Are you looking for the best beers of 2020? Are you looking for the best Imperial…
Hazy Shade of Winter
“Look Around. Leaves are brown. And the sky. Is a hazy shade of winter.” – Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s a crisp afternoon as I look out over Boston Harbor. A dense fog is creeping slowly across the water like a shadow. It’s fitting that the air fills with this wintery haze as this is the cradle of the New England IPA phenomenon. Beers so cloudy that the collective vision of the beer drinking region has lost sight of the trail of bread crumbs that lead to clean filtered beer. Though this craze gained its popularity in New England, the virus has spread throughout the United States. There is not a region in the land that has not found their fevered collective unconscious infected with this hazy contagion. And what a beautiful sickness it is. This craze is more than a trend now as it has produced the most popular beers across the whole of the craft beer landscape. I have selected the 20 best beers in New England based solely on my experiences with these beers.
I’ll approach my analysis of the best beers in the region a little differently. NEIPA’s are so ubiquitous in the region it stains the backdrop and limits the ability to research any beers beyond this style. Ratings of NEIPA’s on Untappd or Beer Advocate are only separated by fractions of a point, making it difficult to name one as “the best” let alone rank them. In fact, if you were to take the best hazies from every state and average their scores, they’re virtually all above 4 on a 5-point scale. This speaks more to how popular the style is, than anything else. The bulk of the beer drinking crowd is consuming this style at a pace that is far and away ahead of any of the others. Novice beer drinkers as well as seasoned craft connoisseurs are among the masses.
This is also solid evidence that beer ratings are basically meaningless. While untapped and beer advocate are good resources to learn about a particular beer, they sometimes tilt the scales away from trying less popular styles due to arbitrary ratings from people who may not understand a particular style. I’m taking a cross-sectioned look at the 20 best beers in New England. For this particular exploration, I will separate beers by brewery and then list the best offerings of that brewery. For old school, non-ipa fans, hold steady. I plan on introducing a few to the list that are not hazy.
20 Best New England Beers (give or take a few)
Tree House is the Mecca of New England IPA’s. These guys were the ones who took the style to its zenith. In the early days of the craze people were clamoring from all over the US to get their hands on some of their brews. To this day, lines stretch 300 hundred deep on a routine basis. Virtually every beer they produce is rated above 4 on Beer Advocate and Untappd (for what that’s worth). Tree House produces their signature beers and then kicks them up a notch with variants of said beer. Julius, Haze, Green, Sap and Alter Ego are the bricks that built the brewery’s popularity. One of my most memorable beercations was too Tree House.
It is a beautiful setting with a staff that works like a finely tuned clock. People are eager to be there so the space between each other fills with enthusiasm and camaraderie. You can make a quick trip or you can take your time and enjoy your surroundings while savoring the best IPA’s on the planet. NEIPA’s have a reputation of tasting the same, and in most cases that is largely the case, but at Tree House you can taste the differences, the nuances that only come from attention to detail and a deep understanding of ingredients and the artistry to manipulate these mediums into a something special and unique.
- King Julius – Imperial Double IPA; This beer pushes the upper limits of juiciness without becoming the beer version of Capri Sun. It so perfectly crafted with enough hoppy bitterness to round of the sweet edges. It is loaded with clementine, hints of strawberry and melon. What elevates this beer is one of the longest, deepest and ever-evolving finishes you’re likely to experience with a beer.
- Very Hazy – Imperial Double IPA; This is one of the more interesting NEIPA’s available. More than others, this has more bready, malty presence. This lends a faint sweetness that is more honey like than typical stone fruit or tropical sweetness; though that is present as well. There are some insistent hop resins that refuse to be ignored and dry out the beer by bringing pine and freshly cut grass notes to the forefront.
- Juice Machine – Imperial Double IPA; JM is what would happen if King Julius and Very Green were to get married. It is loaded with hops that are citrus forward. Not bitter at all. You will be greeted with lemon drop and orange juice that politely steps aside as apricot and peach lingers on the back palate. It is thicker in the mouth than most NEIPA’s.
- Very Green– Imperial Double IPA; VG greets your palate with peaches and cream and papaya. The flavors roll across the tongue and presents new and interesting things to consider with a bit of a cilantro finish that gives it a Yucatan vibe.
Canton – (110 Shawmut Rd. Canton, MA 02021)
Fort Point – (50 Thompson Place, Boston, MA 02110)
Fenway – (401 Park Dr. Boston, MA 02215)
Beer Garden – (High Street and Atlantic Ave. Boston, MA 02110)
Trillium Ft. Point was my first stop during my NEIPA beercation. It is a tiny spot that is for pick up only. So I grabbed a caboodle of everything I could carry, then ventured my way down to the beer garden. I love the idea of sharing a beer with locals in the center of the city. You cannot escape the energy of that city, its smells, its noise, its personality and its foibles. Trillium celebrates Boston and you can taste it in their beers. They are unashamedly the NEIPA capitol of Boston and they have been rewarded with 4 locations due to that popularity. While NEIPA is their bread and butter, they do offer some delicious alternatives that should not be overlooked. Here were some of my personal favorites.
- Headroom – HR is Trillium’s boldest NEIPA. Zesty aroma with faint sniffs of scallion and grass. Nicely balanced of hop to fruit. Pineapple is the first to introduce itself on the palate that underscores mildly bitter whole cone hops. This is much more hop forward than your typical hazy, which is a very good thing. While the bitterness grabs you up front, the expected evolution of topical flavors with papaya, mango and passionfruit crawl pleasantly and deliberately across the palate.
- DDH Congress Street – with a liberal dose of galaxy and columbus hops, this beer smells of pineapple, peach, mango and citrus salad. The palate is full of soft candied orange and passionfruit. Not much bitterness, which would be useful to tame some of the sweetness and dry it out a touch. This is a gentle NEIPA that provides everything you’d expect from the style.
- Cutting Tiles – double IPA; Cutting Tiles emphasizes a single hop that changes on rotation. My personal favorite is the galaxy hop version. Local wildflower honey is used to keep a light body while accentuating the floral notes present in the hops. This is deliciously layered with citrus, honey, lemongrass and caramel sweetness present in the malt. The finish is the lingering honey that ever-so-slightly acquiesces to a moderate, spicy bitterness.
- PM Dawn with Peanut Butter – Stout; Finally something that is not an IPA. Your nose is assaulted with roasted peanuts and coffee. Sip this slowly my friends and you’ll discover chocolate covered espresso beans, rich chocolate that modulates to a moderate bitterness with the peanut butter hanging on through the long malty finish.
- Peach Super Soak – Wild Ale; As a lover of all things sour, this little nugget was a treat to find tucked away on the beer menu. As sours go, its not pretentious. It’s not trying to lull you into complexity. The peach that stays pretty consistent throughout the experience. Tartness to a point that is just this side of acetic. It is light bodied and crisp.
I have not had the good pleasure of traveling to this brewery, however, I have gotten to sample several of their beers. It is a bucket list dream to make it to this brewery as I believe it is best to drink the beers at the location they were created. You are drinking more than a beer that way, you are taking in the moment, time and atmosphere of the location. It’s an experience that can only exist at that point in time and space. I can just imagine breathing in the pine, viewing the rolling landscape and feeling the Vermont air on my skin as I sip on a beer that punctuates all of those qualities. The best I can do for now is to slowly savor these incredible brews with my eyes closed and dream.
- Abner – Imperial Double IPA; This is a legend of Vermont craft beer. It is a tint darker than most NEIPA’s produced. It is a first wave of hazy IPA. An OG if you will. In 2012 it blew my mind, because the style was so unique at the time. It has a firm carbonation that brings a very welcome bitterness with a faint hint of booziness. It is pungent in a musky and piney sort of way, the way Vermont smells in my imagination. A pleasing clementine and pear characteristic waltzes across the palate against the malt and yeasty backbone. The finish is clean with the beautiful minerality of the well water.
- Double Citra – Imperial Double IPA; Pineapple jumps out of the glass with some with whole cone hop aromas following. Lovely blend of pine, pineapple, green vegetable and hints of pepper. Malt is hard to detect. My first experience with this was over labor day, sitting back in an Adirondack chair, watching fireworks paint the night and feeling truly blessed to be with friends and family. It was a truly American experience.
- Flora Plum – Farmhouse Ale; Handpicked organic plums were aged in select wine barrels. Let’s just be frank, fruited sours are my jam. I crave them above most beers. I had this at a bottle share and it left an impression. Its easy to lose your way at a bottle share, due to the enormity of choices and the constant flavor punch to the palate, so when one stands out it really leaves a mark. This is a gorgeous beer. It pours a slightly hazy purple/pinkish champagne color. The head is bone white that is thinly circling the glass. There is a wonderful funk that weaves its way through a tapestry of peach, plum, berry and lemon. Extremely tart, but in all the right ways. Slightly pre-ripe plum giving way to juicier plum and ripe berries accent the first sip maturing into a wonderful barnyard funky finish. Don’t lose sight of this beer in the “haze.”
- Mary – Pilsner; A classic German-style pilsner that may possibly be the best pilsner in the world. There, I said it. Deep earthy tones, hay, grass, herbal with faint honeysuckle perfuming the air between me and the glass. First sip brings rye spice and bread crust. A dry grassy finish hugs the heartier essence of the beer. Even the most grizzled IPA fan cannot deny the delicate intricacies that pleasingly gambol across the tongue.
The Alchemist Brewing Company is a bucket list visit for most craft beer aficionados. It is really where the hazy craze fuze was lit. It rates a 4.9 on Beer Advocate in terms of breweries so that demonstrates in no small part to its enormous appeal. While I’m sure it is beautiful and the folks are friendly, the real draw is there legendary beers.
- Heady Topper – Imperial Double IPA; HT has long been the number 1 beer on multiple rating sites. While you know my stance on ratings, it does underscore how insanely popular this beer is and how revered it is by cicerones and novice fans alike. I was lucky enough to get one of these from a neighbor who used to live in Vermont. He muled one back to Texas so that I could judge for myself, just what the hype was all about. While I generally know what I’m getting with a NEIPA, this still surprise me. A unique “hello” offering by way of sweet lychee aromas paired with citrus erupts from the can. The hops are virginally fresh, smooth that satisfy on the back of easy maltiness that leaves a lingering nuttiness after the initial tropical fruits ebb. It is so good it beckons you to drink it faster than you should. Be sure to appreciate each sip. This one is worth stopping and paying attention to what is happening in your mouth.
- Focal Banger – IPA; Tastes more like a West Coast IPA with hints of tropical fruit. This relies on the bitterness of the hops to carry the beer that uses sweetness with the caution of a heart patient sprinkling salt across his entrée, just enough to enhance the hop. I love a nice bitter hop beer and citra and mosaic hops applied here have a chance to do their magic. Extremely satisfying beer.
5. Honorable mentions
Try the “There Goes the Neighborhood”—a delightful triple IPA, “Big Red Boat” or the “Long Live at Sea.” These offerings are a little lesser known gems tucked away in this fantastic brewery that is gaining steam with the locals.
Try the “Pulp Daddy” recent winner of last year’s March Madness, blind taste test of all the top NEIPA’s in New England. A list that featured heavy weights like Tree House, Trillium, and other big hitters. “Pulp Daddy” beat them all. No bias. Just straight taste test.
Try the “Bohemian Shine” the 2019 GABF gold medal winner for Bohemian-Style Pilsner. A satisfying beer that ushers in clean grain, corn bread sweetened with caramel indications from the malt and rounded off with the slight bitterness of floral hops.
Wow. This list of the 20 best beers in New England is an insanely large list of mainly NEIPA’s with a dash of sour, pilsner and stout just to make it interesting. This is an IPA lover’s paradise. Park yourself at one or all of these amazing breweries and try the best beers in the land. You cannot go wrong with any that you try. There are so many more I could add to this list and if I were to throw this away and start again, I’m sure there would be new ones that I had forgotten. It’s all a blur man…a “haze”…a beautiful, beautiful “haze”.