The Bruery had long declared themselves IPA-free. “I love IPAs,” founder Patrick Rue told OC Weekly in 2011. “They’re successful for a reason, but we don’t make one, and we promised never to make one.” Of course, just this month, after nearly a decade in the business, The Bruery launched a spin-off company, OffShoot Beer Co., for the express purpose of putting IPAs into a can. These unexpected IPA releases, called Fashionably Late and Better Late Than Never, weren’t just any IPAs, though: they were Northeast-style IPAs, a new type of beer that breweries today all but have to produce if they want to stay relevant.
Also known as New England-style IPAs, and henceforth labeled as NEIPAs, they first appeared in the early 2010s, courtesy of breweries in Vermont (The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest) and then Massachusetts (Tree House, Trillium). Less bitter than the palate wreckers of the aughts, they featured a soft carbonation, hazy appearance, fruity aromatics and a “juicy” flavor profile. This was achieved by utilizing high-protein grains like oats alongside certain yeast strains (one from London is particularly popular) as well as fruit-forward hops like Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy, in addition to a liberal dry-hopping. The latter technique creates intense hop flavors and aromas, but not any additional bitterness. These stood in stark contrast to the West Coast IPA aesthetic: piney, dank and often punishingly bitter. Due to the crowd-pleasing nature of the style, the NEIPA quickly outgrew its birth region, and is now being brewed the country over.
In fact, it’s become virtually impossible to think of any small American brewery not putting NEIPAs in sixteen-ounce “pounder” cans (or Crowlers) and selling them directly out the door as fast as the staff can swipe credit cards. But, as this NEIPA monoculture—or epidemic, if you will—becomes more and more pervasive, it’s getting difficult to differentiate the exemplary from the mediocre cash grabs. So, we set out to see just how many of these NEIPAs manage to stand out from the pack. Stylistically, we were looking for beers that embodied the hallmarks of the style—soft carbonation, juicy drinkability and pure, fresh hop character—but not at the expense of singularity.
For this tasting, I was joined by PUNCH’s Editor in Chief Talia Baiocchi; Senior Editor, Lizzie Munro; Assistant Editor, Chloe Frechette; and Jason Stein, a fellow beer lover and writer for Paste. With many of the top NEIPA-makers releasing several brand-new offerings per week, it’s often a better strategy to focus on identifying the top purveyors of the style, and then buying whatever’s currently fresh from them. Thus, what follows is merely a snapshot culled from a blind tasting of 35 recent NEIPA releases from can, crowler and growler.
Five NEIPAs Worth the Hunt
Proclamation Derivative: Galaxy | 6 percent ABV
While it might be easy to overlook great NEIPAs coming out of, say, Middle America, there are still plenty of breweries being passed over in the style’s place of origin. This Rhode Island brewery topped our tasting with both this beer and their Tendril IPA. Derivative is part of an extra pale ale series in which different hops (Pacific Gem, Nelson Sauvin, etc.) are combined with Amarillo and Citra for the final dry-hopping procedure. This Galaxy version explodes with yellow Starburst on the nose backed by an herbal freshness that recalls mint. A soft yeastiness on the palate is balanced by a pleasant hop sting.
Long Live Beerworks The All Seeing Eye | 8.4 percent ABV
The only other Rhode Island entrant in our tasting also performed admirably. While Providence’s Long Live Beerworks is only a year-and-a-half-old operation, Armando DeDona’s beers show a professionalism and execution often lacking in many other NEIPAs, which can too often feel slap-dash. Big and perhaps a touch maltier than you’d expect from the style, The All Seeing Eye has a condensed Orangesicle creaminess, and is far more drinkable than it should be for the ABV.
Sand City Burning Down the House | 9 percent ABV
Brooklyn and Queens have become one of the country’s epicenters for great NEIPAs, but it was this Long Island brewery that performed best out of all our New York-area entrants. Another bruiser, one panelist said it recalled Kern’s Nectar, texturally. But despite its heft, it manages drinkability (a requisite criteria for us when considering the style) and is kept in balance by a hit of hot pepper.
Final Gravity Sunspots | 7 percent ABV
The great thing about NEIPAs is that they’ve become a great equalizer for smaller breweries—a means of climbing the ranks with a single hot release. None of our tasters were familiar with this Richmond, Virginia, brewery, but why would we be? Original Gravity is a homebrew and winemaking supply store that only jumped into the brewing game in the last year or so with their Final Gravity Brewing Co. This Citra-, Amarillo- and El Dorado-hopped beer was soft and extremely crushable with notes of lime and salt (think, a Margarita), and bracing acidity that made it lighter on its feet than many of the other offerings.
Hill Farmstead Grassroots Legitimacy IPA | 6.7 percent ABV
Of course, NEIPAs aren’t just about advancing the little guy. Sometimes, it’s a chance for the style’s standard-bearers to flex their muscles. While many NEIPA superstars had entrants in this tasting, this Vermont master was the only one that truly excelled—funny, since brewmaster Shaun Hill supposedly doesn’t even like having his IPAs grouped in this niche. While hardly considered one of Hill’s upper-echelon IPAs, this sole Hill Farmstead entrant was far and away the unanimous favorite of the group. The two-day-old growler revealed a Simcoe-hopped beer that was pure in flavor with notes of herbs, fresh citrus and wildflower honey, and a subtle mineral aspect. One taster summed it up best by calling it, simply, “baller.”