West Coast IPA vs. New England IPA — What’s the Difference?

“What IPA beers do you stock?” is perhaps the most often heard question at my local craft beer hangout each night. It seems everybody’s heard about IPAs — even millennial drinkers. IPAs have become the darlings of the craft beer scene over the last decade or so, and, many would argue, are responsible for the huge explosion of the US craft beer industry.

The IPA, or India Pale Ale, has certainly become a favorite of mine! I love the sharp hops flavor, and as far as intense bitterness is concerned, you can’t beat a traditional West Coast IPA.

But for some, that extreme bitterness can be too much of a challenge for their taste buds.

man pouring beer into the glass

Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

Fortunately, for those who enjoy a hoppier beer but find that often eye-watering bitterness too unbearable, there’s a new official beer style: the hazy IPA, also known as the New England IPA.

Just what is this new hazy beer trend and how does a New England IPA differ from the traditional West Coast IPA? Let’s take a look at these two popular beer styles and which one may be more suitable for you.

What is a West Coast IPA?

West coast IPA

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The West Coast IPA, if you want to be technical, falls into the official beer category of American Style IPA: a clear, golden-colored beer which sometimes veers towards copper from the use of roasted malts.

A traditional ale, it is a top-fermented beer using an ale yeast at warmer temperatures — compared to lagers which use bottom-fermenting yeasts at much cooler temps. A West Coast IPA tends to use malted barley as its main grain source, with very few exceptions.

Hops define a West Coast IPA, with a strong hops aroma coming primarily from ones grown on the West Coast, especially the Washington State area, although Southern Hemisphere hops can also be used on occasion. The malt content of the West Coast IPA is dominated by that intense hoppy flavor profile.

For beer lovers looking for those more bitter flavors, a standard West Coast IPA — not Imperial, Double-hopped or Triple-hopped, etc. — will have an IBU (International Bitterness Units) of between 50 and 70, but some extreme West Coast IPAs like Pliny the Elder can edge over 100 IBU.

For reference, a standard lager would normally have an IBU of between 10 and 15, so that’s some pretty darn intense bitterness a West Coast IPA has!

The hoppy nature of a West Coast IPA isn’t just about the bitterness, though — it also has fruity flavor notes.

The Brewers Association, in its beer guidelines, states an American Style (or West Coast) IPA should have a clear fruity nature with “berry, tropical, stone fruit, and other” flavor profiles. Often described as piney beers, there is a distinct hop aroma that often smells like resin in the same way hemp products do.

Unfortunately, just as your palate gets used to the spice in spicy food, it also becomes accustomed to the bitterness of a West Coast IPA and craves even more bitterness. As crazed beer fans sought even more bitterness, the West Coast independent breweries tried to out IBU each other. Advertising campaigns asked, “Are You Man Enough to Handle Our IPA?” in the same way spicy food asked if you were man enough to cope with the heat. Mikellar even infamously crafted an IPA with a staggering IBU of 1,000.

In 2014, relief appeared in craft beer culture for those who sought something “easier” to drink, in the form of the Hazy IPA from the East Coast.

What is a New England IPA?

New England IPA

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Although originally introduced to lovers of craft beer way back in 2014 from about a dozen breweries, it wasn’t until 2018 that the Hazy IPA, or New England IPA, was recognized as an official beer style.

Again, the brewing process used top-fermenting ale yeasts rather than bottom-fermenting lager yeasts, but the hops added to the brew resulted in just a bit of bitterness, rather than the intense levels of bitterness in a classic West Coast IPA.

On pouring a New England IPA, the first thing a beer drinker notices is the hazy, almost juice-like appearance of the ale. Barley malts are cut with other grains such as malted wheat, oats, or other adjuncts in the New England brewing technique, and the ale is unfiltered too.

A pale honey malt treatment found with many New England IPAs gives them their lighter color, with a biscuity quality or juiciness in some. As a result of the haziness, New England IPAs will have a silkier feel in the mouth as it is drunk.

The coveted aroma of hops is still present in a New England IPA, although bitterness levels drop way down, with some New England IPAs having an IBU as low as 30. For reference, a draft Guinness has an IBU rating of 45, so New England IPAs can be very smooth, especially for an IPA style of beer.

For those new to the craft beer culture, a New England IPA can be a more approachable introduction to the world of IPAs.

That reduced bitterness comes largely from when the hops are introduced to the brew. Both styles of beers use lots of hops, often in obscene amounts, but in different ways and at different stages. In West Coast IPAs, the majority of the hops are added in the boil stage, where the higher levels of heat extract the maximum bittering properties of the hop.

In New England Hazy IPAs, the hops are used after the end of the boil or during fermentation. Hop residue left suspended in the liquid makes for a foggy beer or gives it the hazy appearance and new mouthfeel.

A New England IPA has a flavor profile of orange juice, mango juice, and juicy stone fruit characteristics, along with some hints of floral and spice. The juiciness often meets the Brewers Association official guidelines for flavors of pine, citrus, floral, spice, or others for IPAs in general.

The Yeasts Used in New England IPAs

East Coast craft brewers are well known for their experimentation with different strains of yeast — in particular, British yeasts.

Although both styles of IPA use a top-fermenting ale yeast, West Coast IPAs tend to use a flavorless yeast. New England IPAs use juicier yeasts that kick out all the stone fruit and intense flavors associated with English bitters. A New England IPA is as much yeast-led as it is hop-led, with the yeast used more for flavors and scent rather than bitterness.

A silkier feel and body is the key characteristic of a New England IPA with less of a carbonated feel than West Coast IPAs for a minimal bitterness which feels more like a juice rather than an attack on the senses.

Unfortunately, this juice trap that New England IPAs have fallen into means some drinkers demanding “juicier” ales have now got a beer which resembles Capri Sun rather than an IPA. From one extreme to the other, it seems you can’t win!

So, Which is Better — West Coast IPA or New England IPA?

There’s no easy answer to which style of IPA, West Coast or New England, is best. Again, it’s down to a matter of personal preference: How bitter do you like your ale? Do you want every mouthful to be a challenge, or just something that is easily drinkable on a hot Summer’s day?

Hop head purists would argue the West Coast IPA is the original American Style IPA and is still the best. By very definition, an IPA should have a strong hop aroma. The flavor of the hops should shine though, and the beer should have an intense bitterness to every taste.

Although new to the market, New England IPAs have a juicier flavor which appeals to more newbie drinkers who may eventually find themselves seeking out more hoppier beers to try. A flavorful take on the IPA beer division, Hazy IPAs can appeal to both those regular IPA drinkers looking to take a break from the bitterness of competitive beers or those just dipping their feet into the craft beer market for the first time.

To complicate matters even more, there are other takes on the IPA sector such as English style IPAs, Imperial IPAs, and even Dark IPAs which you can read more about here in our article, How Many Different Types of IPAs Are There?

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