Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oshkosh and the New England IPA

For the past couple years, the most hyped American beer style has been the New England IPA. Or, if you'd rather, the Northeast IPA. Call it what you will. Except if you're in Oshkosh.  Around here there's no point calling for it at all. You're not going to get it.

Before cracking into what that's about, a brief summary of the style. I'll call it NEIPA for short.

Visually, these beers are striking. Others would say sickening. The classic NEIPA is intentionally hazy. Murky even. To the point being opaque. They can look like juice purée. For example...

The aromatics are just as distinct. A billow of citrusy hop aroma is typical. The flavor is hop-saturated. People often describe them as juicy. Tropical fruit notes are pronounced. It’s a showcase for modern hops. Think Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Galaxy. The mouthfeel is lush. Soft. The bitterness noticeably subdued. It’s not what you’d expect from a beer so infused with hop flavor. People fucking love them. But you can’t get them in Oshkosh.

I've been drinking beer here for more than 20 years. There's never been a style of American craft beer so elusive in Oshkosh as this one. Blame geography.

The leading brewers of the style are located, as you might expect, in New England. The best known are Massachusetts breweries Tree House and Trillium. And Vermont's The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead. None of them distribute here.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. These beers are notoriously poor travelers. The hop dependent aromatics and flavors degrade quickly. This style benefits greatly from proximity.

And it’s gradually making its way closer. Over the past year, NEIPAs have been produced by Wisconsin breweries in Baileys Harbor, Cedarburg, Milwaukee, Madison, La Crosse, and Waunakee among others. Our local breweries have been apprehensive to join in. That’s about to change.

Lion’s Tail in Neenah will likely be the first brewery in this area to produce a NEIPA. Alex Wenzel, owner and brewmaster at Lion's Tail, recently became interested in the style. He says he's been drinking his share of it lately. Alex is currently working on his formulation for a NEIPA that he hopes to release this summer.

There's more. Fifth Ward Brewing and Highholder Brewing are on schedule to open in Oshkosh later this year / early next. Each is considering adding a NEIPA to their portfolio.

Ian Wenger and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward says they will "absolutely" produce a NEIPA, once they're open. And Mike Schlosser of Highholder is considering brewing the style for his brewery's second set of batches. By this time next year, Oshkosh ought to be a lot more familiar with what these beers are about.

Until then, there are a couple beers currently available here that play off the NEIPA style. Hop Debacle from O’so Brewing was released in Oshkosh in May. It certainly looks right.

The aroma was spot on, too. But O'so went a bit wide of the mark when it came to mouthfeel and bitterness. I found Hop Debacle to be overly bitter and lacking the soft palate synonymous with NEIPAs.

Toppling Goliath's Double Dry Hop Pseudo Sue another in this line. This beer wasn't brewed to hit the style mark, but in most respects comes close to what you'd expect in a NEIPA.

Both these beers are available in the bottle shop at Gardina's. I believe I spotted the Toppling Goliath beer at Ski's as well. They'll have to do... for now.

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