Remember the bone-rattling brilliance of Nirvana? When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” crashed into the zeitgeist, the genius was undeniable. But after years of having their sound co-opted, we eventually ended up with Nickleback, the musical equivalent of a dad wearing jorts and crocs.
It’s a common story. Something authentic and cool enters the culture, and before you know it, it gets copied so many times it threatens the validity of the entire movement. It’s the way we went from Pearl Jam to Creed.
Can you take me higher? No, Creed, you cannot.
The craft beer world is in the throes of a similar phenomenon with the controversial New England-style IPA. This hazy, fruit juice IPA subgenre is quickly taking over the beer world. While some claim it’s not even a real style of beer, it’s getting slapped onto beer labels all over this country.
With beer fans forking over mountains of cash for New England-style IPAs, it’s no surprise that most breweries — from nano to macro — are rushing cloudy, juice-forward beers to market. But in this arms race for the next line-inducing juice bomb, I wonder if this craze could implode on itself.
Because let’s face it, there are some bad New England-style IPAs out there loaded with off-flavors and so murky it looks like the bartender poured it from the septic line instead of the draft line.
At their best, New England-style IPAs are sublime. They’re a celebration of juicy, dank hop strands like Mosaic, Citra, Galaxy, El Dorado and Amarillo hops. Their hazy hue leads to a full-bodied mouthfeel that coats the tongue with tropical resins. They finish with a sweet maltiness akin to thick grapefruit juice.
The IPAs that founded this movement and continue to set the standard are beers like Heady Topper from The Alchemist in Vermont and Julius from Tree House Brewing in Massachusetts, along with Maine Beer Company’s Dinner and Bissell Brothers’ The Substance from right here in Maine.
Of course, if you asked any of these brewers if they were making New England-style IPAs, they’d probably tell you to get bent. The same way Kurt Cobain would have responded if you asked him if his music was grunge. The guys who create the genre never name it.
The idea for this column was first conceived when Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing started distributing Two Juicy to Maine. This double IPA has the label “New England Style IPA” on the can. To my palate, Two Juicy was wildly underwhelming with muted flavors and a cloudiness that didn’t result in a full-bodied mouthfeel. A New England style-IPA should make you believe in a higher power; this one does not. It’s fine, but we should demand more from a New England-style IPA. It might not be Nickleback, but it’s how we eventually get to Nickleback.
While we’re on the subject of pedestrian New England-style IPAs, the much-lauded Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids was distributed to Maine for the first time this July to a resounding shoulder shrug from many beer drinkers. Lawson’s hard-to-get Double Sunshine IPA, brewed in Vermont, is an orgastic New England-style IPA; the Sip of Sunshine that’s now distributed to Maine is brewed in Connecticut (at Two Roads, mind you) and, to be honest, is middling at best.
And Maine brewers aren’t without guilt in pushing hazy IPAs out to market that could have used more work in the pilot stages. The first few times I tried Clover from One Eye Open Brewing in Portland, the flavors were completely muddled and the hue was more sludge than haze, and I haven’t tried it since. They were a brand-new brewery at the time, but if you put a New England-style IPA out to market in this current beer climate, it had better be great.
A beer can be cloudy as a result of any number of bad brewing techniques. Two of the biggest culprits we’re seeing now 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.
There are even rumors of breweries putting flour in their beer to give it a turbid appearance. God help us all if that rumor is true.
The future of this beer style lies in the hands of us, the faithful beer drinkers. Don’t fall for an IPA just because it’s cloudy or is labeled a New England-style IPA. Be discerning. Send back bad pints of hazy IPAs at bars. The best way to get poorly crafted beers off the market is to not buy them. Demand only the best from our talented brewers. Let’s keep the standards by which we hold the New England-style IPA at its highest — at all times — so we don’t look back and realize we chose Nickleback when we had a chance at Nirvana.
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Ebenezer’s Belgian Beer Festival
Friday through Sunday, 44 Allen Road, Lovell. On Facebook
Ebenezer’s Pub has been lauded numerous times as the best beer bar in the world. Yeah, the world. And if you’re a fan of Belgian beer, you know why. With a bottle and draft list that will slake any beer lover, from novice to aficionado, Ebenezer’s is well worth the drive to sleepy Lovell. This weekend, Ebenezer’s throws its annual Belgian Beer Festival where it pulls out all the stops to celebrate Belgian beer. With celebrations happening all weekend long, get to Lovell to bask in the glory of Belgian-style brews.
Airshow Weekend at Flight Deck Brewing
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 11 Atlantic Ave., Brunswick. On Facebook
Located in a former naval base shooting range, Flight Deck Brewing is one of the most exciting new tasting rooms to visit in Maine. And there’s no better time to soak in its military heritage than with the iconic Great State of Maine Air Show at Brunswick Landing. This is a great opportunity to see the Blue Angels do their Fat Alberts and Opposing Knife-Edge Passes while sipping on craft beer. Expect food trucks, lawn games and live music.