New England IPA: hype & disappointment

I’ve been thinking about brewing a New England IPA (NEIPA). The style has been hugely popular for several years now. I first learnt about it maybe three or four years ago when Sam Haldane from Shennanigans sent me some articles about it. He sent me the articles because he knew I really liked the Wyeast London Ale III (1318) which is one of the preferred yeast strains for the style. I find the 1318 is a nice soft yeast despite being reasonably attenuative, and it brings up the hop nicely.

I’ve read other things about the style, my understanding is that the originators wanted lots of hop flavour and aroma without the excessive bitterness of West Coast IPAs. While I’m not a fan of the citrusy US hops I am really sympathetic to the project. I find too many American IPAs smell great in the glass but when you drink them the bitterness just kills any aroma and flavour from the hops.

Yet in all this time I have never drunk a NEIPA – until the other evening. On Tuesday I bought two cans of local NEIPA – on from Sydney, the other from Melbourne. What a disappointment!

Usually the word for NEIPAs is juicy. Now to me juicy suggests not just flavour but sensuality as well: soft and sweet. A juicy mango or strawberry, a juicy piece of eye filet, a juicy tomato. A plain old fruit juice has a sweetness and mouth filling texture to it. Next time you drink some orange juice – take a little time with it, smell the juice in the glass, hold in your mouth and swallow it slowly. This is sort of thing I was keyed up to expect. Was I disappointed.

We, Ryoko and I, tried the Sydney one first. It certainly smelt like a breakfast juice in the glass, but in the mouth that went missing. The beer was dry and bitter (40 IBU or a bit less I guess). The Melbourne one had less aroma, was similarly dry and a little more bitter (40 to 45 IBU). Both beers were one dimensional, apart from the bitterness there was nothing else really happening, not much mouthfeel or malt flavour. The bitterness in both lingered nicely but by itself it’s boring. I also got the sneaking feeling that there might have been some US-05 involved, but I’m prepared to be wrong. Both of these beers are reckoned to be pretty good local examples of the style.

So why is the style so popular? Is it just hype? There is a lot of “bandwagonism” in the small brewery industry

Anyway, I still want to have a go at something like this. I brewed a trial beer before Christmas and thought it not too good – 20% flaked oats is too much, there’s a harsh edge in the beer. But since the other night I have decided that maybe my blind attempt is not that bad after all. Some extra conditioning and dry hopping and I could put it on in the brewery and see what people think.

I’d like to do a brew and take maybe 600 or 700 litres for wort kits and ferment the rest to do some bottles and kegs. I’ll have to wait until suitable new season hops are available, which would allow me to do another trial brew.

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