The rise of New England IPA has been about many things: culture, biology, curiosity. And now as the style begins to reach an apex of popularity, it’s increasingly about dollars. Hot on the heels of the Brewers Association officially making New England-style IPAs and Pale Ales a recognized category for its competitions, there’s some new quantitative data to back up just how big this nascent style has become for drinkers and breweries.
A barometer of success for places like Tree House or Trillium or Great Notion could be shown by taking a look at their crowded taprooms or expansion plans, but now there’s some sweet, sweet IRI data to back it all up from the market firm’s grocery and convenience (and more) channels.
Some of the most notable entries into the category have come from three of craft's biggest members: Samuel Adams (New England IPA), Sierra Nevada (Hazy Little Thing) and New Belgium (Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze). You're welcome to judge each beer based on the potential of its name, or according to your own personal opinions of each beer maker, but objectively, they've all been pretty big hits for each brewery.
All three debuted nationwide in what was essentially consecutive months (Hazy Little Thing began its rollout in late 2017), and as we look back on the first quarter of 2018, their success is clear.
To put this in context, Hazy Little Thing has sold in three months ($3 million) in IRI MULC stores almost as much as Sidecar Orange Pale Ale ($2.1 million) and Tropical Torpedo IPA ($1.6 million) sold together in Q1 of 2017. Those two brands were Sierra Nevada’s biggest year-round additions last year.
In two months of national sales, Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA (~$1.6 million) fell well short of a bar set by its Voodoo Ranger IPA ($7.9 million) and Imperial IPA ($4.1 million) cousins in all of Q1 of 2017. It did, however, accrue roughly the same dollar sales compared to all of 2017’s IRI MULC sales for Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA.
After one month of national sales, Sam Adams’ New England IPA (~$625,000) theoretically is well ahead of the brewery’s big IPA release from last year, Rebel Juiced IPA, which totaled $968,000 IRI MULC sales in Q1 of 2017.
The best part of this party? Everyone's invited.
In Williamston, Michigan, Old Nation Brewing Co. has actually sold more of its M-43 New England IPA by dollar sales ($714,269) than Sam Adams NE IPA in IRI channels. (Granted, M-43 has been in stores longer.) Shipyard, which has seen sales decline for the past two years, has still managed to find a small windfall with Finder New England IPA. In three months of 2018, that brand has already sold 154% in dollar sales compared to what it made in 2017. Epic's NE IPA series has done the same, accruing 177% of dollar sales versus last year.
When it debuted in February 2017, an NE IPA made by Bremerton, Washington's Silver City Brewery quickly became one of the business’ top-selling brands. Tropic Haze IPA sold almost as much as its flagship Nice Day IPA in IRI MULC stores in 2017, but in the first three months of 2018, Tropic Haze is outselling Nice Day in dollar sales two-to-one.
“We knew we had something special on our hands as soon as it hit the market,” says Dan Frantz, marketing manager for the company.
It’s all a little ridiculous. And if you look at brands that include some variation of “haze,” “juice,” or “New England” in their name, it’s a half-joke to say they’re almost a guaranteed sale these days. (Not to say that packaging is the end-all, but it does matter.)
Here's a rather arbitrary datapoint to emphasizes the naming assertion. I pulled any IPA with some version of those keywords in its name and set a threshold of at least $50,000 in IRI MULC dollar sales in Q1 2018. That amounted to 24 brands from across the country all representing various forms of modern IPA—many of them were NE IPA, but all used "juicy" or "hazy," the starting block of the BA's newest-admitted style.
And all these numbers aren’t even tracking the most popular place to sell NE IPA—directly at the brewery taproom. Bart Watson, Brewers Association chief economist, estimates that this collection of beers amount to about 1% of craft volume, but 15% of growth.
Through the first three months of 2018, these brands (which included Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium) outsold the same brand sales in 2017 by nearly $2 million. Remove those three “big craft” brands, and the remaining beers still account for almost 50% of the remaining IRI dollar sales. Again, that's three months of 2018 sales against the entirety of 2017.
But want to see what a monster NE IPA has been specifically? Compare it directly. Here's how NE IPA brands compare to their IPA (and IPA sub-style) counterparts for a collection of breweries. All numbers are based on IRI MULC stores in the first three months of 2018.
First, the big boys:
Then some regional breweries, where the contrast is even more stark:
Even BrewDog's worldwide flagship, Punk IPA, can't stand up to its Hazy Jane NE-Style IPA in the U.S. Hazy Jane outsold Punk by more than 40% in dollar sales over the first quarter of 2018.
In the case of a brewery like Silver City, their own success, and seeing it consistently from peers all over, has emboldened them to expand their NE IPA offerings. Ripe ‘N Juicy Double IPA is a new year-round version of the style described by the brewery as “like cutting into a fresh cantaloupe...if it were filled with a metric sh*t-ton of ripe, fragrant hops soaked in pineapple juice.” There’s also a new, seasonal release series that will create new NE IPAs. For a brewery that’s been around since 1996, Frantz says it’s another case of letting staff innovate and evolve with the industry.
“It’s important to never get set in our ways,” he says.
It's clear he's not alone in that thought.