New England IPA and Creating Beer Culture

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The more I read and write about the beer industry, the stronger I feel that American beer culture should often be seen through hop-tinted glasses. The IPA, a defining American style, is “almost like an adjective for American brewing,” as recently pointed out by Jeff Alworth.

Everywhere you turn, IPA is having some sort of impact on consumer buying decisions, brewery production choices and the fate of some of our beloved, heritage brands. Jeff and I are on the same wavelength: hops have done incredible things for the American beer industry and through this prism, evolution and innovation continues to happen. American ingenuity pairs well with America’s favorite craft beer.

Which is all part of the reason why I’ve been watching with great interest the most recent development of the Northeast/New England IPA. There have been many stages of growth from when Sierra Nevada and Russian River started the modern hop-forward movement to today, bringing us from bitingly bitter, malt-balanced, fruity and cloudy IPAs. But what we see now with the NE IPA is a giant venn diagram converging. Aspects of our brewing culture are coming together, showing maturation of the industry and its drinkers.

The NE IPA isn’t just a trend. It’s a part of the broader cultural implications of beer.

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Your Beer of Summer is a Fruit IPA Because We All Keep Drinking Them

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Peaches are in season right now. Blueberries aren’t far behind. Watermelon is damn near the official fruit of the next few months.

The tastes of summer are here, but they aren’t just for our plates or serving bowls. More than ever, they’re for our pint glasses, too. Ballast Point might have started the trend with Grapefruit Sculpin, but now there’s New Belgium’s Citradelic, Green Flash’s Soul Style and Stone’s Enjoy By variant that includes tangerine. Fruit flavor isn’t only coming from the hops that we use, but increasingly fruit itself.

But why?

As more breweries skew toward our innate preference for sweetness to sell a variety of beers, it’s becoming clearer that this niche isn’t a flash in the pan trend. Breweries are going all in on new brands that play to our basic interests in food, offering us the pleasure of intoxicating brews mixed with a biological preference toward fruit.

It’s a match made in heaven: craft beer’s most popular style married to flavors we crave.

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The Best Breweries and Beer of 2015 are also the Best of 2016 (So Far)

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Back in January, I shared a two-part compilation of the “best” American breweries and beer of 2015, as selected through an unscientific method. In its second year, the effort offers something of a different view of what “best” is in the industry, trying to take a little subjectivity out of an otherwise very subjective effort. In February, I followed it up with a look at RateBeer’s “best” beers and what it showed us, too.

Now that we’re a quarter of the way through 2016 (!?), it seems the momentum carried by some businesses in 2015 is carrying right into this year.

Over on Beergraphs, Eno Sarris shared yesterday the At The Moment leaderboard of the best new beers of 2016 based on the data-driven site’s Beers Above Replacement methodology. In layman’s terms, it’s the top-20 new beers of 2016 as calculated by Untappd ratings and fancy math.

As I scoured the list, something stood out easily – 13 of the 20 were hop-forward beers, including seven double IPAs and five IPAs. Of course. But the breweries listed weren’t just the At The Moment darlings of the beer world, but they had also come up in my own analysis from a few months back.

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This Beer Used 77 Hop Varieties, But Not for the Reason You May Think

lone rider-west-cowboy

There’s something rugged and romantic about the Wild West.

Beyond the dusty plains and horseback rides under the gleaming sun, there’s an ideal of self sufficiency, born from the created reality of Manifest Destiny. It wasn’t necessarily about going it alone, but recognizing the opportunity to make something of oneself in the midst of everyone else doing the same.

To seize a moment when odds were stacked against you.

Kind of like business.

“We were all standing around one day, lamenting hops,” said Lonerider Brewing Company CEO Sumit Vohra, recalling a conversation that led to the creation of a potentially record-setting beer. “I’m saying to my team, ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where we can’t find hops.”

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Vohra and his brewery staff could certainly find hops to use for their Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, Sweet Josie Brown Ale, Peacemaker Pale Ale and even their IPA, Addie’s Revenge. It was just the fact things were getting a little harder.

“Our brewers have to predict our production levels two years down the road to contract hops now,” Zohra said. “That’s the business reality of it.”

Which led to a decision that may have been part parody of the situation or part marking inspiration, but really just an excuse to play.

It was a fitting chance to explore the outlaw theme of Lonerider.

It was an opportunity to create a traditional, American beer, utterly untraditional in its conception.

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The Definitive ‘Best Beer of 2014’ List. Really. Kind of.

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The flip of the calendar means many things: a fresh start, new resolutions and most important, an end to all those “best of 2014” lists.

But not quite.

Surely you’ve now read about where your favorite movies, TV shows, books, podcasts and celebrities rank in order of something wonderful or awful in 2014. But for the subjectivity that is necessary to form each of these, is there any kind of (slightly) objective consensus that can offer a clearer view?

This is particularly difficult when it comes to “best beer” lists of 2014 for two reasons:

  1. While movies, TV shows and books are uniformly released across the country, beer is not. Everyone in the U.S. can see The LEGO Movie at the same time, if they wish, but as a product, beer doesn’t offer that opportunity.
  2. In addition to distribution restrictions, many best beer lists gear toward locally-produced brews. At a time of 3,000+ breweries, this certainly makes sense, especially for regional newspapers or other outlets.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find 2014’s best beer or best brewery. In fact, it’s easier than you think.

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Bitter Rivalry: Is It Time to Name a New Region ‘King’ of the IPA?

Last week, we took a glance at the geographic evolution of the IPA, from the West to East Coast and its latest hotspot, the Midwest.

That research was inspired by work first done by Carla Jean Lauter, which prompted me to think about IPAs, rankings and where the interest for this popular beer style comes from. While Carla highlighted the Northeast, my research led to curiosity about the Midwest.

Which led me to think … is a new region ready to steal the throne from the West Coast and be anointed “King” of IPAs?

Previously, I used Beer Advocate rankings to weigh the value of IPAs on a geographical basis. To me, this data set represents the most enthusiastic of the beer community, which might better showcase the “best of the best” IPA options. But if the vast majority of beer drinkers aren’t overly active on beer rating websites, we can try another route to potentially get a greater cross-section of IPA lovers.

For that, we turn to fellow statistically-minded beer geeks at BeerGraphs.

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One Nation, Under Hops: A Geographical Evolution of IPA

united staes of hops

When it comes to understanding craft beer, perhaps the only thing bigger than the idea of its “cultural movement” is ironically one, singular brew – the IPA.

The India pale ale has become synonymous with craft beer and stands tall as arguably the most popular style for Americans picking up bottles or downing pints of Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, New Belgium or any local option down the street.

As the IPA has taken hold of our pints and wallets, it’s become the cornerstone style for breweries young and old. The IPA has shifted from a novel connection to the West Coast to a beer found everywhere across the country.

So if California, Oregon and Washington no longer reign over the IPA-loving masses like they used to, where exactly are today’s best IPAs coming from?

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The Art of Storytelling and the Craft of Beer

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From an early age, we are drawn to the mythic nature of stories.Wondrous lands, conniving villains and our heroes that save the day.

The stories we share are a connection between us – some kind of tether to the centuries of ancestors before us who regaled each other with tales of foreign lands or make-believe creatures. Truly, storytelling is part of who we are:

…human beings are natural storytellers—that they can’t help telling stories, and that they turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because they like narratives so much. Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale.

In our modern society, this is particularly relevant as we move past cliched marketing trends of the past. We’ve reached a point where it now takes more than shining lights and pretty faces to sell a product. Especially when it comes to beer.

In a previous post on gender, beer and male expectations, I wondered: what happens when we no longer have to rely on the stereotypical marketing ploy of sexed-up women?

When our focus goes beyond “yellow fizz” of BMC beers and is retrained on the culture of craft, our assumptions change.

When we no longer need gimmicks to sell a product because the product sells itself, what’s the next step for the beer industry? For that, we must make a beer or a company bigger than just something in our glass.

For that, we need stories.

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Reiterating the Importance of Glassware

glassware lineup

I’ve previously shared a post about my beer-specific glassware collection, which I’ve been lucky to upgrade in the past couple years.

The idea of a proper glass for a specific beer seems almost second nature to me, but I still get curious looks or reactions from friends who aren’t as … committed … as I am with beer enthusiasm. All the same, if I have a visitor in my house and we’re going to drink some beer, I enjoy offering it to them in the best way possible.

Which led me to a small experiment this past weekend.

My local Whole Foods held a growler sale that waived container fees, meaning I wouldn’t have to spend an extra $4 on a 32 or 64-ounce container. With no plans on Saturday except to relax and read, I indulged in a 32-ounce growler of Foothills Brewing Jade IPA (just $7! 96/97 on BA and RateBeer!) and an opportunity to waste an afternoon.

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Is This Beer Key to Widmer’s Resurgence? A Taste of Upheaval IPA

upheaval-ipa-india pale ale-upheaval ipa-beer-bottle-widmer-widmer brothers

If you’ve kept tabs on the blog lately, you may have caught my recent posts on the Craft Brew Alliance and the variety of reasons I think 2014 will be big for them. That was before the brewing company decided to add 100,000 barrels to production, too.

It’s fitting then that CBA will continue an early push in 2014 for the company and its brands. Last week, Wider Brothers released its newest, year-round beer – an IPA, of course.

In my profile of Widmer, I pointed out the company’s reliance on hop-forward brews, both in the past and future. Feb. 10 marked the release of the new Upheaval IPA, a beer the company proudly proclaims uses two pounds of hops per barrel. In this time of Hop Heads, it seems to bode well for Widmer that their new beer uses more hops per barrel than any other in their lineup.
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