Vermont IPAs: a Tentative Conclusion

Two cloudy beers in fancy glasses.
Cloud­wa­ter NE DIPA (left) and Brew­Dog Ver­mont IPA V4.

The problem with Vermont IPAs, AKA New England IPAs, isn’t that they’re cloudy – it’s that they’re not bitter enough. Perhaps because they’re cloudy.

We’ve kept our minds open until now push­ing back against the kind of knee-jerk con­ser­vatism that rejects hazy beer almost as a point of prin­ci­ple. We wrote about Moor, the brew­ery that pio­neered unfined beer in the UK, in Brew Bri­tan­nia, high­light­ing that, what­ev­er you think of the trend, it was­n’t some­thing Justin Hawke embarked on care­less­ly – it came out of per­son­al pref­er­ence and exper­i­men­ta­tion. Then for CAM­RA’s quar­ter­ly BEER mag­a­zine last year we pulled togeth­er var­i­ous bits of evi­dence under­lin­ing that haziness/cloudiness in beer has not always been taboo among con­nois­seurs and, indeed, has some­times been seen as a mark of qual­i­ty.

But at the same time – on the fence as ever – we’ve main­tained a cer­tain scep­ti­cism about the hazy, hop­py beers we’ve actu­al­ly encoun­tered in real life. We’ve con­tin­ued look­ing for chances to drink IPAs with cloudi­ness as a flag­ship fea­ture, espe­cial­ly any­thing labelled Ver­mont or NE IPA, try­ing to under­stand.

At Brew­Dog Bris­tol on Fri­day we were able to drink two dif­fer­ent takes side by side – the first time this oppor­tu­ni­ty has ever pre­sent­ed itself – and in so doing, some­thing clicked.

BrewDog draught beer menu.

Brew­Dog Ver­mont IPA (7.5% ABV, £4.90 ⅔ pint) is on its fourth exper­i­men­tal iter­a­tion and struck us instant­ly as over­whelm­ing­ly sweet – like a cor­ner­shop canned man­go drink. But it did­n’t taste yeasty, grit­ty or musty. It was clean, with­in its own para­me­ters. Cloud­wa­ter NE Dou­ble IPA with Mosa­ic hops (9%, £4.95 per half pint) was incred­i­bly sim­i­lar clear­ly draw­ing on the same source of inspi­ra­tion but bet­ter and more com­plex: pineap­ple, green onion and ripe banana. But it too verged on sick­ly and both beers we thought would have been far more enjoy­able with the bit­ter­ness dialled right up to com­pen­sate for the muf­fling effect of the yeast haze, and to bal­ance the fruiti­ness. Or, we sup­pose, with the haze dialled down to let the bit­ter­ness through.

For­tu­nate­ly, the same bar also had on draught Cloud­wa­ter’s 9% ‘non-Ver­mont’ DIPA, which seemed only a touch less cloudy than the full-on milk­i­ness of the pre­vi­ous two beers. The bar­man told us it was the first batch of the suc­ces­sor to the num­bered V series. There was a snatch of gar­licky armpit aro­ma we could have done with­out but, over­all, it was just the mix of soft trop­i­cal lush­ness and dia­mond-hard bit­ter­ness that we were after. It was very good and proof, per­haps, that sys­tem­at­ic batch-by-batch exper­i­men­ta­tion with cus­tomer feed­back can pay off.

Back to the New Eng­land style, then: is pur­pose of the sus­pend­ed yeast stuff (pro­tein more than yeast – thanks, Emma) to soft­en and dull the bit­ter­ness? If so, and assum­ing that both Brew­Dog and Cloud­wa­ter know what they’re doing when they attempt to clone Amer­i­can orig­i­nals, we can cer­tain­ly see the appeal. Bit­ter­ness can be chal­leng­ing, spiky, hard to love; where­as sweet­ness and fruiti­ness are acces­si­ble, easy­go­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Good fun. Soft sells.

So, we’re now con­vinced Vermont/NE IPA is a Thing – a per­fect­ly legit­i­mate, inter­est­ing, coher­ent Thing that you have to take on its own terms rather than think­ing of it as a flawed take on a style you think you already know. We’re nev­er going to be fans – not with our fraz­zled mid­dle-aged palates – but, as with some oth­er mar­gin­al beer styles, will cer­tain­ly take the odd glass now and then for the sake of vari­ety.

Side notes

We also got to try Ver­dant Head­band (£4.50 ⅔ pint) on draught at Brew­Dog and found it much bet­ter than the cans, although still rather one-dimen­sion­al. Again, more bit­ter­ness might have filled a hole here.

And the beer of the ses­sion – the only one that real­ly knocked our socks off – was Cloud­wa­ter’s Dou­ble India Pale Lager (£4.95 ½). It might sound like the kind of thing tra­di­tion­al­ists invent when satiris­ing craft beer but, in fact, was an extreme­ly hap­py mar­riage of tra­di­tions. Depend­ing on your angle of view it is either (a) a char­ac­ter­ful bock with a liven­ing twist of cit­rus or (b) a pleas­ing­ly clean, crys­talline, well-man­nered IPA.

It was, suf­fice to say, per­fect­ly clear.

32 thoughts on “Vermont IPAs: a Tentative Conclusion”

  1. I keep say­ing that I have in mind a post which is at the cross-roads of the two I’ve writ­ten on haze and hop aro­ma – because the NE IPA as a con­cept is close­ly linked to these ele­ments. I am going to get round to writ­ing that blog post one of these days. Hon­est­ly.

    But a quick response on the style: the intent is first and fore­most that it is juicy and refresh­ing in flavour, whilst soft and pil­lowy in tex­ture. The pri­ma­ry intent is not the appear­ance of the beer (the hazi­ness or cloudi­ness), that is mere­ly a by-prod­uct of the means of achiev­ing the goal. Some peo­ple (an increas­ing amount of peo­ple it seems) get the wrong end of the stick and think that the hazi­ness if the point, or that a hazy beer will taste a par­tic­u­lar way – based pure­ly on its appear­ance. As I men­tioned in my post on hazy beer, peo­ple even went as far as to add stuff to their beer to make it cloudy on pur­pose because they thought, through a lens of sym­pa­thet­ic mag­ic, that if it looked cloudy it would auto­mat­i­cal­ly taste as good as any of the soupy-look­ing IPAs from Tril­li­um or Tree­house… But, odd­ly enough, sim­ply adding flour or apple sauce to your beer does not lead to a Tired Hands Milk­shake IPA

    As for bit­ter­ness, the juicy fruit character/soft mouth­feel is the goal. A high lev­el of bit­ter­ness would oppose that (in this style of beer). It’s not intend­ed to be as bit­ter as it is fruity. If peo­ple don’t enjoy that then the style is not for them. It’s a per­son­al pref­er­ence.

    As for yeast – again, peo­ple assume when they see a hazy beer that the opac­i­ty must be relat­ed to yeast present in the fin­ished beer (this atti­tude is a prod­uct of the whole ‘clear beer’ thing we had in the UK I would guess). This is not always the case. In fact, since the style has been around for a while now, some peo­ple have actu­al­ly checked to see how much viable yeast is present in some of the more pop­u­lar NE IPA. Not much at all was the answer. The par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the fin­ished beer is pro­teins from the grains used in the mash, e.g. oats, and pro­teins from the huge amount of hops used in dry hop­ping.

    As with all beer styles, if you don’t like one there will cer­tain­ly be oth­ers you can enjoy instead.

  2. I’ve not drunk any of the NE/Ver­mont-style IPAs brewed over here, but I first came across craft beer as a con­cept in New Eng­land 20 years ago, and have vis­it­ed reg­u­lar­ly since, each vis­it includ­ing Ver­mont. Although most of the Ver­mont brew­eries have includ­ed an IPA, very few of the old­er-estab­lished ones have tried a Ver­mont-style one – the long-dead Cata­mount, Long Trail, Mag­ic Hat aand Har­poon, for exam­ple. In fact the only one I’ve tried out there (sev­er­al times, too) is the orig­i­na­tor of the species, Alchemist’s Heady Top­per. And to be hon­est, I did­n’t even know when drink­ing it that it was hazy, because they more or less insist that it’s drunk straight from the can to avoid los­ing volatile hop oils. And maybe they’re right, because it’s cer­tain­ly always tast­ed bit­ter enough to a hop­head like me, for all that it is not real­ly defined just by bit­ter­ness; it was remark­ably well bal­anced. I thor­ough­ly enjoyed it, but I would­n’t sub­scribe to the hype.

  3. The lack of bit­ter­ness is my favourite thing about them. I used to put up with what I con­sid­ered over­ly bit­ter beers to get the hop flavour and aro­ma I liked, but then they came along and I realised I did­n’t have to. From a home­brew per­spec­tive I’ve now start­ed mim­ic­k­ing their hop sched­ules but for­get­ting about the oats and wheat and using a more floc­cu­late yeast, so I can get a sim­i­lar flavour/juiciness and bit­ter­ness pro­file of the style with­out the sta­bil­i­ty issues that the less floc­cu­lant, conan espe­cial­ly, yeast seems to give me.

  4. IPAs are often geared towards the extremes, whether that’s extremes of bit­ter­ness (Stone Ruination/Mikkeller 1000 IBU) or extreme fruitiness/lack of bit­ter­ness in NEIPA. A lit­tle bit­ter­ness as in the Cloud­wa­ter NW DIPA you men­tion is prefer­able for me, but the juici­est IPA is, for me, infi­nite­ly more enjoy­able than those that brag about lev­els of bit­ter­ness, which usu­al­ly end up with a nasty lin­ger­ing taste that reminds me of acci­den­tal­ly get­ting hair­spray in my mouth.

    1. There’s always going to per­son­al pref­er­ence involved. My (clear­ly quite dull) taste buds aren’t huge­ly sen­si­tive to bit­ter­ness, which means I tend to go for bit­ter IPAs (as well as very dark choco­late, espres­so etc.)

      The odd juicy num­ber is fine though – as long as it does­n’t run oniony (Cit­ra seems to do so some­times).

  5. Cloud­wa­ter have made a point of reg­u­lar­ly brew­ing lagers along­side the hop­py stuff (I believe their head brew­er worked at – I think – Heineken for years, so knows his stuff when it comes to pre­ci­sion brew­ing), so it’s not real­ly sur­pris­ing that their DIPL is par­tic­u­lar­ly good.

    I love their lagers, being of an age where my ‘beer awak­en­ing’ came nec­es­sar­i­ly pre-craft. For me it was Czech pil­sners that did it.

    On top­ic, I have no prob­lem with haze or murk at all, but agree that the fash­ion­able ‘juice­bomb’ lacks the bit­ter­ness I pre­fer in a hop­py beer. Mag­ic Rock seem to have got the bal­ance right with their recent Oth­er Half col­lab­o­ra­tion, Half Cut.

  6. Off at a tan­gent – I attend­ed a recent lec­ture giv­en by Dr Kei­th Thomas of Brewlab. He sus­pects that peo­ple who reg­u­lar­ly drink beers with very high bit­ter­ness are per­ma­nent­ly affect­ing the bio­chem­istry of their palates such that they can no longer taste the sub­tleties of low-bit­ter­ness beers. He says “there’s a PhD in this for some­one”.

    1. Per­ma­nent­ly? I can see an argu­ment for habit­u­a­tion, like with caf­feine – but that implies that if you go cold turkey, you reset your sen­si­tiv­i­ty. But “per­ma­nent” is a big shout.

    2. I’m going to have to say “peer reviewed research or GTFO” on that one. “Sus­pect­ing” counts for noth­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly if your sus­pi­cions neat­ly line up with a social stereo­type.

    3. I Am Not A Doc­tor But I’ve been won­der­ing about this for a while as well. It was the “hold on, when did beers start tast­ing of onion?” that made me won­der if it’s just because we can’t taste the bit­ter­ness any more…

      1. Dimethyl trisul­phide (DMTS) to its friends. There’s always a lit­tle bit in the wort, but most of the DMTS comes from hops, par­tic­u­lar­ly when added after the boil. Low­er tem­per­a­ture hop­ping pre­serves volatile aro­ma com­pounds, both the good ones and things like DMTS. Also it’s one of those things that dis­ap­pears or at least reduces with prop­er con­di­tion­ing, either in a cask in a pub or at the brew­ery if it’s dis­pensed in keg, although that’s rather unfash­ion­able these days (the con­di­tion­ing, not the keg). So if you’re drink­ing more dry-hopped Born-To-Die-By-Lunchtime than you used to, it’s no sur­prise you’re tast­ing more onion.

        It’s also very depen­dent on hop vari­ety – Sum­mit is noto­ri­ous for onions (but is pop­u­lar State­side for its huge alpha con­tent and good keep­ing qual­i­ties), but you also get onions from high dos­es of things like Sim­coe, Colum­bus and Galaxy. I’ve seen it sug­gest­ed that it part­ly depends on the time of har­vest­ing, it gets worse if the hops are left too long on the bine. You tend not to get it with British hops.

  7. I’m not both­ered by haze, intend­ed or acci­den­tal. What I can’t bear is a beer that might have come straight from fer­menter to glass. As Moor Beer demon­strate, leav­ing out isin­glass does not mean beer that resem­bles a scrumpy/orange juice snakebite. I’m damned if I’ll pay £6 or £7 a pint equiv­a­lent for a beer made by some­one too lazy to do half a job. One draw back of cans is being unable to assess clar­i­ty. Too often this lurid opac­i­ty comes in a beer with no con­di­tion, no head and a wheel­bar­row of hops. Phew, chest cleared. Now then, can we all try to find a good snakebite com­bi­na­tion?

    1. Do you think that the beers dis­cussed in this post were made by “some­one too lazy to do half a job”? Or that they were made with con­sid­er­able care and atten­tion by peo­ple who specif­i­cal­ly want­ed the tex­ture from a wodge of oats in the mash, and the aro­ma from a very large quan­ti­ty of hops in the fer­menter?

      1. no, sor­ry – not spe­cif­ic to the beers men­tioned, but a gen­er­al com­ment. Well spot­ted though. Some brew­eries are oper­at­ing on an Emper­or’s New Clothes basis, imi­tat­ing those with the skill to do the job well. The brew­eries in the arti­cle are not exam­ples of imi­ta­tors – all are inno­v­a­tive

          1. real­ly? I loved it to bits. I do enjoy trad cider a lot – I was impressed with the way it expressed cider char­ac­ter in a subdued/complementary way

          2. It’s inevitable when you get to the fringes – to those kinds of real­ly inter­est­ing beers – that some peo­ple will love them while oth­ers hate them.

          3. With­out doubt, extreme beer is pret­ty much the point of craft beer; exper­i­ments at push­ing bound­aries in a way old-fash­ioned brew­eries nev­er would. (With some excep­tions, Whit­bread­’s mid-90s sea­son­als for exam­ple – tame now, but extreme for the time.)
            What works becomes main­stream, and extreme becomes ever more so.

        1. I have a bot­tle hid­den away at the back of my cup­board, in the for­lorn hope it might become won­der­ful in a cou­ple of years.

  8. I’m just think­ing “£4.95 a half?” Sure­ly that’s a bit OTT – it’s cer­tain­ly top-end by Man­ches­ter stan­dards. In fact it’s exact­ly what Bux­ton are cur­rent­ly charg­ing at the epony­mous Tap for the 12% ‘BA peanut but­ter stout’ Omnipol­lo col­lab, which (as you can imag­ine) is at the very top of their price, rar­i­ty & abv range. (They’re not in Man­ches­ter, of course, but their price range is sim­i­lar to what I see in ‘craft’ places around here.)

    Oh, this was a Brew­Dog bar. As you were.

    1. It’s a 9% beer with a stag­ger­ing amount of expen­sive hops in it. It’s nev­er going to be cheap.

      Cloud­wa­ter have gone out of their way before to show why their beer costs as much as it does, there’s far less prof­it in this than, say, Heineken.

      FWIW the Brew­dog by me is cheap­er than buy­ing the beer direct­ly from the brew­er..

  9. Tried the East Coast Crush at Brew­dog?

    It’s a low­er abv ver­sion of the style that comes in pints. Excel­lent when fresh, though it seems to have a half-life of about a week before the flavour not­i­ca­bly drops off.

    1. They had it but we did­n’t try it this time. Hav­ing start­ed up at 7–9% we fig­ured it might be dif­fi­cult to go back down the lad­der.

      1. My feel­ing is that the next “super­star” beer (well as-ubiq­ui­tous-as-Neck­Oil beer) will be when some­one final­ly nails NEIPA at a more ses­sion­able “British” strength, say 4.5%. I’ve tried plen­ty of attempts, by tal­ent­ed brew­ers, but they’ve been no more than pleas­ant-to-Quite-Nice. It seems to be hard to get the body to keep every­thing in bal­ance, in the absence of 6+% ABV. I sus­pect it needs more fine-tun­ing of the grist, which is per­haps some­thing that mod­ern brew­ers are less famil­iar with than hop-tweak­ing, maybe some niche ingre­di­ents like lac­tose, fruit con­cen­trate, crys­tal oats (is that even pos­si­ble?) or what­ev­er.

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