I come from the birthplace of the New England IPA. I remember having a debate with my California friends about who makes better hop-forward beers, East Coast or West Coast, back in 2012. This was a debate in which I was in the minority. Of course, then it was a point of pride that there was this nascent style of beer creeping up in small taprooms across the region in which I lived. It was a quaint little notion that we were in on the secret.
Now everyone knows.
It’s reflected, too, on the shelves of beer stores where every brewery—even breweries outside of New England—are trying to recreate the magic of those hazy beers you see across Instagram. As a consumer, though, I’m fed up. I just want an IPA again.
A couple months back, I was in St. Louis and visited 4 Hands Brewing Company. When I did a cursory ask of the bartender what the most popular beer is—I think it was phrased, “What’s everyone drinking? What’s pouring great right now?”—his answer was, “Everyone loves the IPA.” Well of course, I thought, and usually that the masses like it is enough to compel me in another direction, but instead I chose their flagship IPA, Incarnation.
Maybe the best IPA that I’ve had this year hails from neither coast, but rather the banks of the Mississippi River, somewhere in the middle.”
Incarnation is a mosaic-hopped IPA that clocks in at exactly 7% ABV, which is my limit for single IPAs. The best IPAs, I have found, fall somewhere within 6 and 7% ABV. The beer poured a translucent amber, more reminiscent of the hop-forward ales of yore than the orange juice murk that rules now. The aroma was mostly tropical fruit, a pleasant and light nose that’s more delicate than overt.
The beer was, for lack of a better phrase, airy and light. There were big waves of pineapple, apricot, and mango with a slight malt backbone. It was not frothy nor juicy. Even the bitterness of the backend was super mellow and didn’t linger. My biggest regret was not taking a six-pack to go.
When I think about IPA diversity, it goes with the coasts. If I’m looking for a traditional take with strong pine notes and a bracing bitter finish, I’ll go west coast. If I’m trying to assault my palate with juice and no bitterness, I’ll reach for a NEIPA. But maybe the best IPA that I’ve had this year hails from neither coast, but rather the banks of the Mississippi River, somewhere in the middle.