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Unlock the Secrets of New England–Style IPAs

New England–style IPA is a perfect example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Neil Fisher, head brewer at WeldWerks Brewing Co. in Greeley, Colorado, shares some tips on brewing one.

Neil Fisher February 17, 2017

Unlock the Secrets of New England–Style IPAs Primary Image

In the short eighteen months that I have been a professional brewer, I’ve learned that there are some brewing traditions that are harder to change than others. It seems that as of late, appearance (specifically clarity) has remained at the top of the “do not change” list in the eyes of many experienced, talented brewers whom I respect and admire. However, I have found myself in a difficult position, thanks to my recent love affair with a relatively new style that completely disregards the importance of a beer’s clarity in favor of pushing beer to new limits: New England–style IPAs (New England IPAs, for short).

And appearance isn’t the only controversial aspect of New England IPAs. In fact, even the name of the style itself seems to be a hot-button topic in various craft-beer circles across the country, with some claiming that breweries in Oregon were brewing it long before those in Vermont and Massachusetts. I’m not here to argue the merits of the style or even discuss its history. I have already come to the conclusion that it is a style I enjoy drinking and brewing, and many consumers across the country have come to the same conclusion, as evidenced by how fast the style has grown in popularity in such a short amount of time. So let’s move on to understanding more about the style and how to brew it.

Style Guidelines

In my opinion, there are six characteristics that help distinguish New England IPAs from other IPAs:

  • Higher protein malts, such as wheat and oats, in the grist
  • Use of contemporary, fruit-forward hops varietals
  • Restrained bitterness from fewer kettle-hops additions and higher whirlpool-hops rates
  • Adjusted water chemistry to favor higher chloride levels than typical for IPAs
  • Fermenting with a low-attenuating, low-flocculating, ester-forward yeast strain
  • Unique dry-hopping techniques and schedules, including dry hopping during fermentation

Notice I didn’t mention haziness or turbidity as a primary characteristic of the style—that’s because I believe the appearance is simply a by-product of the way the beer is designed and brewed and shouldn’t necessarily be considered a goal or benchmark for the style. And yet appearance seems to be intrinsically linked to the style, so it may be a consideration for some when brewing.

Many of the techniques to achieve the characteristics have been implemented for years in IPAs all over the world, but what makes the New England IPAs unique is the combination of all of these techniques and characteristics. The result is an IPA with a surprisingly soft and pillowy—yet also full and creamy—mouthfeel, brimming with ripe, juicy, fruit-forward hops flavors and aroma, complemented by the stone-fruit and tropical-fruit esters produced by expressive yeast strains. This all happens with a somewhat subdued bitterness to enhance drinkability and to allow the complexity of the hops character to come through. And while the style may or may not have originated in New England, great examples can be found across the country, and by the end of the year, I imagine we’ll see them become even more prevalent in the market.

Enough with the description, especially since New England IPA is not even an officially recognized style in any guideline yet (hopefully that changes in 2017, Brewers Association…ahem). Let’s talk about designing a recipe and how to brew a New England IPA.

Malt

The base malts for a New England IPA are very similar to those for other American IPAs and typically consist of pale, 2-row, or Pilsen malts and sometimes British pale malts such as Maris Otter, Pearl, or Golden Promise. But the specialty malts are a bit different. Many New England IPAs have abandoned crystal malts and instead rely on high-protein malts, such as wheat and oats, both for balance and for mouthfeel contributions. These malts also provide greater haze stability since the malt polyphenols from these high-protein malts serve as a binding point for hops polyphenols. The malt polyphenols keep hops polyphenols from dropping out of suspension and, as a result, produce a beer that remains hazy longer. Again, this shouldn’t be the goal when brewing this style, but this interaction may provide a bit more insight into the appearance of these IPAs.

Hops

The hops in New England IPAs are predominantly contemporary, fruit-forward varietals, especially ones known for their tropical-fruit and citrus character instead of more piney, resiny, dank varietals. Popular choices include Citra, Amarillo, Simcoe, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado. But one of the best aspects of the style is its experimental nature, so you can take some chances with new, experimental varietals that may not be widely available yet. Even classics such as Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus can be great additions to your New England IPA.

In terms of bitterness, New England IPAs are typically below 65–70 IBUs, despite total hops rates in the 3–5 lb/bbl (1.4–2.3 kg/bbl) range or higher, with 30–50 percent of those hops still being added on the hot side. This is accomplished with huge whirlpool hops additions and very little, if any, early kettle additions. At WeldWerks, we have had a lot of success with almost no hops additions until the whirlpool. Our whirlpool additions range from 1.5–1.75 lb/bbl (680–794 kg/bbl) total (0.77–0.9 oz/gal or 22–25 g/3.78 l), typically in 2–3 additions over 45–60 minutes. The tricky part is estimating hops utilization from your whirlpool additions—every case will be different, based on factors such as your brewing system and geographic location, but utilizations can range from 5–50 percent for hops added during the whirlpool, varying based on time and temperature.

The biggest concern with long whirlpool times is the conversion of S-methylmethionine (SMM) to dimethyl sulfides (DMS) after boiling is complete and before crashing to fermentation temperature. This is a subject I hope to research further at WeldWerks to better understand the risks of DMS (re)formation during whirlpool, hop stands, etc., but to date our sensory testing has not detected DMS in any of our IPAs, despite whirlpool times of an hour or more. However, it is certainly a risk you should be aware of when using longer whirlpool times.

Water Chemistry

Unlike West Coast IPAs, which typically feature higher sulfate levels, many New England IPAs favor higher chloride levels where water chemistry is concerned. More specifically, most New England IPAs target ratios of 1–3:1 of chloride to sulfate, which is typically the inverse of West Coast IPAs. Total chloride and sulfate amounts vary widely from brewery to brewery, but at WeldWerks we target about 150–175 ppm chloride and 75–100 ppm sulfate. The higher chloride level brings out more of the malt character, which helps enhance the mouthfeel and contributes to the overall balance of the beer. And the sulfate level is just high enough to accentuate the hops character without accentuating hops bitterness.

Fermentation

Yeast seems to be one of the better-kept secrets of the style with numerous rumors floating around about each brewery’s strain of choice. The truth is, each brewery has likely developed its own house strain by selecting unique mutations from multiple generations of use. But to achieve similar results, I recommend using a medium-to-low attenuating, medium-to-low flocculating, expressive, high ester-producing strain, such as London Ale III (Wyeast 1318), Dry English Ale (White Labs WLP007), or Vermont/Conan.

At WeldWerks, we have fermented all our New England IPAs with London Ale III (Wyeast 1318) with great results. Fermenting with these strains flies in the face of conventional wisdom for West Coast IPAs, which are typically fermented dry, clean, and clear, but New England IPAs are a different animal entirely. The lower attenuation helps balance the overwhelming hops character of the beer and also enhances the mouthfeel, keeping it full-bodied without being heavy or cloying. Using a more expressive yeast helps drive ester production, and these strains in particular are known for producing notes of peach, apricot, and even tropical fruit when fermented under the right conditions. This bold, fruity ester character pairs wonderfully with the fruit-forward, more contemporary hops commonly found in New England IPAs. The lower flocculation of these strains helps the bound malt and hops polyphenols remain in suspension longer, which improves haze stability. Again, haze is not a goal of the style, but it can affect the perception of hops flavor and hops aroma in certain instances.

Finally, we come to dry hopping. Dry-hop rates for New England IPAs can range from 1–2.5 lb/bbl (454 g–1.13 kg/bbl) or 0.5–1.3 oz/gal (14–37 g/3.8 l), and at WeldWerks, we target close to 1.75 lb/bbl (794 g/bbl) total. One of the most common practices among New England IPAs is dry hopping before the end of fermentation. We have had great results beginning our dry-hop additions at about 2–3° Plato from terminal gravity. This technique provides several benefits that can help enhance the hops character of your finished beer.

To begin with, the mechanical action of fermentation helps keep the hops in suspension and in motion, which can extract more flavor and aroma from the hops in a shorter period of time. And because the hops are added during active fermentation, there is lower risk of oxygen ingress in the finished beer, which keeps the hops character fresher longer. Alternatively, if fermentation is too vigorous, that same action and CO2 off-gassing can work to scrub hops aroma from the finished beer, so avoid dry hopping too early.

Furthermore, there has been a lot more speculation and research into the biotransformation of hops compounds that occurs when they interact with yeast during fermentation. More specifically, there have been claims that suggest certain yeast strains have the capability of transforming non-aromatic hops glycosides into aromatic terpenoids. While there is still a lot of research to be done to further substantiate these claims with more empirical data, our very modest sensory experiments at WeldWerks have suggested that the hops character expressed from dry-hop additions during fermentation is drastically different from the hops character expressed from the same hops used at the same rates added after fermentation. That is not to say that one method is necessarily better than the other, but that they are different. Again, this area in particular is one we are researching more at WeldWerks, so I suggest trying different dry-hopping techniques for yourself to decide which one you prefer.

While the professional brewing community will likely continue to debate the legitimacy of the New England IPA style for the foreseeable future, there is no question that it has already fostered a strong and devoted following among consumers, homebrewers, and commercial brewers alike. The style is a perfect example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The soft, pillowy mouthfeel; delicate ester character of the yeast; juicy, fruit-forward hops flavor and aroma; and restrained bitterness are all characteristics that can be found separately in some of the most popular IPAs in the country. But when combined into one style, they produce an IPA unrivaled in the combination of complexity, drinkability, and creativity. New England IPAs epitomize the innovative and experimental spirit of craft beer, and I am excited to see how the style will continue to evolve in the years to come.

Check out Neil’s recipe for Juicy Bits New England–Style IPA.

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PHOTO: MATT GRAVES

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