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Dec 22, 2014

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American Beer Month: 2000 Tasting
New England IPAs

by Mitch Steele

Mitch Steele has been a brewer at Anheuser-Busch for eight years. He spent three years as A-B New Products Brewmaster, during which time the brewery introduced the American Originals and Michelob Specialty lines. He's now Assistant Brewmaster at A-B's Merrimack, N.H., facility. He began his brewing career at the San Andreas Brewing Co. in Hollister, Calif., and still loves craft brews. He visits as many brewpubs as he can and homebrews occasionally.

When asked to pick a theme of beers to taste for the Real Beer Page online tasting, I bounced a few ideas around before I came up with New England-brewed India Pale Ales. Being a recent transplant to New Hampshire, I definitely wanted to use a New England theme for this sampling. And I've known that New England has been a hotbed for IPA brewing for a while, so I thought it appropriate to focus on the IPA style. Some beer drinkers may have the impression that the biggest, hoppiest, most intense IPAs are brewed on the West Coast. But times are changing, and there are some great IPAs being brewed all over the country. I welcomed the opportunity to give New England IPAs their due.

So now I had to find the beer. The members of MASH (Manchester Area Society of Homebrewers) recommended the North End Superette in Manchester as a hot spot for good craft brews, and they were right. A great selection of local and hard-to-find craft brews awaited me as I entered the store. After studying the selection, and resisting the temptation to try and include some of my West Coast favorites in the sampling, I chose 7 locally brewed IPAs. My tasting notes are below:

Lucknow IPA
Castle Springs Brewing Company, Moultonborough, N.H.

I have to fess up: this has been one of my favorite beers for a long time. It has been a multiple award winner, and in my opinion is a classic American style IPA. Beautiful light amber color, with a dense, creamy head. The aroma is very complex: malty, estery, and the obligatory citrusy grapefruit hop nose combined with a unique perfumy/peachy aroma. The beer explodes in the mouth with a very well-balanced mix of malty sweetness and powerful citrus/peachy hop and hop bitter. The bitterness lingers nicely. What's remarkable about this beer is the balance. It has a very full, malty body and it has huge hops, yet neither flavor overpowers the other. It is one of the most complex, flavorful beers available. For my money, one of the best IPAs brewed.

Harpoon IPA
Mass. Bay Brewing Co., Boston, Mass.

This beer's deep golden hue is lighter than most of the others I tasted. The hop character is prominent and complex, and comes out more and more as the beer warms in the glass. The mixture of piney, citrusy, and leafy hop notes is quite pleasant. A little thinner than the other beers, but still maintains a good balance of hop and malt character. The finish is a bit drying, which compels me to drink more to quench my thirst. The hop character lingers and coats the tongue nicely on the finish. I believe that this is New England's best selling IPA, and for good reason. It is the most accessible IPA of this set (which, by the way, is a good thing). The beer possesses wonderful hop flavor, and great drinkability.

Long Trail India Pale Ale
Long Trail Brewing Co., Vt.

Having been impressed by Long Trail's beers in a previous visit to their scenic brewery in Vermont, I was somewhat disappointed in this beer. The appearance was deep gold, with a lighter head of foam. The aroma was complex with a spicy, peppery hop note, grainy, and a hint of butterscotch and cooked vegetable. The taste was bitter, grainy and tart, with the bitterness being somewhat overpowering and unbalanced. This particular sample was bottled in April, and was definitely showing some signs of age. The label also advertises itself as the hoppiest brew in the states, which may have been true at one time, but there were some brews in this set that had more hop character, and I suspect that there are brews out there that are hoppier (can you say Three Floyds?). I'll try it again, when I can get a fresher sample, because I know from previous experience that this brewery makes fine beer. I should also note thought this beer was not purchased at the North End Superette, it was found in a Vermont convenience store.

Sam Adams IPA
Boston Beer Co., Boston, Mass.

This is an English style India Pale Ale, with some interesting twists (which seems to be the norm for Sam Adams). The label states that the beer is hopped with a combination of East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops, and is aged in American oak. The appearance was deep golden, and had the best foam lace of the set. The aroma was very malty, with almost a German malt note. Alcohol flavors blended with the malt and a mild, spicy, earthy hop note. I was a bit leery about the American oak. From my former winemaking days, I knew that American oak can be quite overpowering. But the oak here was somewhat subdued, and added an interesting level of complexity to an already complex beer. The beer finishes sweet and malty, with a slight lingering bitterness. If American citrusy hop notes are what you want in an IPA, this beer isn't the one. But as a good example of an English style, this is quite interesting, and well done.

The Shipyard Fuggles IPA
Shipyard Brewing Co. Portland, Maine

Another English style IPA. The appearance is golden, with a thick foam. This single-hopped brew has an aroma that is largely hop: herbaceous, spicy, and woody, with a hint of graininess. I found the hop aroma to be deeper and more interesting than I would have thought for a single variety. There was a hint of butterscotch in the flavor, and a grainy character that indicates that this beer may have been a bit past its prime, despite the fact the label states "best enjoyed before November." The slightly drying finish makes you want to drink more. If you want to experience the full flavor profile of the classic English Fuggles hop, this is a great beer to try.

Nutfield India Pale Ale
Old Nutfield Brewing Co., Derry, N.H.

Truly a local beer for me, this is brewed just across the Merrimack River in Derry. I believe this is a new brand for Nutfield. This beer was the lightest colored of the set, had the best head retention of the set. The hop aroma was slightly spicy, earthy, and herbaceous. A spicy, citrusy flavor of the hop came out more in the taste, and combined well with the nutty, grainy flavor of the malt. Curious about the hop character, I called the brewery and was told that they are using a hop called Vanguard in this beer to balance out the citrusy character of the Cascade hop that is also being used. I found this hop combination intriguing and well blended. This beer finished off slightly thin and dry, with a pleasant lingering bitter.

Magic Hat Blind Faith IPA
Magic Hat Brewing Co. South Burlington, Vt.

The appearance is deep copper, with a good head of foam. The aroma is fruity and estery, with an overwhelming hop character that reminded me of green peppers. Magic Hat's web site states that the hops used are "Willamette and UK Progress, then (lots of) Cascade". The label calls the beer "blessed with hops," the understatement of the year. It was also the darkest beer of the set. There are 4 malts used in this beer, which provide a nice level of complexity and body to balance out the hop bitterness. The finish possesses strong hop bitter and a touch of butterscotch. Definitely one of the hoppier IPAs of this set, brewed by a brewery with one of the coolest names in the business.

Some may find it ironic that I chose to review IPAs for this taste session. After all, my career is focused on brewing lightly hopped American Lagers, and I do love my Budweiser. But anyone who knows me also knows my love for big, bitter, dry-hopped ales, just dripping with intense floral and citrus character. And New England is a great place to find these beers. Not only was this a good set of bottled IPAs, but most of the brewpubs I have been to in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are also pouring IPAs (Brew Moon, Martha's Exchange, 7 Barrel, and Stone Coast, to name a few, are pouring great IPAs). There is a nice mix of American and English style IPA's being brewed, and I look forward to continuing my exploration of New England breweries.

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