Two Jacksonian Scholars Debate NEIPA

Detail from a vintage photo of a debating team in action.

In the imposing Inner Temple of Beer Writers’ Hall in the City of London two scholars sit beneath a vast portrait of the Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jackson, who died in 2007. They wear Guild robes and are surrounded by leather-bound volumes. A small group of acolytes sits nearby, waiting for the debate to begin. On her throne the Grand Imbiber, who everybody had thought asleep, clears her throat: “What might the Master–” She salutes the portrait of MBHJ, dipping her eyes respectfully. “–have made of this ‘NEIPA’, one wonders?” The scholars reflect for a moment and then open their books, scanning the pages with their fingers.

SCHOLAR #1
The NEIPA, or New England India Pale Ale, is defined by its haziness, is it not? And Jackson wrote, “The possibility of hazy beer is only one of the difficulties encountered when working with newly harvested barley and hops.” [1] If haze is characterised as a difficulty, we can conclude with certainty that NEIPA would displease him.

SCHOLAR #2
No. It is clear that his suggestion here was that haze would be a difficulty for those particular brewers, brewing that particular beer. Did he not also write of Cooper’s, the bottle-conditioned Australian pale ale, “Sparkling or opaque, It would enliven the most Boycottian innings”? And did he not also call it “a ‘wholefood’ of the beer world”? [2]

SCHOLAR #1
When reading the sacred texts we must always remember the Master’s love of irony. The passage you quote quietly mocks faddish young drinkers and their “more clumsy” pouring technique; it by no means marks approval of their preference. “Generally speaking, sedimented beers…. should be poured without the sediment”, he wrote on another occasion, when asked directly whether yeast should be mixed with beer. [3]

SCHOLAR #2
Again, you treat His words as a blunt tool. Who was more aware of the variations between beer styles, and beer cultures, than Jackson? He did not use the word “generally” carelessly — this was no commandment! He had no objection to cloudy or hazy beer in the right context — approving comments of German and Belgian wheat beers appears abound — but I will concede that a concern is evident in His words when describing the mingling of distinct beer cultures.

SCHOLAR #1
You refer, of course, to his comments on English cask wheat beers? [4]

SCHOLAR #2
Quite so. But he does not condemn or deny, only observes: “Doubt about the willingness of British drinkers to accept cloudy beer remains the biggest worry of brewers making this style.” He does not say that British-style beers ought to be clear, only that they generally are. This might be interpreted as a criticism, especially of older people, set in their ways — “the young, prefer the hazy versions of wheat beer”.

Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

SCHOLAR #1
Or not. He was himself old when this was written and, as I have already pointed out, viewed the crazes of the young with scepticism. I detect nothing in his writing on Young’s Wheat Beer to suggest wholehearted delight and, indeed, detect between-the-lines a lack of faith in the very idea.

SCHOLAR #2
Ah, as so often he presents us with a mirror reflecting our own prejudices. We know, at least, that he believed it was possible for “yeast… to add a little texture, but no bite”. [5]

SCHOLAR #1
Though we are told the haze of an NEIPA is not generally the product of suspended yeast, but hop matter, aren’t we? Appearance aside, what of the flavour? He insisted, always, that India Pale Ale should be “above average in… hop bitterness”, but NEIPAs are characterised by low bitterness. This would have been a black mark against them in his eyes.

SCHOLAR #2
But NEIPA is not IPA. Perhaps he might have questioned the terminology, but that does not mean he would have disputed the right of the style to exist, or disliked the beers that fall within it. He preferred mango lassi to beer with curry, I mention as an aside [6], and once lauded a beer with elderflower essence. [7]

SCHOLAR #1
I contend that he was essentially conservative, nonetheless. When asked to choose his top ten American beers he picked pilsner, dortmunder, imperial stout, Belgian-style beers, steam beer… [8] He pleaded for authenticity in IPA and porter, not reinvention. When what might have been seen as new styles emerged, such as golden ale, he was able to embrace them only by connecting them to the traditions of the past. [9]

SCHOLAR #2
And yet he was among the first to notice and laud the extreme beers of Sam Calagione! [10]

SCHOLAR #1
Laud? Again I detect more interest then admiration in his words — the attitude of an observer at a circus freakshow.

The Grand Imbiber rises from the throne, staff aloft, and the scholars fall silent.

GRAND IMBIBER
I believe we have heard enough. Here is my judgement: there is nothing in his teachings to suggest that NEIPA would displease the Master, and much to suggest that it would have intrigued him. Whether it, or any individual example therein, would have delighted him, we cannot presume to say. Certainly the Master would never have publicly denounced NEIPA, even had he felt it in his heart, for first among his teachings was this: “If I can find something good to say about a beer, I do… If I despise a beer, why find room for it?” [11]

3 thoughts on “Two Jacksonian Scholars Debate NEIPA”

  1. Amen. We would have had glowing longform reports on The Alchemist and Tree House, as places and micro-ecosystems within beer culture more than as beer producers, and then likely no further consideration of the matter.

  2. “… If I despise a beer, why find room for it?” So true and one of the main reason to question his approach.

  3. Actually laughed out loud in several places. How would MJ stand the pace of beer innovation now? So many new beers arrive every week, consideration and contemplation would have no place in today’s frenzied beernado. We’d all have to wait for him to publish a book on paper before we knew his true thoughts. Maybe that’s what he’s planning next – not tablets of fire, but cryptic hints on the craft beer bar blackboards of the world

Comments are closed.