“I don’t like them. They’re all way too bitter,” my mother always proclaimed quite adamantly, resolute in her refusal every time I attempted to introduce an IPA to her nostrils. I never questioned her unwavering pushback to a hops attack because she was kind of right. But it has been craft beer’s most dominant style for most of the last decade for a reason.
During the IPA’s rise in the 2000s, brewers continually used more hops during the boils of their beers and in turn increased International Bitterness Units, or IBUs. The style came to define America’s craft-brewing revolution and serve as the bold and assertive contrast to the longstanding reign of light-lager. (It is important to note that hoppy and bitter are not the same thing.) I joined the bitter-beer cult from my first sip and feverishly sought these increasingly intense and pungent IPAs with wide eyes (and an even wider jaw). But after years of equal parts pleasure and punishment, my palate felt pummeled like a piece of schnitzel, fatigued from the extreme.
As the craft-beer scene has evolved, so too has the IPA. There are now more than a dozen different sub-genres of the hop-focused shapeshifter—from black to Belgian; some span one season, others are representative of a particular region—and new ones are conceived nearly every year.
Today’s IPAs prove that, for the most part, the taste buds-bludgeoning fad has faded. In recent years, brewers have utilized neoteric hop varieties: Citra, El Dorado and Mosaic are three popular American cultivars, as are Australia’s Galaxy and New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin. They impart wonderfully expressive notes of fruits like papaya and peach. Brewing techniques such as dry-hopping (when a larger proportion of hops is added later in the brewing process), boosts aroma and lush, tropical-citrus character rather bitterness to create beers hopped both heavily and heavenly. The end result is unfiltered for a cloudy appearance and fuller flavor. They are freakishly soft, smooth and juicy and, most notably, with barely any bite.
This new breed of IPA is being dubbed the New England, or Northeastern, style. Unsurprisingly, this fragrant-forward movement has beer loons in a frenzy (and has, for now, silenced my mother’s unwavering resistance to hop-forward beers). It’s being led by elite brewers on the northeast such as Vermont’s The Alchemist and Tree House and Trillium, both in Massachusetts. The style has spread nationwide, with California’s Monkish causing a tizzy for its hazy, hardly bitter, juiced-up hop bombs like Run the Pigeon and Supa Dupa Fly.
It’s also quickly changing how IPA is being sipped and even how it’s bought. Last year, Aaron Goldfarb wrote an article for First We Feast on the growing trend of limited-edition canned IPAs, the vast majority of which are New England in design. He stated, “the most coveted IPAs are generally being packaged in 16-ounce ‘pounder’ cans sold exclusively from their breweries, a day-old in freshness, and usually in highly-limited quantities that necessitate queuing up, sometimes for hours.” Scarcity, coupled with high demand, has led to a booming black market for these “freshies.”
Long Island is home to three standout breweries canning their IPAs: Sand City Brewing (which Goldfarb included at the end of his list of the country’s leaders in a section of others “worth oogling”), Moustache Brewing and Barrier Brewing. They are being sold almost exclusively on-site, with some batches gone in just a day (draft versions of these beers exist in some cases). We asked the brewmasters of each to discuss two of their sought-after packaged nectars that should be released around this time—though nothing today is guaranteed tomorrow in the endlessly exciting world of IPA.
Sand City Brewing
as told by Kevin Sihler, brewmaster and co-owner Mofosaic, 7.2%
The Mosaic hop has such an interesting aroma profile. It’s really complex, there are different sides to it. There’s a candy-fruity sweetness, but also an earthiness. We wanted to make a beer that showcases Mosaic [hops] in all of its greatness, that’s Mofosaic. Most of our IPAs have anywhere from two to five hop varieties in the recipe, but this only features Mosaic. While it’s not tougher to brew a beer with just one hop, you’re at the mercy of the hop. People may say they like or don’t like your beer simply because of the hop you used. But despite that risk, on the other side people get the chance to experience the hop from all angles, from the bittering side to the flavoring and so on. It gives someone a real chance to get to know the hop.
Infinity + One, 8.2%
We made a beer for our first anniversary last year called One. It was a single batch, it sold out in a few hours and we got great feedback on it, so we decided to brew this as something that should be around occasionally, sort of like its cousin. The grain bill is the same for both beers, but while One paired Galaxy and Citra hops, Infinity is Galaxy and Mosaic, which complement each other nicely. I get a lot of citrus and tropical-fruit flavors like passion fruit and mango. I also get some earthiness, grassiness.
as told by Matt Spitz, brewmaster and co-owner Dexterity Issues, 8.4%
This is going to be the second year we’ve brewed this special double IPA to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Multiple sclerosis is an issue dear to my heart as I’ve been living with it for almost four years. That’s why we donate part of our proceeds from sales of this beer to the NMSS as part of their annual Climb to the Top fundraiser. We’ll run up all 66 flights of stairs at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to raise money for research and support programs for people living with MS.
As far as tasting notes go, last year’s batch had a crisp, pithy bitterness at the end of each sip, but I get more of a clean hop aroma and flavor in this year’s batch. Specifically, it has bright citrus and piney aromas and a juicy mouthfeel and flavor that’s so desirable in today’s IPAs.
This is the long-awaited second installment in our Atomic Series of double IPAs. It seems like a new hop variety is released every week. For a small craft brewery always looking to be creative and produce new and different flavors, we love to experiment with the latest and greatest hops on the market. For Neutron we’re using Eureka, which is supposed to give a piney, dank, resinous character; Denali, which we’ve used before and gives a nice citrusy, pineapple aroma and an experimental hop whose name is just a number, X06297. One of the notes on X06297 is that it gives a vanilla, orange creamsicle flavor that really intrigued me.
as told by Evan Klein, brewmaster and owner Money, 7.3%
The name started as a joke at the brewery. Running a small brewery, we aren’t exactly rolling in the dough, so what better way to make money than to brew it? Money was originally conceived as a bright West Coast-style IPA with big fruit-bowl hop aromas and flavors and a lingering bitterness. Due to some minor changes to our house ale yeast and more dry-hopping, it still retains some of that bitterness and dankness, but now it has some softer and fruitier hop flavors that round out the beer. Maris Otter is the main player in terms of malt accompanied by big hop additions of Citra, Azaca and Simcoe. We bottled Money for a year before we started canning it.
Suite is one of our first IPAs to be designed more in the New England style. The artwork is sort of a little play on the word itself. The label is a bright 1980s hotel suite with a butler presenting a tray full of big juicy, citrusy fruit and that’s what you get here in terms of aroma and flavor. We’re fans of the Mosaic hop and here it gives big aromas of blueberry, papaya and tangerine. El Dorado is an- other big player, giving flavors like watermelon, stone fruit and pear. We top it off with additions of Comet, which give flavors and aromas of citrus and grapefruit.