Tasting Flight: the Northeast IPA phenomenon
The Northeast-style IPA has not only landed in California, it has begun gobbling up turf on the coast that’s synonymous with the most coveted India pale ale style in the world.
West Coast IPAs? If you’ve always found them to be too much – too hoppy, harsh and bitter – here’s a version that might prove more user-friendly. Even if you dig piney/citrusy notes and that dry/bitter West Coast experience, this could be a fun alternative every now and then.
Here’s what to expect. They look hazy. The good ones burst of fruity hop aromas. The mouthfeel is pillowy soft and juicy. And yes, all this with less bitterness throughout. Needless to say, the Northeast (or New England) IPA has been thriving here in Sacramento.
Moonraker Brewing in Auburn has become an overnight sensation, and its flagship beer – the very juicy, eminently hazy and absolutely delicious Yojo IPA – is already a local cult classic. Moonraker brews it. Beer geeks gobble it up. Bottle shops clamor for more.
I tasted it recently side by side with Heady Topper, Fieldwork’s Pulp and Upper Case double IPA from Trillium in Boston, and, call me a homer if you want, but I thought Yojo’s softness/juiciness and big hop flavors were right up there with the freaks of the industry.
Little wonder that Yojo is now getting the rationing treatment by local retailers once reserved for Pliny the Elder.
“They’re the kings of the Northeast style in this area,” said Dara Hang of Long’s Bottle Shop in Grass Valley. “I’m just waiting for one of these breweries to brew more. None of them have taken advantage of the demand thoroughly.”
Track 7 was next to showcase hazy and juicy. In a series of small-batch can releases that promptly sell out, T7 continues to explore the style and has shown there is room to push the boundaries. The Sukahop IPA I tasted at the California Craft Beer Summit in September was outstanding – brimming with tangerine and pineapple aromas, a touch of tartness that was crisp and dry on the finish.
New Glory got in on it with limited can releases. Claimstake’s Northeast IPAs are drawing huge crowds.
“The reactions to our hazy IPAs have been massively positive,” said Claimstake co-owner/brewer Brian Palmer. “It’s bringing people from all over Northern California to this tiny tasting room in Rancho (Cordova).”
Claimstake’s latest Northeast-style release is called Johnny Haze, named for Hops To Table magazine founder John Zervas. Palmer said it has plenty of tropical fruit, dankness and a drier finish than many others in this style.
Even venerable Sudwerk, which has rebuilt its reputation by being both traditional and innovative, brewed – and promptly sold out of – a Northeast-style India pale lager. It already has plans for another hazy effort in early 2017.
There are still detractors and doubters despite all the buzz on the Facebook page Sacramento Beer Enthusiasts and the lightning-fast sales. Fieldwork’s can release of Pulp, a hazy IPA, attracted a line out the door and down the street at its midtown taproom.
Peter Hoey, award-winning brewmaster at the former Sacramento Brewing Co., is not a fan of the style. (To get his take on why, watch the accompanying video at sacbee.com.)
Sam Blackmon, a Sacramento police officer and president of the homebrew club Elk Grove Brewers Guild, is a big hazy beer fan who routinely conducts beer trades to get the latest releases from New England. It’s worth noting that the esteemed Heady Topper from Mad Alchemist in Vermont had long been considered an unsightly beer. Even the brewery suggests consumers drink it straight from the can.
“These beers are all about the nose,” Blackmon told me as we did a tasting at Pangaea’s bar. “When the style first came out, a lot of people called it ‘lazy hazy’ because they thought there was residual (unfiltered) yeast. For me, it doesn’t have to pass the eye test anymore if it passes the taste test.”