculous balance the best NEIPAs have between fullness and drinkability.
While Two Roads Brewing has only been in operation since 2012, it has become a craft beer mainstay in a surprisingly short time. The Stamford, CT, operation was one of the first multi-state brewers to package saisons in six packs when they were generally sold in expensive 750 mL bottles. Before the New York area overflowed with hundreds of local hoppy offerings, Road 2 Ruin Double IPA was about as fresh and flavorful as a strap-hanger could get.
Today, Two Roads churns out seven regular beers, as well as a rotation of seasonals and sours, including Two Juicy New England Style IPA.
Two Juicy is more compelling than lovable. It has a odd day-glow complexion, pulsing neon yellow, and it features an interesting mix of hops. Citra is there, of course, but it collides with Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria. Both of these are closer to the Cascade hops of classic Pacific ales. They impart an unripe grape flavor, somewhere between Kolsch and Pinot Gris. The nose is so grassy it borders on mint. This all adds up to an idiosyncratic IPA: not totally satisfying, but refreshingly original.
At the beginning of 2018, New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger IPA first appeared on a list of Untappd’s most checked-in beers. New Belgium Brewing has long had an army of Midwestern fans that came of age on bottles of Flat Tire. The Lips of Faith series brought Belgian-style sours to an American audience with such watershed ales as Transatlantique Kriek, La Terroir and La Folie.
Now with Voodoo Ranger, New Belgium has a second-act hit. The beer is a light bodied, low bitterness showcase for Amarillo and Mosaic hops. It’s a refreshing, flavorful brew with a a Two-Hearted Ale vibe. The brewery then released a New England-style version with Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA. It’s a turbid straw hue, very much like unprocessed OJ. What’s odd is how un-juicy the beer tastes. It’s plenty dank and foresty, with a hint of mango. Nothing wrong there, but if a brewer is tackling a style that’s hallmark is performative freshness, the result should be greener than this. These notes are from a two and a half week old can: one has to wonder what a two-month old iteration of Juicy Haze Ranger would taste like.
Perhaps no brewer’s entrance into the NEIPA arena is as surprising as Firestone Walker’s. Since 1996, this Paso Robles, CA operation has churned out excellent brews across a variety of styles. Its Union Jack IPA is a prototypical West Coaster: substantial, glass-clear, bursting with fruit and bitterness. Union Jack is a standby ale, easy to pair and fit to crush. Since introducing it, Firestone Walker has released amped-up versions, session versions, black versions, unfiltered versions.
So, this California craft beer trailblazer has made its mark on the modern IPA and could be forgiven for sitting out the haze craze. However, it has taken a swing with Mind Haze IPA.
Mind Haze is a clean, turbid gold with a rocky head. The nose is full force tangerine. Not especially nuanced, but then again, the New England school of IPA is often a delivery system for raw hop flavor. Mind Haze, in the nostril and on the tongue, is just that. Citrus and a hint of resin. It’s surprisingly subdued in taste: vibrant, yet restrained. There’s no bitterness to speak of, a long journey from the Jack series. At 6.2%, it’s just a bit lighter than the other ales in this article, and that difference is noticeable.
Whenever Firestone Walker goes after a style, it tends to nail it. Not only Union Jack for the West Coast IPA. It’s also planted a flag in the English pub ale, the bourbon-aged stout and barleywine, even the German pilsner. And that’s just to name a few. Mind Haze is a spot on representation of the NEIPA. It may not reinvent the game, but it definitely scratches the itch.
When enumerating great producers of IPA, it’s easy to forget about Sierra Nevada Beer Company. They don’t get enough credit for its elegant, durable hopping. Sierra Nevada’s signature Pale Ale is probably the best platform for Cascade hops ever made. Celebration remains one of the most vibrant, flavorful IPAs released by a national brewer. In terms of innovation, their Hop Hunter IPA was an early adopter of distilled hop oil. That said, Sierra Nevada’s decision to release Hazy Little Thing IPA felt a little like an aging rocker producing a hot young rapper’s track. It had the potential to be embarrassing.
As it turns out, though, this nearly 40 year old brewery can still bring it.
Hazy Little Thing pours frosty amber. Wiggle your fingers behind it and you’ll see shadows but not much else. It’s a pretty brew, with an exciting nose full of of gnarly weed pressing against the citrus. This is a nuanced IPA: it allows that nasty Mosaic/Simcoe pine-oil to drive the flavor, carrying the fruit with it. It’s as lovely a hazy potion as one can imagine coming off a cross-country truck. As with the Boston Beer Company offering, the oat thickness feels like gilding the lily, but with a lily this beautiful, who cares?
Without a doubt, Sierra Nevada has most effectively conjured the local haze bomb. Yet what’s most satisfying is not that an older brewer has produced a young brewer’s beer. Rather, it is the joy of seeing experienced craftspeople in full flourish, marshaling their skills and resources to create a near-flawless product. In this post-experience era, something like that is worth an ovation.