Even in New England, brewers of what’s become known as “New England–style IPA” have to deal with a lot of misconceptions about their beer. These soft juicy beers surprise drinkers with attributes such as haze and creaminess that aren’t typically associated with IPA—negative connotations and cheap rhymes about laziness ensue.
Great Notion Brewing in Portland, Oregon, has experienced more than their fair share of naysayers, in large part because their IPAs are drastically different from the clear, sometimes malty, and usually aggressively bitter India pale ales for which the region is known. Co-founder and Co-brewer Andy Miller says that in the brewery’s early days, customers would give back pints and accounts would return kegs because they weren’t used to seeing haze in their beers. One customer was so audacious as to tell him that he would never make it in such a competitive beer town as Portland.
Miller was a homebrew hobbyist before going pro, and his lack of professional brewing experience didn’t help with the misunderstandings Great Notion customers had with his IPA.
That was in early 2016 when Miller, Co-founder and Co-brewer James Dugan, and Co-founder and CEO Paul Reiter (who all happen to live on the same block) launched Great Notion Brewing in what was formerly The Mash Tun Brewpub on Alberta Street. They named the business as a nod to Oregon’s most famous novelist and novel, Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. Flash forward one year, and Great Notion is already undergoing major expansion, opening a second location that will include a new 30-barrel brewhouse, a taproom, and a restaurant that is slated to open in late 2017. Needless to say, the hazy IPAs caught on.
“We are seeing tons of customers these days who previously thought they hated IPAs, when they actually just hated bitter beers,” says Reiter. “They thought they hated hoppy beers but love our IPAs, which include more hops than most beers they’ve ever previously tried. They just don’t like West Coast bitter IPAs. We hear every day, ‘I thought I hated IPAs, but I love GNB’s.’”
In a very short time, Great Notion’s IPAs have become integral to the conversation about this juicy, hazy subcategory of IPA. One of those beers is Ripe, a Citra- and Mosaic-hopped, 6 percent ABV IPA with fresh, tropical notes of mango, papaya, and pineapple. The use of oats in this beer contributes to its smooth mouthfeel, as do the London Ale and Conan (Vermont Ale) yeast strains that Miller uses to ferment this beer. “We’ve used Imperial Organic Yeast’s A38 Juice [their version of London Ale] and A04 Barbarian [their version of Conan] interchangeably,” he says. “We love each one for different reasons. Juice is very fruity with a softness to it. It also finishes with some sweetness even if you don’t see it in the hydrometer reading. It doesn’t like high ABV, and it doesn’t like to flocculate.”
The Barbarian strain is much better at attenuating, especially further along in generations, Miller adds. “It also has this great peach-apricot-citrus thing going on. Barbarian can attenuate too much, so generally you would mash a little higher than you would with Juice.”
Great Notion is also well-known for Juice Box, an imperial 8.2 percent ABV IPA that’s brewed with more than 4 pounds of hops per barrel. Its Mosaic-hopped little brother, Juice Jr., weighs in at 6 percent ABV.
“They have very similar grain bills,” Miller says. “Juice Box has a few more bags of base malt and sugar in the recipe to make it a double. Making single IPAs and doubles, we struggle with different things. With a single, especially 6 percent ABV, we are fighting to keep our final gravity from getting too low. We do that by mashing high, at 153–155°F (67–68°C) depending on the beer. We also use dextrine malts for that purpose and tend to leave simple sugars out of the recipe. When we make a double, we are fighting to do the opposite. We mash low, do not use dextrine malts, and use simple sugars to help dry it out.”
With any hazy IPA, Miller explains, you want your chloride to sulfate ratio to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:1 to 2:1 in favor of chloride. This creates a fuller, softer mouthfeel and lets the fruit-forward and juicy flavors of the hops really shine, he says.
“I think the most important thing for [brewers] is to taste the beer in every part of the process,” says Miller. “Smell your hops before you dry hop. If they don’t smell awesome, use something else. Taste your wort and get accustomed to the bitterness level that you like. Some hops can have an unpleasant bitterness, and you will taste it in the wort. Taste the grain before you mash in. It will help develop your palate.”
You might have gathered from Great Notion’s beer names that the brewery draws inspiration from the culinary world. “We are foodies,” says Reiter. “So besides New England–style IPAs, we also specialize in ‘culinary-inspired’ sours and stouts. Many of our beers are named after food dishes, such as a Double Stack (imperial stout) of pancakes or Blueberry Muffin (sour ale) or Key Lime Pie (gose).”
Great Notion has put itself on the map for its unorthodox approach to IPA brewing and abstract, food-friendly beer flavors, and also through the many brewery collaborations they’re participating in across the country. Fort George Brewery in Astoria invited Great Notion and Reuben’s Brews (Seattle) to brew the 3-Way IPA with them. This beer, a symbol of the upcoming summer, is a Fort George annual tradition. Each year they ask two other breweries known for their IPAs to participate. The 3-Way IPA 2017 is an unfiltered, fruit-forward IPA brewed with Azacca, X331, Mosaic, and Citra hops. The beer will be available on draft at select Northwest locations and in cans this summer. “Adam Robbings is making some amazing beer at Reuben’s. And the Fort George guys are awesome. Not only do they make good beer, but they are really good people,” says Miller.
In less than two years, Great Notion has proven itself more than capable of brewing world-class beer, despite its unprecedented approach to IPA for its location and homebrew-only background. They’re proud of their New England–style IPA, and they hope that their business will always be an extension of their garage.
Photo by Leslie Montgomery