is a member of the North
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|It’s not polite to eavesdrop but other than putting your fingers in your ears and humming “Schafer is the one beer to
have when you’re having more than one…”sometimes it’s impossible not to. That was just case when I found myself
in the Libertine Pub which, by the way, is a great place to be found. I sat a few seats away from two gentlemen who
were involved in a rather loud discussion about beer. Quietly calling the bartender over I subtly asked who the two
loudmouths were that were acting like they forgot more about beer than Michael “Beer Hunter Jackson ever knew.
He whispered, “They’re both professional brewers, not home brewers pretending to know what they’re doing. One
went to Siebel in Chicago and the other to UC Davis in California. It doesn’t get any better than that.” I have to admit
those are two prestigious institutions but since I learned all about beer in an equally well regarded learning facility, PS
15, I wasn’t overly impressed. Although beer education at PS. 15 focused mainly on consumption rather than
production education is still education.
The brewers’ discussion really got loud when they started on what for them was obviously a touchy subject – New
England IPAs. It was either that the topic hit a sore spot or they were on their fifth pint, or both. Before we proceed
any farther, following this column’s policy of semi-full disclosure, I am a big fan of NEIPA. I can vividly recall my first
sip of the pioneer brew and in many ways still the best of the style, Heady Topper. At the time Heady was a treasure
unavailable to almost anyone who didn’t wait in line for hours at the Alchemist in Waterbury, Vt. Somehow, however,
it seemed that every serious beer drinker knew someone who knew someone who knew someone that went there and
was offering a can for sale at a hefty price. It was the free market system at it’s best.
Heady is overflowing with flavors of tropical fruit, pine, and a lovely, light citrus bitterness. And it was hazy. Really
hazy. Of course if you followed the directions on the can you wouldn’t know it. Boldly printed on every can of Heady
is “Drink from the Can – Drink From The Can - Drink From The Can.” The large black letters clearly made the intent
of the direction clear – this is an order not a suggestion. The alleged reason for this was that if you drank it from the
can you would get a more intense aroma. Some cynical folks countered by suggesting the real reason was simply
because they didn’t want the drinker see how cloudy the beer actually was and wonder how sick they would get by
drinking all those floating particles. Being a law abiding citizen I of course took several long sips directly from the
can….. before pouring some into a glass. Maybe I was a victim of suggestion but it seemed the beer tasted better
from the can.
Health intact after downing the hazy concoction I tried to find out what caused those dense clouds in the glass.
Research let me even more confused. Some sources said it’s the result of heavy-handed late and dry hopping that
the beer demands. Others pointed to the yeast that fails to settle out of solution. That is called flocculation (yes I
really did take the Beer Judge Certification class)— which other yeast styles are known for. Others took a middle
road saying it was most likely due to a combination of both with the addition of oats and wheat. Then there are the
cynics who say hazy beer is made by lazy brewers. They charge that a cloudy beer is really the result of any number
of bad brewing techniques with the two biggest culprits being breweries are selling beer before it gets the proper rest
time after fermentation and not being precise in the temperatures used for boiling and fermenting the beer.
The two brewers near me were definitely in the anti-NEIPA camp..They even went as far as to say the haze was due
to breweries putting flour in their beer to give it a turbid appearance. I don’t know about that but personally I think
these two guys once tried to brew a NEIPA and it simply wasn’t very good. If you can’t join them, criticize them.
I do however wonder why a noted celebrity brewer like Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewing came out against the
style saying its shelf life is too short to be a commercial success and that it's a beer based on an Instagram culture
and social media. Wait, doesn’t a regular IPA have a short shelf life, so what’s the big deal? Case in point, I don’t
buy a regular IPA over one or at most two months old and never buy an undated can. As for social media fueling the
beer’s popularity I doubt if any media onslaught could make a bad beer into a national craze. Say what you will about
NEIPAs but they sell and sell and sell. With all due respect to Mr. Oliver most professional brewers are in business to
make what their customers want. If you don’t want to make it then fine, just don’t expect me to buy beer I don’t really
Brooklyn may be giving a thumbs down to hazy beer but the same can’t be said for two of the country’s largest craft
brewers Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer. Sierra introduced Hazy Little Thing I.P.A. in a few areas a month ago. I’ve
never tried it but lets hope it’s more than just a thing that’s a little hazy. Boston Beer has begun selling its New
England I.P.A. in that region, and will go nationwide shortly. Considering the financial woes of Boston Beer and the
string of flops they’ve had recently (have you tried their new Sam Adams 76?) this might be a good move. I don’t
hold out much hope for either since somehow the best of brewing intentions sometimes get thrown out with the yeast
dregs as breweries try to widen appeal by dumbing down their beer. Nonetheless I’ll try them at least once. I admit to
usually buying something just because it’s new. I even purchased a six pack of Budweiser’s Pre-Prohibition Special
Limited Release Lager. The only good things I can say about it is that the bottle had a great retro shape and the
label was a classic beauty.
It is true that NEIPAs short shelf life seem to defy large-scale production and cross-country shipping which explains
why small local breweries seem to make the best ones. Indeed, some of the finest NEIPAs I’ve had were at tasting
rooms of breweries that barely distribute to retail outlets. Ah, but if you can believe the two brewers who were getting
more inebriated by the minute, Sierra is employing a trick for quality control when sending kegs to restaurants and
bars. The company instructs distributors to ship them upside down. That way, the bartender is forced to flip them
upon delivery, stirring up the proteins and restoring the haze. Even if it isn’t true it sounds like it should be.
In the world of craft beer IPA is king. Nearly 25% of all craft beer sold is an IPA. There are West Coast versions that
often feature Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, and Citra hops made to bring piney, citrusy, resinous flavors to the
brew. There are bitter, hop laden Black IPAs made with robust, roasted dark malts. There are English IPAs with their
smooth malt sweetness and a crisp, lightly bitter finish. And now there is New England IPA. Isn't it nice to know that
New England is famous for something other than the football Patriots?
As I was nearing the bottom of my third glass of Neshaminy Creek Shape of Hops To Come (yes, I know it’s not from
New England) I noticed the conversation of the brewers turned from how much they disliked NEIPA to how much they
downright hated sour beers. “Ten years ago we would have thrown those sour brews away as a batch gone bad.
Now they’re putting the stuff in tanks and selling it. That crazy.” said one of them. His cohort nodded in equal disgust
and disbelief. Huh? I really like sour beer. Like NEIPA, it is a sales and taste phenomenon giving beer fans
something new, exciting and different to try. Like fine wines sour beers are often blended and aged in oak barrels to
create a beautiful balance between sweetness with acidity. What’s not to like there?
As I was ordering my final glass of the evening I whispered to the bartender, “Those two guys don’t seem to like
anything new. Where do they brew? I want to know so I don’t go there.” He replied, “don’t worry, they’re
Gee, what a shock.
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