I did a double take when I saw the news. It was March — too early for April Fools’ Day. Yet there it was: New England IPA (NEIPA) had officially become a beer style.
This was a cause for simultaneous celebration and gnashing of teeth in the beer community. Few categories were more polarizing. In the process of becoming the hottest beer craze in America, NEIPA had unabashedly shattered many of brewing’s sacred tenets.
And it all started with one beer.
John Kimmich started brewing Heady Topper Double IPA at his Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, twice a year. Customers were shocked by their first taste. Unlike anything they’d ever sampled before, it flaunted the rules and convention.
Brewed with large amounts of high-protein adjuncts and a special yeast strain, Heady Topper had a soft and fluffy mouthfeel. Kimmich made another faux pas by creating a hazy brew. Contrary to the assertive and crisp hop bitterness found in regular IPAs, Heady also had unheard of amounts of Pacific northwestern hops added late in the brewing process, imparting flavors and aromas of tropical fruit and citrus. When combined with its pillowy texture, many described the sensation as “juicy.”
As a final sacrilege, it tastes better drunk from a can. According to Kimmich, “Heady Topper dies when it’s poured into a glass. All the carbonation is coming out, the aroma, the hop essence and oils. When you drink it out of a can, the beer is perfectly preserved.”
Customers couldn’t get enough Heady Topper, and soon Kimmich was brewing it year-round — in the process, transforming the sleepy New England town into a destination mecca for IPA lovers. However, there was one problem: Heady was only available on draft. Enterprising patrons were known to sneak into the pub restrooms, pour their glass into a bottle, cap it and leave. Business at the Alchemist grew exponentially. Then, in 2011, Hurricane Irene hit.
The hurricane flooded the brewpub. It was a total loss. Fortunately, Kimmich had just purchased a canning line. He followed his wife Jen’s advice to transition The Alchemist from a brewpub to a brewery. The canning line, originally conceived as a secondary addition, was all they had left. It turned out to be a brilliant decision, bringing Heady Topper into the mainstream and turning the craft beer world on its ear.
With an unofficial designation of New England IPA, Heady developed a cult following through Internet forums and message boards, becoming the number one brew in the world. Beer questers made pilgrimages to Vermont, snarling Route 100. One family with more money than common sense chartered its private jet from South Africa to score a few cans. Kimmich had to ration Heady, but folks worked around it with disguises. A website, Heady Spotter, briefly formed, with the goal of “democratizing the hunt for the most elusive beer in the world,” and operated until a second brewery opened.
Other New England breweries — Hill Farmstead; Trillium; and Tree House, to name a few — picked up the torch. Regional breweries followed suit. Slowly but surely, those elusive NEIPAs are trickling into our area. Look for them in 4-packs of regulation 16-ounce cans.
I found this month’s selections with just a bit of legwork. Like they used to say on the X-Files, “They’re out there.” And be sure not to miss Old Forge’s release of its deliciously hoppy Hype Juice later this month. Enjoy the selections and get your haze on. Cheers!
Evil Twin is a nomadic brewery, with bases in Denmark and Brooklyn. Its brews, like Lost Souls, push the boundaries of what beer can be. It pours hazy gold, with a thick head and some floating particulates. Its nose — with fruity aromas of apricot, guava and pineapple — is huge. Souls’ bitterness is soft on the palate. Flavors of grapefruit dominate, supported by notes of orange, grass and passion fruit. My single cans were admittedly pricey, but worth it.
Marley’s Brewery and Grill’s Moon Hop is our local entry. A murky straw pour supports a thin head, and emanates scents of citrus and mango from the chalice glass. Its body is creamy and smooth, with flavors of grapefruit and stone fruit from a blend of Citra, Falconer’s Flight and Mosaic hops. The finish is delightfully smooth. I’m hoping new brewer Kyle Kalanick keeps this one as a regular in the Marley’s lineup.
The clerk at the bottle shop said, “Nobody knows about Urban Village Brewing in Philly.” He smiled. “Give it a year.” If their Sofa King NEIPA is any indication, it’ll be only a few months. The pale yellow and cloudy pour sports a massive white head. The aromas are a balanced mix of citrus and pine. Additions of Amarillo and Simcoe hops provide an addictive dankness, plus flavors of grapefruit and tangerine — with wisps of pine. I should have bought another 4-pack.
Another local brewery, Rusty Rail, hopped onboard the NEIPA train with Fog Monster. The pour is golden yellow and slightly hazy. Its foamy head is large, leaving an intricate lacing pattern on the glass. Generous additions of Simcoe, Azacca, Eldorado, Citra and Mosaic hops create aromas of pine, lemon and citrus that segue to flavors of citrus, orange and grapefruit — with resinous side notes of pine. It’s an outstanding effort from brewer Michael Spuesens.
(The Brew Dude is published monthly on the Food and Drink Page. For comments, suggestions, or questions, email Mark Pasquinelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.)