Love them or hate them, New England-style IPAs are only growing in popularity, which means that the beers and their attendant qualities — and adjectives, like "hazy," "turbid," "juicy" and "lush" — are going to be around for a while.
Over the past eighteen months, since Odd13 Brewing, Cerebral, Weldwerks and Fiction Beer got the trend started in Colorado, more than a hundred breweries here have tried their hand at brewing New England-style IPAs, which are characterized by a hazy appearance, pillowy mouthfeel, very low bitterness and tropical, citrus-forward flavors.
“I’ve been working in this industry since 1998, and I’ve never seen its equal in terms of draw,” says Darin McGregor, national sales manager for Epic Brewing, about the style, which has blown up all over the United States and even in Europe. “When we have them on in the taproom, they are our most popular beer — by a lot.”
Epic was one of the last breweries in Colorado to give New England-style IPAs a shot when the company collaborated with Telluride Brewing in March on Blizzard Conditions, which they called “a snow globe in a glass” because of the beer's hazy look. Since then, Epic has gotten fully aboard the haze train and has plans to push the style further and faster over the coming months than any other packaging brewery has done so far in Colorado.
In a few weeks, Epic will bottle and distribute Blizzard Conditions and another New England-style IPA in bombers, just in Colorado. “I want to bring these to market so badly, I just can’t wait,” McGregor says.
But in July, the brewery will unleash a series of canned New England-style IPAs throughout its entire 22-state distribution area. The beers will all share the same name — New England-Style IPA, which is brilliantly clear from a sales and marketing perspective — but the hops and haziness will vary for each one.
The different versions will also carry sub-names, like Citralush, which is available in Epic’s taproom right now and will likely be its first canned New England-Style IPA, followed by Cumulus. Citralush, made with Citra and Mosaic hops, is very hazy, a little more bitter than typical for the style, and very juicy. To help consumers differentiate, Epic will alter the labels slightly with different colors and sliding scales measuring “Dankness,” “Juice Factor,” and “Haze-O-Meter.”
“Although the style is enormously popular among consumers, I think that retail and distribution have been mostly left out so far with hazy IPAs,” McGregor says. “This will help people know exactly what they are getting.”
The new project is likely to infuriate many beer drinkers, brewers and others in the industry who either hate the way New England-style IPAs look or hate the hype that has built up around them. “The cynicism has been palpable,” McGregor points out. But Epic doesn’t care. “You can’t be thin-skinned to be in the craft-beer industry anymore.… Part of being Epic Brewing is being fearless. That is how we do things.”
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McGregor was skeptical himself when he first sat down with Epic owner Dave Cole and head brewer Kevin Crompton to talk about whether to make a hazy IPA. “It took a lot to get things going. We said, ‘We don’t want to make a gimmick beer.’ But we also didn’t want to be close-minded.” In the end, Epic’s Colorado sales rep, former radio host and rabid beer geek John Turk, convinced them all. “We really pushed. He really drew attention to it.”
The next challenge will be getting the beer to maintain a pleasant haziness in the cans on store shelves. New England-style IPAs are notorious for losing their composure after being packaged, as the haze turns into clumps of hops-covered yeast. Colorado breweries like Lafayette’s Odd13, Aurora’s Dry Dock and Arvada’s New Image Brewing have wrestled with maintaining consistency in their hazy IPAs.
“There is definitely a serious logistical challenge to this style of beer,” McGregor says, as the beers need to be kept chilled throughout the distribution process and need to be purchased and consumed quickly after that. “But it’s not insurmountable. It’s something we think we can do — and we won’t know if we don’t try.”