Brewer’s Perspective: New England–Style IPAs
The journey to brewing a New England–style IPA was a long one for Ryan Brooks, brewmaster for San Diego’s award-winning Coronado Brewing Company. Initially skeptical, he became a convert through the process of research, culminating in two pivotal moments—the point at which he tasted the beer and the point at which the customers in the Coronado taproom did the same.
“One of our brewers was nerding out on this whole juicy, hazy IPA thing—beers with tons of low bitterness hops, 20–30 IBUs (which is like half of what we’d normally use in an IPA), and all of that focuesd on whirpool, late hopping, and dry hopping,” Brooks says.
With research, the brewers settled on Wyeast 1318 London Ale III (thought to be the Boddington’s strain), a yeast that Brooks found to be much more flocculent than expected. “It cleans up pretty well, but as long as you don’t fine it or treat it, it’ll stay in suspension and remain hazy,” he says.
With yeast decided, the brewers considered brewing a smaller beer such as a bitter or ESB to feed the yeast and step up to the larger amount they’d need to brew their goal 7.9 percent double IPA. But there was only one problem. “I loved the idea of brewing an ESB, and it’s one of my favorite styles, but no one in this market is buying beer under 4 percent.” Facing the reality of today’s craft-beer market, they plowed headfirst into what Brooks lovingly calls a “stupid unfiltered juicy IPA.”
Hops, Hops, and More Hops
For hops, he decided to use what they had on hand—some Columbus, some Centennial, Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic. The key differentiator for the hazy New England–style North Island IPA, as compared to their clear West Coast style (and World Beer Cup gold medal winning) Islander IPA, was hops timing and double dry hopping.
Brooks targeted a small 5 IBUs from his initial bittering charge and laid off the hops until 5 minutes left in the boil, when he added a bit more. He reserved “heavy” levels of hopping for the whirlpool and even more for the dry hopping. But Brooks was exceptionally finicky about dry-hops timing.
“After fermentation hits terminal gravity, we add dry hops, wait a day, drop those hops off, dry hop again with either the same varieties, or if we feel it’s not hitting what we want, we switch up the second dry hop to get the profile we’re looking for,” Brooks says. “It’s funny, but even when we use the exact dry hops mix, sometimes they come out more citrusy and danky and less fruity, so we need to reinforce more of the fruitier hops with our second dry hop. We pull samples from the tank, taste them, and make the call about what to use in the second dry hop.”
The process is more akin to a chef in a kitchen than the typical commercial brewing process.
Brooks’s suggestion for homebrewers doing it at home is to “just hop the shit out of it—both late on the hot side and in the dry hopping.” But don’t let those dry hops sit too long on the beer. While some brewers might let dry hops go for a week or more, Brooks prefers greater hops volume for less time.
“If we leave dry hops for longer than one or two days, we tend to get grassy flavors that we don’t find as desirable.”
Like many brewers, Brooks uses only freshly opened hops packages for dry hopping. If they reseal and refrigerate a package of hops, it might get used later on the hot side, but never on the cold side. Once hops come into contact with oxygen, the delicate fruity aromas and flavors diminish quickly. For homebrewers, he suggests using only nitrogen-flushed 2 oz or 4 oz packs of hops from BSG or similar because they haven’t been exposed to oxygen while being repacked.
“If you’re buying hops that have been split out of a larger bale by the shop or a smaller distributor, then you don’t always know how they were handled, how much oxygen is in the package, etc. Quality and handling make a big difference, especially in the dry hop.”
Making Do with Harder Water
“We have pretty hard water here in San Diego, and we don’t have a reverse osmosis system to strip the water down and start with the really soft water that many other brewers are using,” says Brooks. “But we do have a de-ionizing water unit and all the mash is 100 percent de-ionized water. For the sparge water we use a little bit of the DI water and some charcoal-filtered San Diego water, so we do try to cut it down and get that softer water profile, but it’s not perfect. Still, it seems to work.”
“We don’t target a specific sulfate to chloride ratio; we just use the same water regimen we use for our lagers—cut it down with the de-ionizer—but we don’t shoot for specific numbers.”
Like other brewers, Brooks has found Wyeast 1318 to have a shorter effective lifespan than other common brewing yeast.
“We’ve seen the London ale III strain crap out consistently around the fourth generation. It’s great on generations 2 and 3, but by 4 it is a little stressed. So when we roll this beer out for packaging, we’re bringing the beer down to 7–7.5 percent ABV from the 7.9 percent ABV we started out with, just to try to get another generation off of it.”
That makes it a costly beer from a commercial perspective. Homebrewers used to buying pitchables won’t notice, but when buying yeast by the industrial-sized drum, it’s a challenge to get so few generations from it—something reflected in the pricing for many breweries’ New England–style IPAs. On top of that, their inability to sell a smaller beer brewed with the same yeast means they can’t step up the yeast through different beers.
“It would be great it we could brew a bitter or ESB to start the yeast, then move it over, but that style of English beer doesn’t sell for us, so we just buy a crapload of yeast and start that way,” says Brooks.
The Process of Unlearning
One of the more difficult parts of brewing a New England–style IPA is unlearning the best practices that are beaten into brewers through years of school and professional work.
“Everything I learned just got thrown out the window. You don’t take time to let the beer mature. You don’t let the clarity get to where you think it should be. You just rush it, basically,” says Brooks. However, with this style, flavor matters more than tradition. “The first time we brewed it, the beer turned out super bold and big and people loved it. We made a 7 percent beer, hopped it like crazy toward the end of the whirlpool and then again just after fermentation in dry hop, then dry hopped it again two days later. Crashed it cold, carbonated it, let it settle out for a day, kegged it, and it was the fastest selling IPA we’ve ever done at any of our locations.”
Patrons didn’t seem to mind the slightly chalky finish that is common to the style, due to the yeast and hop polyphenols in suspension, and they cared even less about the objections of brewing traditionalists.
“There was some initial push-back here in the San Diego market—people hated the way it looked,” says Brooks. “I heard it all. But then they tasted it, and it tasted pretty good. To be honest, I’ve heard more Old School brewers criticize the style than the public or the beer nerds—they’re all about it. Most people now are willing to accept the way it looks because it tastes great, so we’ll run with that. They’re the ones buying the beer, and if it sells and people love it, then who am I to tell them it’s wrong?”
Packaging the Haze
One of the best things about the New England–style IPA for commercial breweries is the rapid rate of consumption. While most commercial breweries have to target a 90–120 day window for their beer and build hops profiles to peak later in the beer’s lifespan (in the 30 day+ timeframe when it’s most commonly consumed), many New England–style IPAs don’t make it a week past packaging. Consumers have been trained to drink it quickly, keep it cold, and not let it age at all. Bottle and can limits reinforce this “drink it quick” mentality. After two weeks, some drop off in hops intensity is noticeable. At one month, yeast flocculation in the package increases. Coronado is just now tackling packaging tests.
“We’ve just started hand bottling samples to do some longevity testing on them—up until now, the beer hasn’t lasted long enough for us to get some to test,” says Brooks. “I’m curious to see how it reacts at ambient temperatures—if it flocculates out, how much it flocs out, and what it tastes like. We’ve just launched a guava IPA that looks the same way—super hazy milky juicy looking—and we haven’t seen any flocculation issues with that. It’s still nice and hazy.”
It’s not clear whether distributors, shops, and consumers will treat the beer the way it should be treated, but that’s a problem with retail beer sales anywhere.
“We’re trying to do just small runs in the beginning, and hopefully it runs off the shelves pretty fast. We’re being choosy about what markets get it, too.”
“There are a lot of new beer drinkers out there, and this kind of beer is appealing to them,” Brooks finishes. “Think about when you first started drinking craft beer—your palate was young and excited to try new things, and brewers made big and bold IPAs, really acidic sours, and the most aggressive IBU beers you could get your hands on in order to appeal to them. So I think this generation of newer drinkers is all about that low IBU, big hops flavor juiciness. They’re excited to expand their palates, and they’re doing it with these flavorful beers instead of bitter bombs.
“You cut those IBUs down in half and add them all through your whirlpool so they’re super low and use a low attenuating yeast so it’s semisweet, then push the tropical fruit notes with your dry hops—the result is a very approachable beer for normal people.”
But will this fad become a trend with longevity?
“With beer trends, you never can tell. Just a few years ago, some folks thought the entire IPA trend was just a fad and would be gone in a couple years, but that’s obviously not the case.”