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

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