When was the last time you did a happy dance? You know what I’m talking about. When something fills you with such child-like glee that you need to physically release that energy by jumping up and down or at least moving your arms around and dancing like an idiot. There are only a few things out there that make me happy dance. Alright, that’s a lie. There are a lot of things out there that make me happy dance. These things almost always involve food, drink, or announcements of new Star Trek series.
There is one style of beer out there that frequently puts the groove into my extremities. IPAs are the reason I fell in love with the hops plant and can be held personally responsible for many foolish drunken encounters. While IPAs were originally crafted as a beer with a long shelf life best suited for shipping, there is a new style of IPA on the block that has an entirely different temperament. New England IPAs are starting to take the beer world by storm, and if you’ve ever had the fortune of sampling one, I don’t need to tell you why. New England IPA, also known as a Hazy IPA or even a Northeastern IPA, is pale-style sessionable ale which is fresh-hopped and brewed to accentuate the citrusy and fruity notes of the humble hops. If you’ve never treated yourself to one of these outstandingly refreshing brews, then do yourself a service and seek one out.
While the “haze craze” has become very popular of late, don’t expect to find too many bottled at the shelf in your local liquor store. Unlike their old-time namesake, the India Pale Ale, these New England IPAs are some of the most persnickety brews to properly bottle and transport. This all comes from the concentration of natural polyphenols that are present in the beer. It’s time for some sudsy science, so set down your drinking Stein; it’s beer science thinking time!
Polyphenols are a massive group of compounds found in all plant matter on the planet, including hops, malt, and barley. Polyphenols are incredibly abundant and very diverse with over 7,500 identified in everything from beer to chocolate. Many polyphenols are incredible antioxidants and some are even theorized to contain anti-carcinogenic properties thanks to their ability to reverse epigenetic markers on DNA. No, I’m not saying that New England Style IPA is a true tonic, but there is some science to back the potentials of certain polyphenols (sadly not the ones found in beer yet). Regardless of the real wonders of polyphenols, there can have some rather funky effects on beer on the shelf but they are also at the heart of what makes Hazy IPAs tick.
New England IPAs and Haze
Seeing as polyphenols are found in all plants, every beer you buy on the shelf will contain some trace amount of these compounds. While most brewers attempt to remove these potentially unwanted compounds in the brewing process, the heart of what makes New England IPAs so great relies on them. During the fresh hopping process, massive levels of complex polyphenols escape into the beer and while many breweries would then choose to clarify their brew before shipping, a true New England Style IPA should forgo this step to assure that the hop flavors remain intact. Polyphenols are very delicate compounds, however, and as soon as they are in a beer, they can have to potential to bond with proteins remaining in the beer and start to form solids large enough to precipitate. These chunks then will fall out of the liquid and settle in the bottle. This will happen to all beers over time, and you may well have noticed it in beers that have sat too long on the shelf. New England IPAs contain a massive level of these polyphenols which readily bond with the remaining proteins in the beer, creating that lovely hazy effect that the style is known for. This high concentration of plant polyphenols brings a light citrusy oomph out of the hops and also means that New England IPAs can turn into a pile of sludge on the shelf at a very increased rate. On average, an unclarified Hazy IPA can lose six months to a year worth of shelf life just because of how it’s made. So, what does this all mean for you? It means that if you want to find a delicious New England IPA of your own, your best bet is looking for it right from the tap.
New England Style IPAs are not only crisp and refreshing, but there is a whole lot of science that goes into making this new style so damn tasty. If you’ve found that you have a penchant for the Hazy IPAs like myself, then I’ll tell you the best place to look for them is from small breweries or tap houses. Since this is such a hard style to transport, don’t expect to be seeing any bottled from large out-of-state breweries anytime soon, unless there is some great scientific beer breakthrough. Go find that hazy beer and enjoy the ensuing happy dance, but know that until the riddle of polyphenols has been unlocked, styles such as the New England IPA will be forced to stay local and oftentimes small-batch, which isn’t the worst thing in the world if you ask me.