Going Clear: A New England IPA Story

As North Texas continues growing and maturing as a beer scene, I am seeing that the New England IPA (NEIPA) has officially entered the repertoire of experimentation for North Texas breweries. Thus far, Three Nations Brewing, Hop and Sting, Peticolas Brewing (I believe taproom only?), Division Brewing (taproom only), Chimera Brewing, Oak Highlands Brewery (taproom only), and Collective Brewing Project (fermented with Brettanomyces) have already done their own versions of the latest IPA trend.

Due to the newness of the style variant, turbidity of its nature and open to interpretation (BJBC as yet to officially consider it a style variant), the NEIPA goes by many names like Hazy IPA, Milkshake IPA and Juice/Juicy IPA, or some combination therein.

Essentially it is an unfiltered IPA or Double IPA that has been packed with a ton of fruit-forward characteristic hops, lending the flavors to more smooth and fruity flavors, rather than intense bitterness. Due to often being so highly dry-hopped, NEIPA’s flavors rely on freshness; the fresher you can get it, the better. Although, even that is up for some debate, some brewers have said they taste great at 2 months old. From my own experimentation and talking with other fans, it seems the general consensus seems to be focused on the new and fresh, with the older, less fresh versions tasting not so good.

With all of the aggressive dry-hopping, some have rebelled further against the clarity of the standard IPA and added additional ingredients, like flour (Tired Hands, Ardmore, Pensylvannia and Monkish Brewing, Torrence, California, to name a few), to enhance the cloudiness of the beers. Locally, Collective Brewing Project, has added their own spin by fermenting their version with Brettanomyces, which they call a Brett Shake IPA.

Regardless of how you brew this as-of-yet-not-recognized-by-the-BJBC beer, there is real opportunity for brewers to try their hand at something that seems to already be taking off in other beer scenes. Trends such as these can open the doors for experimentation and unique-ification of a breweries’ line-up and I believe North Texas breweries would be smart to try their hand at them. And why not? I’m not saying this because it’s a trend, folks will do things because they are trends regardless if it’s a good idea or not. I’m saying this because I want to encourage more diversity and experimentation.

Current beer fans want them, new beer fans really want them and a brewery that tries their hand at something like this won’t downplay the rest of their line-up, so what is there to lose? True enough, in another year or two we’ll likely be able to say that the NEIPA was a trend, but since we’re in the midst of it’s growth as a style we truly can’t say and so I say let’s use this as a way to encourage our local breweries to keep innovating.

See, we’ve moved beyond the time where breweries need to tie themselves to the Old World, like German, Britain and beyond styles, to encourage beer lovers to buy their beer. The standard IPA itself still feels like a trend, but it’s not going anywhere and I think we’re tired of saying that. Or, at least, I’m tired of hearing about it.

The U.S. beer drinkers have made it clear that, at least for the majority of the craft beer drinkers, the U.S. is an IPA country. And despite the style not originating here, the British are even brewing NEIPAs and calling them a NEIPA. Something I find quite ironic since the original style was brewed first in the U.K., brought here, and now we sort of own the style and have exported it back to the U.K.

Beyond worrying about brewing a style that might be already considered a fad, like the Black IPA or Session IPA before it, there is a lot of opportunity from a business standpoint. And perhaps that’s why many are jumping on the train of brewing a beer that some say is brewed for people who don’t like beer. Again, why not? What is NEIPA’s become the new gateway beer, like Witbier or Hefeweizens before it? To me, NEIPA’s feel different as a trend than the Black IPA; it feels like it could be something that sticks around.

From a business standpoint and due to the fresh flavor desirability of NEIPAs, many breweries could benefit from selling this beer directly to a consumer, should it take off. Unfortunately, here in Texas you can’t do this unless you are licensed as a brewpub and keep your yearly brewing numbers somewhat low. (My opinion of the State of Texas’ stupid liquor laws aside, if a brewery is licensed as a brewpub, they can sell beers to-go from their taproom, they could make some hefty cash for their brewery, while maintaining that ability for consumer to get the beer as fresh as possible.) I’m not saying drop distributors or selling outside of your taproom, but the more you sell from your own taproom bar, the more money stays in the brewery.

Regardless of an IPA trend, keeping money in a breweries pockets while making more beer is a good thing. This can mean more money for canning lines, fermenters, staffing, equipment upgrades and so on. It’s can be a good business decision, if it fits your breweries’ setup. Sometimes as a business you make those decisions to get to the place you want to be at. And with these sort of trends, are opportunities for breweries to build that revenue to get to that next place and I think fans are ready with their wheelbarrows.

Let’s be clear, I am not suggesting brewers should do this just for the money. Nor am I suggesting they do this because it’s a trend. Ultimately, good business decisions should be made with a focus on a quality product. Experimentation is a good thing and a vital part of brewing and a community of breweries and we need more of it!

Breweries need to keep fresh, keep the creative muscles flexing and the juices, figuratively and literally, flowing. Regardless of us as beer fans and our opinions, breweries even if it’s a small batch. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you don’t do it well, try something else. You don’t want to be that brewery that brews the terrible NEIPA’s, right? When a brewery experiments and tries something like this, they set themselves apart and it makes them a better brewery, which is better than the brewery who is trying to make a baseline, mediocre beer brewed for the consuming masses.

For us fans, the big question on our minds could be simply: is the NEIPA a trend?

And to that I answer, who cares?

Is the beer good? If so, let’s drink the hell out of it and hope the breweries can keep up with us.

If not, there’s plenty of other beer where it came from.