Being an adult beverage professional comes with a wide range of questions, challenges and concerns. For example, while working in saké the simple task of getting America to taste our product was the challenge. In Oregon wine, it was validating the more expensive cost per bottle for small batch, high quality Pinot Noir. For the past two years I have been leading the charge for a start up brewery, which has had me deep in an array of topics, the funniest of which, is the discussion about New England style IPAs and whether or not they belong on the West Coast, let alone brewed by a West Coast brewery. It seems, in the land of IPA, being a new kid, one with luscious tropical aromas and the drinkability of orange juice, is not as welcome as one might expect.
So, let's be clear, a New England style IPA is hazy, murky, seemingly unfiltered and unrefined. In early days in West Coast brewing, and sometimes today, this beer would simply appear to be unclean, mud. This may be why some eschew the style. But, if you put a fresh pint to your nose you’ll begin to understand their fast growing popularity. Lush tones of pineapple, grapefruit, honey mandarin, papaya and other tropical aromas are common. Let it pass your lips and you’ll find the aroma carries through very well as a fruit salad washes over your tongue. Easy, very drinkable, highly desirable and something that tends to demand you get more when your glass is empty. This is why the beer style is growing in popularity. With New England IPAs you get the aromatic and flavor value of hops without the face sucking effect of high bitterness.
But let’s get back to a West Coast perspective. To keep this interesting, and get the marketing guy out of the conversation, I grabbed a few minutes with my friend. A world-class brewer, consultant, innovator, and owner of Portland’s hot Culmination Brewing, Tomas Sluiter. Here’s a quick one-on-one on New England style IPAs:
Where does the hazy, citrusy IPA of New England fit into the West Coast IPA mindset?
Breaking this into two mindsets: For brewers, I think we are reluctant to embrace a style that is less shelf stable than some other beers. Anything that has so much protein haze, dry hopping aroma and suspended yeast needs to be consumed fast. For consumers the mindset seems to be: We want this! I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go and this one has been impactful. I even have my distributor in Japan clamoring for this style
Should a Portland, Seattle or San Diego brewery be brewing this style of IPA? Why? Why not?
Sure why not? The great thing about being a small brewery is an ability to follow and explore these trends. It does put the bigger breweries at somewhat of a disadvantage with their brand rigidity and batch investment as well as the shelf life concerns. So far the popular breweries who have built a name with these beers sell them so fast, shelf life hasn’t been a concern. If I had hung my hat specifically on this style and built a large production brew system I would be a little concerned about shelf life in the market if or when the hysteria dies down. I’d at least want to offer a strong lineup of diverse styles to buffer any slowing of the haze-train.
What is your personal experience with this style?
I am intrigued by the popularity and hype. Count me in the camp of people who didn’t think a mega-turbid beer would be as popular as it is. I think they are fun to brew and our customers love them but personally they aren’t my favorite to drink on a regular basis.
Tomas is a pretty up front guy. He understands consumer trends and isn’t shy to take the lead with a beer style he sees rising. Culmination Brewing has crafted several variations of the New England style and all have been refreshingly delicious. They sell out fast so they tend to be allocated and hard to get but they blow minds away.
From a business perspective, West Coast brewers who embrace the style will be rewarded with what they need, sales, and, hopefully a lot of new fans. For imbibers, this style brings a refreshing pause in the freakishly hopped IPAs of the past few years. A dynamic set of rich aromas and depth of flavor found in a tropical fruit bowl, but with alcohol, and, it is…an IPA.