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Wrap your head around “New England-style” India pale lagers

"With this, we’re trying to fight against everything that makes a lager a lager."
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Jack's Abby and Søle Artisan Ales' Wicked Philthy | Photo by MediaBoss TV

Jack’s Abby and Søle Artisan Ales’ Wicked Philthy | Photo by MediaBoss TV

Just as so-called Northeast or New England-style IPAs move toward the mainstream, brewers have found another way to confound stylistic expectations—and, in the process, ruffle a few feathers. Enter the latest innovation: New England-style IPLs. Yes, that’s IPL with an L, as in India pale lager.

A bit of context: New England- or Northeast-style (we’ll use NE-style going forward to account for both) IPAs emerged a few years ago in that region as a subset of IPAs with less hop bitterness, more juicy-fruity hop flavors, a hazy or cloudy appearance and a softer, creamier mouthfeel. They stand primarily in contrast to West Coast IPAs, the clean, often piny- or pithy-bitter IPAs that came to represent how Americans define the style.

Once the provenance of small, cult-favorite breweries like The Alchemist, Treehouse and others, the new NE-substyle has gained popularity in the last year or so. Even decidedly West Coast-located Coronado Brewing makes one.

So just as a subset of American drinkers were getting used to a hazy, less bitter IPA, along came the IPL to really mess with expectations.

“We want to make sure we’re pushing the boundaries of what people expect from a lager,” says Jack Hendler, co-owner and brewer at Jack’s Abby, a primarily lager-focused brewery in Framingham, Massachusetts.

He’s pushing those boundaries with Wicked Philthy, a collaboration NE-style IPL released a few weeks ago by Jack’s Abby and Easton, Pennsylvania-based Søle Artisan Ales.

“We were trying to bring the best of what each of us did. They’re certainly well-known for their hoppy IPAs; we’re well known for brewing lagers. So it seemed a natural fit to try to translate the hoppy characteristics of the IPAs they’re doing to the lagers that we produce,” Hendler says.

He’s not the only one treading into these murky waters (heh): Darren Finnegan, brewer at the forthcoming Lost Valley Brewing Co. in Auburn, Maine, has created a test batch of a NE-style IPL that he hopes will become a regular offering when the brewery opens this summer. Finnegan’s experiment began when he realized the brewing room he’d be using was fairly chilly at about 50-55 degrees year-round (the brewery is located at a ski resort). So Finnegan replicated those conditions in his brewing room and attempted his tried-and-true NEIPA recipe with a lager yeast and six weeks of lagering time.

“Because the temperature of that room, this is one of those ‘adapt to your environment’ beers,” Finnegan says. “I definitely plan on doing this beer again. It’s still hazy; it’s got the flaked oats for that mouthfeel; it’s like you’re pouring a Bissell Brothers Substance in your glass. … But the lager yeast still gives it a crispness. People drinking it found it lemon-zesty from the Citra hops. It was delicious.”

This substylistic hybrid—IPLs themselves being a niche within lagers—has a few notable characteristics that set it apart from other lagers, even the hopped ones. Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures than ales, lending them their signature clarity and clean-crisp finish. But the NEIPA’s features couldn’t be further from that.

“With the Northeast style, you’re looking for a softer mouthfeel, less bitterness, and visuals really come into play. … With our lager fermentation and process, creating that haze is a challenge. So the question was, can we create a consistent haze for a lager?”

The answer, in terms of Wicked Philthy, came in a few forms: First, Hendler altered the mineral profile of the water he normally brews with, creating a fuller mouthfeel for the beer. Second, brewers dry-hopped the crap out of it: 4.5 pounds of Amarillo and Calypso dry hops went in to each barrel of this beer, the highest hopping rate for any Jack’s Abby beer ever. Wicked Philthy then lagered for a full month.

The resulting beer was generally what Hendler says he was hoping for, and distributors bought up the brewery’s entire supply of it within the week it released. Still, he acknowledges, there is room for tweaking in such uncharted stylistic territory.

“We got a really unique flavor out of it and we learned a lot about what it would take to do a Northeast IPL. It’s funny to say from someone who brews a lot of hoppy beers, but it was almost too bitter for what we were thinking of achieving,” he says. “The whole point of lagering beer in cold places was to clarify beer, so with this we’re trying to fight against everything that makes a lager a lager. It’s going to take a little more time to figure this out.”

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