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On the 'Northeast-Style' Double IPA

Larry Koestler, October 28, 2015 -   

I had an unexpectedly joyful beer-drinking weekend featuring Carton 077XX and Boat, followed by a first-run Kane Head High can. I also had grumblers of Alpine Nelson, which, despite what the internet might have you believe, tastes awesome. If the Green Flash version of Nelson is "bad," I can't imagine how great it must have been before the Alpine acquisition. Saturday was a can of Carton HopPun and more Nelson.

I'd had both 077XX and Boat previously, but this was the first time in cans. HopPun and Head High were first-timers for me. All four beers were exemplary of the current super-pillowy clean-drinking, unfiltered body / explosive, lingering juicy-fruit hop flavor / zero perceived bitterness APA/IPA/DIPA brewing style that has taken the East Coast by storm.

The more I drink pales like these -- a style which one might argue was popularized by Shaun Hill and quickly fanned out through The Alchemist, Lawson's and Maine, and more recently by Tree House, Trillium, Other Half, Bissell, Fiddlehead, Foundation, Grimm, Foley Bros. and others (it's a flavor profile Third Rail brews in as well with our hoppy beers, and will implement when we eventually release our first DIPA) -- the more I'm starting to feel like they're in a category unto their own.

I've seen threads in other forums scoff at creating yet another IPA category, but to me comparing this cohort of beers against what many think of as the more traditional hop-forward-yet-bruisingly bitter West Coast-style IPA almost seems disingenuous. I think you you can make the case that Stone has arguably come the closest to aping what's going on in the northeast with Enjoy By and the reformulated Ruination, but even as delicious as those beers may be, they still drink pretty distinctively "West Coast" to this palate. And that's not a bad thing! It's just different.

So let's propose a new category of Pales: I wouldn't call it Vermont-style -- even though it started there, it's spread too far to be hemmed in by one state. And I wouldn't call it New England; even though the NE breweries deserve credit for popularizing it, Harpoon markets its English-style IPA as a "New England IPA," so that's already in use. And so I think Northeast or Northeast-Style is an appropriate descriptor, similar to how people deploy "West Coast." I don't expect the BJCP to add a new category or anything, but I'm going to try to start incorporating this designation into the way I discuss / categorize beer.

What are the hallmarks of brewing a Northeast-style American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale or Double India Pale Ale? Here's a list that comes to mind, most of which I culled from nerding out on brewing websites (though I am not a brewer myself, so this is by no means gospel):

  • A water profile often treated with gypsum and/or calcium chloride to help lower the mash pH
  • Part of the malt bill may contain flaked grains, which help contribute a smoother mouthfeel
  • Close to zero hops added during the boil to suppress / essentially eliminate bitterness
  • Majority of flavoring hops added at 60 minutes / flameout
  • Following flameout, whirlpool hop additions to coax further flavor
  • Pitch English ale yeast
  • Massive dry-hop additions and in some cases keg hop additions

I'm sure many west coast brewers employ similar techniques, but the above seems to encapsulate a lot of what we're seeing from the Northeast now. As a result, to my mind, the Northeast-style APA/IPA/DIPA generally looks and tastes like:

  • Medium-to-light in color, straw-like SRM is common
  • Unfiltered to the core
  • Ultra-soft, "pillowy" mouthfeel, as if the malt backbone was merely a canvas for the hop symphony about to be unleashed
  • "Juicy" citrusy/melony/passion fruit-forward hop bonanza on the palate
  • Low to zero perceived bitterness, which in some cases almost makes it taste like you're drinking a Jolly Rancher

Put it in a 16-oz. can, and the hype will sell the beer out practically before it reaches the consumer's hands.

Larry Koestler is a craft beer evangelist and freshness zealot who spends his free time scolding others for purchasing old IPAs. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and connect with him on Untappd and Beer Advocate.

Thanks to wiki commons user laaabaseball for the header image.

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