I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a massive line when my Uber dropped me off in front of New York’s Industria studios, where Juicy Brews was being held. Hazy IPAs and long lines to procure them seemingly go hand-in-hand in 2017, and this beer festival was a shameless celebration of the style, the first such curated beer festival of its kind.
Hazy IPAs (also known as New England-style IPAs, Northeastern-style IPAs or simply NEIPAs) have captured the imagination, Square swipes and so-called “throat share” of beer geeks more than any other new-fangled style in craft beer’s short history. Whereas once you could literally name every single brewery in the world that made the style—here’s my all-inclusive primer from a mere 14 months ago—at Juicy Brews, there weren’t just breweries whose juicy brews I had never tasted. A few of these breweries I had never even heard of.
And, even if just about every NEIPA I tasted at the festival was good, a certain sameness overtook me after awhile; today, just a couple weeks later, I can hardly remember any standouts. Perhaps that’s just me. For our year-end beer roundtable, we decided to ask a few big names in the industry what they think about the present and the future of the NEIPA, the only beer style apparently that anyone wants to discuss, drink and brew.
Sitting around our digital round table are:
- Kenny Gould, co-founder Hop Culture and Juicy Brews
- Jim Koch, founder Boston Beer Co./Samuel Adams
- Gage Siegel, head of customer success at BeerMenus.com
- Scott Jones, owner Triple Crossing Brewing, a top NEIPA maker in Richmond, VA
- Ryan Crisp, head brewer at AleSmith Brewing Company in San Diego, an early industry leader in West Coast-style IPAs
The following answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Will the NEIPA craze continue through 2018 and beyond, or have we already peaked?
Gould: After every craft beer festival Hop Culture throws, we ask people what styles they want at their next event. Occasionally, people say “sours” or “stouts,” but almost everyone wants more juice. We’re in the midst of a juicy revolution, and that’s a reality.
Siegel: I think every brewery has figured out the formula, so it’s no longer a predominantly New England phenomena. Even areas known for their own brand of IPAs, places like San Diego and the Pacific Northwest, have breweries focusing on making this style. However, there are plenty of breweries who aren’t quite doing it the “right” way. There’s room for more breweries to make them, and there’s plenty of room for them to be improved.
Koch: We think the smoothness and citrus juiciness of the New England IPA style are an appealing alternative to the drier bitterness and piney, resiny hop notes that have characterized West Coast IPAs. Our New England IPA was our top-selling growler [at our Boston taproom] in 2017 [and] we expect this juicy haze craze to continue in 2018 as we launch [it] on draft and in cans.
Crisp: Consumer interest in the style remains strong and I don’t see any sign of that trend slowing soon. Craft drinkers continue to want more hops, but now without the bitterness of traditional IPAs. It appeals to most craft drinkers’ love of IPAs while offering something new and, unlike some of the styles that experienced short-lived popularity in the last decade, the NEIPA is an everyday option for many drinkers.
Have NEIPAs created a monoculture where the beers aren’t singular enough to tell apart?
Gould: I can’t tell a Laphroaig from a Lagavulin. For the people who can, that’s a blasphemous statement. But if I were to blind taste three hazy IPAs, I’d tell you which one was Equilibrium, which one was Tree House and which one was Trillium. Yes, a lot of people are making stuff that tastes similar, but I think that results from a decline in flagships. Instead of doing one beer all the time, a brewery might do subtle variations on the same beer. In the last year especially, I’ve seen many groundbreaking variations that subtly push the boundaries of the style, including NEIPAs with lactose, fruit and even breakfast cereal.
Koch: One of the best parts of brewing, other than sampling the finished brews, is creating new beers and knowing that no new beer is brewed the same way. We’ve found that because of the newness and loose definition of the style, there’s a real range of flavors [available].
Jones: There is the risk of monoculture, sure, but that exists with any style. The more discerning palates will be able to pick out the nuances between different NEIPAs. Hop varieties vary year to year, and lot to lot—they are drastically different as well. Brewers being able to identify the top tier hop crop will have drastically different results. As hop growers and breeders continue to push the envelope with new hop varietals, it will help expand the NEIPA style year after year.
Crisp: Because so many breweries are making NEIPAs for the first time, I think it’s natural that we’re seeing a lot of similarities within the category. Many brewers are still learning how to make the style and are talking to each other about how to control the final product. The immediate result of that learning process might be a lack of diversity amongst NEIPAs, but brewers will inevitably perfect their own processes and recipes. Once they do, I expect we’ll start to see the idea of a NEIPA “monoculture” flip and breweries will push to differentiate their beers in this crowded market by experimenting with new ingredients and processes unique to their brands.
If there is any style that can usurp the NEIPA in terms of growth, what do you think it’d be?
Gould: Every style has the potential to usurp the NEIPA, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next year. But two years from now? Sure. Five years? Definitely. In my opinion, we seem to be swinging back toward cleaner, easier drinking beers. Originally, the market rebelled in response to flavorless “Big Beer” swill—that’s where the craft scene gets its desire for flavor, flavor and more flavor. Now, people are realizing they can make the same lagers as Big Beer, but with high-quality ingredients, and that those beers actually take more time, skill and effort than creating something that tastes like a donut. In the next few years, I think table beers, saisons and lagers will have their moment.
Crisp: I think it’s inevitable that a new style will eventually surpass the growth of the NEIPA. My personal hope is that it will be something like a flavorful, clean craft lager (Schwarzbier 2019!), but it’s too early to tell where demand will shift. That’s not to say that NEIPAs will disappear. I think they will remain an important part of the industry and will continue to be brewed and appreciated by a strong fanbase; they simply won’t dominate the conversation the way they currently are.
Jones: Mixed fermentation wild ales and spontaneously-fermented beer is a style I see growing rapidly over the coming years. Brewers are actively investing in barrels, foudres and coolships to meet the demand and provide a nice creative outlet for brewers. Being able to ferment beer with a yeast culture cultivated on the brewery property provides a deep connection between the brewer and beer. I believe that really resonates with the craft beer consumer.
Siegel: Right now, the growth in the IPA sector just doesn’t suggest that anything else is going to stop it. We added the NEIPA style as a category on [BeerMenus] over the summer, and there’s now already more than 2,000 entries in just six months. That’s strong growth for a style with no real historical ground to stand on. The data says the IPA will continue to reign supreme, and this NEIPA sub-style certainly isn’t slowing either.