Whether "New England Style" (NE style) pale ales and IPAs are in fact new styles are a matter of some debate. While there are breweries outside of New England and even the northeast creating them, the style is most prevalent in New England. What isn't debatable is the impact these beers are having on the marketplace as large national and regional craft brewers are losing market share to smaller brewers. Wachusett, a venerable regional craft brewer with roots going back to 1994 is getting into the game releasing their own NE style IPA called Wally.
Even more than any other IPA, freshness is key with NE IPAs. The hop aroma and flavor the style is known for can fade quickly. This gives smaller NE IPA producers have a huge advantage over larger brewers. Tree House and Trillium typically sell their beer the same day, or no more than a few days after it is canned. Customers line up, and more often than not that day's allotment of cans sells out. Producers of the style who distribute like Maine Beer Company are judicious in their allotments to retailers to ensure the beer doesn't sit for too long.
In contrast, Founders tells retailers that All Day IPA is fresh up to 120 days from packaging date. The beer is in cans, and if stored cold the beer probably is perfectly fine. However, if a discerning buyer checks the date of All Day IPA or another national brand, and then checks the date of a smaller local producer, which one will the customer choose?
Brewing A New England Style IPA
As homebrewers we enjoy a similar advantage when it comes to freshness. If you are the type of brewer that will brew a five gallon batch, and keep it on tap for several months as you slowly drink it, NE IPA might not be the best style for you to brew. When I brew NE pale ales and IPAs I usually brew smaller batches, or I'll brew it for a special event where I know the beer will be kicked.
Bottling vs. Kegging: If you are bottle conditioning a NE IPA, add even more dry hops to the beer to compensate for the hop character you will lose while the beer conditions. Kegging is preferable to bottling if you can keg. Some brewers will dry hop in a keg, and use CO2 to push the beer to a separate purged serving keg to avoid exposing the beer to oxygen.
Grain Bill: Compared to West Coast IPAs where all of the character in the beer is from the hops, NE IPAs can be a bit more broad and complex. There are certainly commercial examples of NE IPA that use regular US 2-row malt and Chico yeast, but there are also examples that use more flavorful British base malts and estery yeasts. Any malt and yeast character should still be in the background, but there is room for interpretation. If you do a side-by-side tasting of The Alchemist's Heady Topper and Lawson's Finest Liquids' Sip of Sunshine, that will give you an idea of the breadth of the style.
As a hop forward style, crystal malts should not be used, or used in very small quantities. If you have a house IPA recipe and want to convert it to a NE IPA, replacing the crystal malt with flaked wheat, barley, or oats is a good start. The flaked grains will provide the body and head retention that crystal malt would have, but without a cloying sweetness. A small amount of Munich malt can also be used to add color and a bit of malt flavor.
If brewing a NE IPA with extract, I wouldn't suggest using flaked grains unless you are going to do a partial-mash. A grist of 95% Golden Light extract and 5% corn sugar will approximate the body and mouthfeel of the style. Subbing out some light extract with wheat extract wouldn't be a bad idea either. If employing a partial boil, make sure to utilize a late extract addition to ensure proper hop utilization and guard against kettle Caramelization.
The Hazy Appearance: More than anything else the style is known for it's hazy appearance. When John Kimmich designed Heady Topper, he didn't try to make a hazy beer. He wanted to make the best IPA he could, and it just happened to be hazy. Backlash brewed their Ricochet IPA with and without biofine, and brewer Helder Pimintel found he greatly perfected the hazier batch. When brewing a NE IPA at home hold off on the whirlfloc. Irish moss, biofine, gelatin, or isinglass.
Hop Selection: For hop selection, the newer hops with more of a stone fruit-type flavor and aroma are excellent choices. In particular the new hop varieties coming out of the US and Australia like Mosaic, Equinox, Azacca, Nelson, and Vic Secret. That doesn't mean a homebrewer you should be married to the latest and greatest hard to find hops. Last summer I brewed a wonderful NE IPA using only free hops I brought home from HomebrewCon: Pekko, Idaho 007, and Triple Perle.
Many of the prominent NE IPA producers started as exceedingly small operations. As such, they didn't have the ability to contract for every hop they wanted. Noah Bissell designed Bissell Brothers' flagship IPA, The Substance, specifically to use less sought-after hop varieties that he knew they could get. Noah emailed me the recipe in 2014, and I posted the recipe on the HBT recipe database. Hop availability is why commercial brewers use complex blends of hops. If one of seven hops used in a recipe isn't available and needs to be substituted, the change in flavor should be far less noticeable. It is also why brewers have rotating IPA series like Night Shift's Morph.
More critical than hop selection is the timing of the hop additions. A very small bittering charge at 60 minutes or a first wort hop addition is all you need before flameout. The idea is to have just enough hop bitterness to supply balance without producing a bitter beer.. Commercial brewers will then add hops after flameout during the whirlpool stage. A homebrewer can use pumps to recirculate the wort to create a whirlpool. A stir with a spoon can also work. You will extract some bitterness from the whirlpool hops. BeerSmith gives you as good of an estimate as you can get of exactly how much bitterness you are getting from the whirlpool additions.
Dry hopping is everything in this style. In particular what Michael Tonsmeire describes as biotransformation. Contrary to previous orthodoxy, dry hopping during active fermentation is critical. The way the dry hops interact with the fermenting yeast gives the beer its "juicy" hop flavor. I advise everyone I talk to who is brewing the style to add 1/3 to 1/2 of their dry hops during active fermentation to obtain the haze and juicy hop flavor the beer is supposed to have. The rest of the dry hops can be added 5-10 days before packaging to punch up the hop aroma.
Yeast Selection: One of the mythical aspects of the style was the Alchemist's "Conan" yeast strain. Before several small yeast labs propagated Conan, home brewers who made the trek up to northern Vermont would culture Conan from cans of Heady. Conan with it's high attenuation leaves plenty of yeast in suspension. It also has a wonderful peach ester profile which compliments the hop flavor perfectly.
The other popular yeast used in NE IPAs is Wyeast 1318 London Ale III. My first experiences with 1318 I brewed bitters, milds, and old ale and a milk stout. Used in traditional English styles 1318 leaves a beautifully clear beer. There is something about how the yeast interacts with dry hops that it stays in suspension and leaves a hazy NE IPA. Always known for it's fruity esters, 1318 with it's moderate attenuation leaves a nice soft mouthfeel that is another hallmark of the style. I work one day a week at a LHBS in Cambridge, Mass, and every week it is a struggle to keep 1318 in stock.
As with the hops, there isn't a need to be married to these sought-after yeasts. Plenty of commercial brewers still use Chico to make NE IPAs. I have personally used Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale and 1187 Ringwood Ale and found that both worked really well.
In my experience the beer should finish with an FG of 1.010 to 1.015 to have the soft mouthfeel it needs. When selecting your yeast, you may need to adjust your mash temperature and percentage of flaked adjuncts to finish in that range. The last time I used Conan in a regular-strength IPA, 25% of my grist was flaked adjuncts and I mashed at 152F. The recipe below is using Chico, so my grist is only 16.4% flaked wheat, and I am mashing a little bit lower.
Water Profile: The other contributor to the soft mouthfeel is water. Conventional wisdom is that sulfates in water accentuate hop character, while chlorides accentuate malt. When brewing a traditional IPA a 3:1 ratio of sulfates to chlorides was the rule of thumb. With a NE IPA, that orthodoxy is flipped on its head. I've played around with ratios of 2:1 and even 1:1. A friend in my homebrew club brewed the closest NE IPA to Tree House that I have ever tasted. He knows far more about water chemistry than I do, and in that beer he used a ratio of 1:3 sulfates to chlorides. Also when using this many pale malts monitoring the pH of your mash is also critical.
Luckily my municipal water is high in chlorides. I am going to try that 1:3 ratio here. This is a bit of a kitchen sink brew. Based on a previous recipe, I tweaked it to use up leftover ingredients from previous batches. I also grabbed a couple of hops from my LHBS' "experimental" section. As a last minute brew day, Safale S05 from Fermentis should do the trick:
My New England Style IPA Recipe
Batch Size: 3 gal
Efficiency: 70.00 %
6 lbs - Brewers Malt 2-Row
1 lbs 6.0 oz - Flaked Wheat
1 lbs - Borlander Munich Malt
Mash Temp: 150.0 F
Mash Out : 168F - 10 min
Yeast: Safale 05 / Chico
0.25oz - Bravo - First Wort Hop
0.25oz - Topaz - First Wort Hop
0.25oz - Bravo - 15 minute Whirlpool
0.25oz - Equinox -15 minute Whirlpool
0.25oz - Mosaic -15 minute Whirlpool
0.25oz - Bravo - 15 minute Whirlpool
0.75oz - Equinox - 15 Days
0.75oz - Mosaic - 15 Days
0.5oz - Bravo - 15 Days
0.5oz - Topaz - 15 Days
0.25oz - HBC 438 - 15 Days
1oz - Equinox - 15 Days
2oz - Mosaic - 5 Days
1oz - Bravo - 5 Days1oz - Topaz - 5 Days
0.75oz - HBC 438 - 5 Days
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