Good Beer Hunting

Garrett Oliver Would Like You to Kindly Remove Yourself from His Lawn

In today's Morning Advertiser, James Beeson quoted Garrett Oliver as saying the NE IPA style is "based around Instagram culture."

And, I mean, I get where he's coming from. Instagram is where we see the photos of the lines, the camping chairs, the iceman pours. It's also where we see almost all of beer culture to some degree. Instagram is where the "lifestyle" aspects of beer drinking shine. And the NE IPA—in all its orb-like, orangey, milkeshakey glory—perhaps shines brighter than most. It's awe-inspiring to some as much as it's confusing to others. That's a pretty rad thing to have happening in beer at all. 

"New England IPA is a beer style that can be really tasty when it is well made," Oliver concedes, "but it can’t even sit on a shelf for two weeks. It has no shelf life to it at all."

To borrow some of Oliver's own famous retorts: "C’mon man, give it a rest. You want us off your lawn?" 

First, I routinely have good and bad versions of every new branch on the evolutionary tree of beer. There's nothing unique to NE IPA in terms of its hits and misses. Second, how in the world does he think shelf life is the point of any of this?

Yes, it was a passing conversation that was recorded and printed and perhaps lacks Oliver's deeper thoughts on the subject given its brevity and spontaneous nature. But I doubt it. Oliver's statements mirror what most people say who have only had a passing experience with the style. Those folks—even seasoned brewers—tend to write off NE IPA for its lack of shelf stability, its appearance, and its trendiness. They seem unaware that the makers of these beers have no desire for shelf stability. They're often packaged and sold day-of and drank within a week or so anyway. (And some, like Other Half's Sam Richardson, say they loves them best at two months, so who even knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) Meanwhile, the appearance of these beers is wide ranging—from the subtle haze of Hill Farmstead's rustic hoppy beers, to the unsightly yeast suspension of a Heady Topper, to the candle-wax appearance of their decedents. NE IPA is still a spectrum, and everyone's finding their way.

The people making these beers are doing so within a new model for beer making, selling, and drinking that simply didn't exist for Brooklyn Brewery. It's a context that enables this style to exist, and they're taking advantage of it to try new things. Throughout history, the beers that were made didn't come from some platonic ideal of what a beer should be. They were the results of constraints and opportunity. Available ingredients, water profiles, technology. Clear, shelf-stable beer itself replaced murky beer more than a century ago. No one was claiming that sparkling Lager was based around camera obscura culture. It just looked fucking delicious to the drinkers of the time who were excited by something new.  

Rather than trying to figure out how to make a declining flagship more shelf stable so it can sit warm in the grocery store for 6-12 months in Florida while it waits for a "Why not?" purchase after the locals hit an out-of-stock gap, NE IPA brewers are making beers that audiences are begging for, and they're doing it directly off their own docks with no concern for its shelf life since they don't need one. For many, the NE IPA is beer at its most immediate, freshest, flavorful peak. 

Ever since our panel discussion called "Hazed and Confused" at Beavertown's Extravaganza, I've had a heightened awareness of the misconceptions of the style, especially among well-established brewers. And it's getting a little embarrassing. 

Brad Redick, a member of our Fervent few summed it up beautifully: "Brewmasters with decades of experience don't understand the equation of the NE IPA success. They work backwards with their own equations that resulted in success as if you can plug and play with the variables. Then we get these nonsensical opinions."

Oliver also went on to say that it's a passing fad, like the Black IPA: "These things come and go. I have seen a great many fads over my 28 years of brewing; three or four years ago it was black IPA—everyone brewed one. Now it’s hard to find one."

He's right, everyone brewed one, including Brooklyn. It was part of the Brewmaster's Reserve Series.

Oh, and this other notion that one of the world's largest craft brewers doesn't follow trends is ludicrous. "We don’t do bandwagon. We start things and then we wait for other people to come behind it.” Oliver and company certainly do get ahead of the game at times. They did that with their Half Ale, which was a fantastic sessionable Saison at only 3.4%. And in 2014, no less! But it's dying on the vine because being too far ahead of the curve is costly to an operation of Brooklyn's size. It's much better to sit back in the pocket and respond to the mainstream like they did when that whole quick sour thing proved to be more than a fad with Bel Air Sour

So, is the NE IPA based around Instagram culture? Find me something that's not. 

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