“At our grand opening in May 2010, a single-hop IPA with Citra was on tap, and that was the first time I’d ever brewed with Citra,” Hill says. “As more people tasted this flavor and the brightness of the hops, they realized they hadn’t tasted beer that had that certain je ne sais quoi.”
Before the NE IPA came along, the trend in hoppy beers was toward aggressively bitter, West Coast-style IPAs with flavors of pine, resin, and grapefruit pith. The IBUs arms race of the mid-2000s saw breweries boasting of developing 100-plus IBU beers and proudly calling them palate wreckers. A lot of consumers assumed they just didn’t like IPAs at all. But while most breweries chased bitterness, some smaller outfits on the East Coast decided to do something different with strains of hops and yeast that were just coming into their own.
Many of the hoppy beers Hill Farmstead released off the bat had a softly bitter, unfiltered, and highly aromatic quality. Quickly, customers started to realize that haze in beer -- more suspended solids -- could translate to a softer texture and more palatability. Combine that with the guava, melon, mango, and orange marmalade notes of the new hops being released by hop-breeding programs, and the stage was set for NE IPAs.
“You have that second wave of IPA breweries, including us, drinking Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead, but at the same time the hop market was also exploding and that was a big player in what made this new wave of IPA possible,” says Lauren Grimm of Brooklyn-based Grimm Artisanal Ales, which she co-founded in 2013. “There was a shift from hop growers and scientists working to produce hops for bitterness to producing hops for aromatics.”
Portland’s Great Notion was one of the first Pacific Northwest breweries to hang its hat on hazy IPAs when it opened in January 2016, and co-founder and brewer James Dugan credits much of the ability to produce those beers to the farmers who created varieties like Citra and Mosaic. He puts it bluntly:
“If you think about the tools in your toolkit as a brewer 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure we couldn’t make the beers we’re making without these hops.”
But hops are only a part of the equation, because the real magic of the NE IPA occurs in the interplay between those hops and yeast. The yeast strains used to brew NE IPAs are different from the Chico yeast brewers would have traditionally reached for: they create more esters, which are sometimes perceived as fruit aromas and flavors, and they tend to leave a fuller, sweeter impression.
There wasn’t much chatter about the yeast used to brew IPAs until recently: Most American brewers probably used Chico yeast, and fermented the beer super clean. All the details were in the malt-hop balance. Brewers who were interested primarily in fermentation probably found IPAs pretty boring... until NE IPAs hit the scene.