I’m coming up on the 1 year anniversary of diving headfirst into brewing New England IPAs. In fact, it’s all I’ve been brewing this past year in pursuit to crack the code to the perfect hazy IPA with a soft mouthfeel and juicy hop character. It’s definitely been a frustrating journey as I often compare my beers to the best commercial examples out there. I’m also incredibly picky, and like most of you, my own worst critic.
I was often left asking myself what the hell brewers put in their beers to achieve such amazing flavors using the same ingredients as me. What I did learn is not only are ingredients very important, but the technique is equally if not even more important. In order to replicate such a difficult style to brew, we must replicate the processes and equipment of a commercial brewery to the best of our abilities. While it’s all really important, it’s really the cold side that will ultimately make or break your success.
While I feel as though I have finally produced a beer I’m really proud of, there is still much to learn and so much more to explore. I can say with confidence that with the right process it’s 100% possible to brew a commercial quality NEIPA at home, you just need to do everything perfectly.
Brewing a New England IPA
I will say that after trying a handful of various NEIPA recipes online, they all more or less look the same. A base malt of 2 row with a mix of white wheat and flaked oats. Whirlpool additions of citrusy fruity hops followed by 5-8 ounces of dry hops on the tail end of fermentation. I was pretty much getting the same poor results every single time. I knew exactly what I wanted, I just didn’t know HOW to brew it. There had to be some missing link.
All of this information comes from extensive research, podcasts, Scott Janish’s book, experimenting, failing, advice from professionals, and other homebrewers. If you’re just starting on this journey, hopefully, this article will help point you in the right direction. I’m certainly not an expert, and I’m sure there are several ways to achieve a delicious New England IPA, this is just what has worked well for me.
If you dig really deep, all of this information is out there. The problem is there is also a tremendous amount of really bad advice out there. Trust the pros (and the really experienced homebrewers), not the random dudes (like me!) in forums spewing untested advice.
I’m going to dive into:
- Water treatment
- Grain bill
- Dry hopping
Water chemistry is a very complex topic and still something I am learning more about myself. I would say no other style quite dictates attention to water chemistry like the NEIPA. It’s not enough to use tap or just wing it. You must have an understanding of the mineral makeup of your water and how to adjust it. This is where brewing software comes into focus for building a water profile, adding brewing salts, treating chlorine with Campden, and understanding mash pH (shoot for 5.1-5.4). If you ignore this step and do everything else right, You’ll never quite nail it.
Chloride to Sulfate Ratio for NEIPAS
I’ve done a lot of experimenting with chloride to sulfate ratios and have finally settled on 3-1 chloride to sulfate ratio. This will help really round out your beer to achieve a soft pillowy mouthfeel that accentuates hop character. If you were to inverse those numbers, you’d be left with a sharper, more bitter edge on your beer. I’ve done both extremes and can tell a definitive difference.
People will argue until the cows come home on what ratio is best but this seems to be the sweet spot for me. You’ll need to invest in a water report and brewing software to dial all this in. It takes some practice and research but it’s really easy once you get the hang of it.
My Advice: Start with a chloride to sulfate ratio of at least 2-1. Use brewing software to build a water profile. Use RO water or get a home water test at Ward’s Labs so you know exactly what you’re working with. Treat tap water with Campden tablets to eliminate chlorine/chloramines. Use lactic acid to achieve a mash pH of about 5.3.
Your average grist usually looks like a base of American 2 row with some combo of white wheat and oats. The general rule of thumb is to use around 20% oats to add creaminess and body. This is also going to add lots of proteins that will contribute to haze later on. Many will cringe when brewing for haze, but let’s be honest, we drink with our eyes. Some may tell you that 20% is the ceiling, but I would be willing to try to push it even further to maybe 25-30%. I wasn’t happy with the haze and mouthfeel of my beers until I used about 20-25% of oats plus 7-10% of white wheat. This combo gave me that ultra saught after Trillium-worthy haze I was looking for.
My new favorite grain bill uses flaked oats AND golden naked oats. Golden naked oats are great for adding creaminess, mouthfeel, and silky head retention. Absolutely one of the favorite additions to my recipes (shout out to my man Nick for turning me on to this).
My Advice: Don’t be afraid to boost your flaked oat bill to 20%+ of the total grain bill. If you have a traditional sparge system then you should include rice hulls to help avoid a stuck sparge. Don’t let anyone tell you how hazy or not so hazy your beer should be. Follow your heart (and your eyes). Experiment with golden promise or pilsner malt in place of 2 row.
It wasn’t until I started understanding the mash temps of commercial beers I liked that I understood how mash temps were affecting my own beers. I absolutely had a problem with mashing too low on several early batches. This was giving me dryer thinner beers that just didn’t have the medium-bodied sweetness I wanted to achieve. Trillium mashes many of their beers very low (149-150°F), while I love Trillium, it’s actually probably dryer and sharper than I personally prefer.
I received some different advice from the head brewer at Mighty Squirrel, which was to mash higher (154-156°F) for a sweeter fuller body. Mash temps are honestly a matter of preference and the overall result you’re looking to get. I don’t think one way is any more right than the other. In general, I like to shoot for a final gravity of around 1.017-1.020. This will give you the subtle sweetness and softness you need to accentuate the juice character. It’s also important to understand yeast attenuation and how yeast selection will impact final gravity.
My Advice: Mash in the 148-150°F range for a drier crisper finish. If you want fuller bodied with a softer, sweeter finish, mash higher in the 154-156°F range (my personal preference).
If you’ve read my 5 yeast experiment you’ll know how much power yeast has over your final product. The same beer, pitched with different strands, can ultimately result in two totally different products.
I focused a lot of my early research solely on using London Ale III 1318. London Ale III is a very popular choice among commercial breweries, so I figured that was my best bet. This strand will throw tropical fruits and subtle esters that work really well overall. I think it’s a good place to start for most approaching the style however there are so many good choices out there.
As of writing I have used:
- Wyeast London Ale III – 1318
- Gigayeast Vermont IPA – GY054
- Wyeast British Ale – 1098
- White Labs Dry English Ale – WLP007
- White Labs Saccharomyces “Bruxellensis” Trois – WLP644
- Omega’s Tropical IPA – OYL200
- Imperial Yeast Dry Hop – A24
- A combo of SalAle US-05 and US-04
I’ve marked my favorites in bold as of now. I’m also really curious to explore Voss Kveik, WLP008, and WLP002. From what I’ve heard from a source, WLP002 is the yeast of choice for a lot of ‘big name’ NEIPAs.
My Advice: I think London III 1318 is a great place to start. That said, pick a strand and stick with it for a while while you tweak various elements. I think it’s important not to change too many things at once so you can better understand what is working and what is not. Always make a yeast starter or pitch two packs of liquid yeast. I’d rather slightly overpitch than under pitch. I’ve recently become a fan of Imperial double pitch packs.
Hops are a major, major part of the style. Timing, and temp will make or break your results. In this section I’m going to touch on both hot and cold side hops and what they do.
Hop Selection for NEIPAs
There are numerous hop choices out there that are great for NEIPAs. Personally, I lean towards tropical citrusy hops that are fruit-forward and compliment the tropical notes driven by the yeast. If you’re just getting started, I would pick 2 hops and use in both the whirlpool and dry hop. It’s hard to go wrong with citra, mosaic, and galaxy as they’re going to give you a lot of tropical flavors. There are so many other options out there but I think it’s important to start with the basics before getting too wild with hop varieties.
Combining too many hop varieties at once will also leave you with a muddled mess of flavors. I’d rather use one hop variety throughout the entire recipe over four. The best advice I received was not to change too many variables at once so you can pinpoint what’s working and what’s not.
Lastly, look at Yakima Valley Hops or Yakima Chief Hops and buy direct from them! High quality hops make a BIG difference. You absolutely need the best hops you can get your hands on for the best results. Trusted suppliers will ensure you get properly packaged and stored hops.
Whirlpooling is the process of adding hops post boil at sub boiling temperatures. The idea is to preserve flavor and aroma and not boil off the volatile oils that add tremendous character.
Most if not all of your hot side hops should be added to the whirlpool and whirlpool only. I’ve tried small charges for the full 60 minutes, along with later additions in the last 10-15 minutes. I won’t go as far as saying these hops are wasted for this style, but I think all the bitterness and hop flavor you need can be achieved later while preserving as much of the volatile oils as possible. I’ve whirlpooled at temps as low as 108°F and as high as 185°F, however lately I’ve settled on about 175°F.
Trillium hints at doing 60-minute charges for bitterness. Trillium’s NEIPAs tend to have a pretty pronounced upfront bitterness unlike a lot of other breweries. I wouldn’t doubt they do the majority of their hopping on the cold side, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if they add a decent bittering addition as well.
My Advice: Start with whirlpool hops only for 20-30 minutes in the 170°F-180°F range with 3-5 ounces per 5.5-gallon batch. These additions will build the backbone needed for the dry hop, which is where the majority of the juicy flavor and aroma is going to come from.
The newest trend, especially with New England-style IPAs, is dry hopping during active fermentation in the primary vessel, usually on days 2-5 of fermentation. This is probably one of the defining characteristics of the style. The major buzzword around this technique is called biotransformation. Biotransformation is believed to enhance the flavors and aroma of the finished product through chemical reactions between the yeast and hops. This is said to lead to juicier and more pronounced tropical flavors that are thought to be unachievable with traditional dry hopping methods.
I’ve experimented with dry hop charges on almost every day in the active fermentation window. Day 0, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I will say that adding hops early and only early has not given me the best results. You need to save the majority of your dry hops until fermentation has reached terminal gravity. This is going to ensure you get the most out of your hops. I once made the mistake of adding 8 ounces of hops 48 hours post pitch and made a really astringent and bitter beer with no juice quality. The yeast essentially chewed through the sugars and blew any and all flavor out the window.
It would appear most of the big-name NEIPA producers I read about dry hop at terminal and terminal only. This is largely due to yeast harvesting and repitching practices. Yeast is harvested BEFORE hopping in order to salvage the yeast. At this point, I only dry hop post-fermentation, usually day 7-8 post pitching. This has 100% produced the best results for me hands down.
My Advice: Explore early dry hopping (24 hours post pitch) and see what you like. Regardless, I’d save the majority, if not all of your hops for days 7-8. You’re certainly not going to lack intense flavor. See my hop doser build.
Soft crashing is the process of dropping fermentation temps down to 55-60°F post-fermentation (after performing a diacetyl rest). This is going to drop some yeast out of suspension to make way for the dry hop. Dry hopping in large amounts with a lot of yeast in suspension creates what is called hop creep. Hop creep is when the enzymes within hops break down long-chain, unfermentable sugars into fermentable sugars, causing additional fermentation to occur (you can read more on this as it was sourced here).
This can actually lead to diacetyl production later in the keg due to the late-stage fermentation and inadequate time or temp for the yeast to clean up their newly created mess. I’ve personally experienced this and it RUINS the entire batch. Nothing like a nice butterscotch NEIPA developing a week after kegging!! It’s really important not to rush this stage as you don’t want to soft crash too early. Let fermentation finish and let the temp rise above 68°F on the tail end.
From everything I’ve read, I would say colder dry hopping is the norm for commercial NEIPAs. Another reason for this is once again improved yeast harvesting.
My fermentation/DH process looks something like this:
Day 1: Pitch yeast at 68°F and let rise to 72°F on day 2-3 for the remainder of fermentation.
Day 6-7: Drop the temperature to 60°F and hold for 24 hours.
Day 7-8: Dry hop charge, hold at 60°F.
Day 14: Crash to 35°F for 48 hours. Proceed with packaging/cold conditioning for another week.
Double Dry Hopping
DDH can mean slightly different things depending on who you ask. Some will tell you it’s two separate dry hop charges, others will tell you it’s one singular larger hop addition. At the end of the day, we can all agree that double dry hopped=dry hopping with double the typical amount of hops (whatever typical is these days…)
Trillium is quoted in a BYO article as adding 90-95% of their hops to the cold side of brewing, aka the dry hop. If a 5-gallon batch uses 12 ounces of hops, 10 ounces would be on the cold side. This is double the recommended amount your average NEIPA recipes will call for and probably assumed outlandish by many. Dry Hopping at higher rates has absolutely improved my results.
So many online recipes call for dry hops at a rate of about 1 ounce per gallon. I don’t think this is enough on a 7%+ IPA to achieve intense saturated hop flavor. My favorite NEIPA to date was hopped closer to 2 ounces per gallon, and I still think I could push it further. I will say that dry hop rates and ABV should go hand and hand. You can get away with more aggressive dry hopping on higher ABV beers. A session IPA or <7% ABV beer should probably have a scaled back DH charge to avoid astringency.
My advice: Dry hop the hell out of your bigger DIPAs and ignore people that tell you it’s too much. Shoot for 2 ounces per gallon and add the majority of these on days 7-8. If you would like to explore biotransformation, add a 1-2 ounce charge on day 2-3. My preferred ratio is about 70% cold, 30% hot. I think homebrewers may actually need to beef up their hot side to mimic commercial equipment.
Dry Hopping Under Pressure
Dry hopping under pressure could be the technique that really tipped the scales for me. There’s a tremendous amount of talk out there about homebrewers looking to ferment under pressure. The main benefit of pressure fermentation is being able to ferment at higher temps without the accompanying ester production. This technique is also used to ferment lagers at ale temperatures. When it comes to NEIPAs, pressure fermentation is not widely practiced because it suppresses fruity esters and yields muted results. Scott Janish wrote about experimenting with it and not being crazy about the results. That was enough for me.
@kbenoit mash low (~150F ish), add a little british light crystal malt, 90% of hops late/dry, dry hop under pressure in a cornie keg at 60F— Trillium Brewing (@trilliumbrewing) April 2, 2014
Several local breweries, Trillium being one of them, have suggested dry hopping under 10 PSI of pressure. The idea is to preserve the volatile hop aromas and also combat oxidation. Ever walk by your fermenter shorty after dry hopping? It smells amazing…but hop aroma in the air=hop aroma, not in your glass.
My Advice: Dry hopping under pressure of course requires a pressure-capable device. The best way to do this is with a pressure-rated conical fermenter. A much more realistic budget choice is to ferment in a modified corny keg, which works REALLY well and is a fraction of the cost. You can read more about corny keg fermenting here. It’s worth a shot to see what you think of the results and process before investing in an expensive conical fermenter.
This is not a major section but yes, I use whirlfloc in all my NEIPAs. And no, they’re not clear. I want to briefly touch on the sensitive topic of HAZE. Haze is achieved by the chemical reaction between hops, proteins, and yeast. Not by trub and yeast remaining in suspension. I’ve made perma hazy NEIPAs that remain hazy in the keg for months with no sign of clarifying.
Yeast selection and dry hop amount will also dictate haze. Higher dry hopping rates and high protein malts are going to yield hazier beers. From what I’ve read, water treatment can also contribute to stable haze. This does not translate to drinking sludge, folks. Think twice about advice on omitting whirlfloc or skipping cold crashing to “keep your beer hazy.”
Cold Crash and Conditioning
If there’s anything I hate with a passion it’s statements like grain to glass in >>>insert unrealistic timeline here<<<. This thinking of drinking NEIPAS FRESH is completely overblown and untrue. I would say the average commercial brewery producing NEIPAs is grain to glass in about 20 days, not 10.
NEIPAs need adequate conditioning time to really shine. Most advice I received from brewers was a minimum of 2 weeks of fermentation followed by a week of cold conditioning. Neil Fisher of Weldwerks says their flagship, Juicy Bits, takes 20-25 days to turn around! He stresses the importance of dropping yeast and hops out of suspension to eliminate vegetal, meaty, or astringency from the packaged product.
Cold crashing is going to help drop hop particles and unwanted things out of your beer much faster. Some commercial breweries use a centrifuge to speed this process up, allowing them to churn beers out faster than homebrewers. Cold crashing is not going to make your NEIPA clarify assuming you did everything else right. Anything that settles during a cold crash is going to gradually fall to the bottom of the keg in a few days anyway.
My Advice: Ferment for 2 weeks, cold crash for 48 hours at 33-35°F, cold condition 5-7 days pre or post package. This is going to help the more delicate flavors shine through. If you love harsh hop burn in the back of your throat, absolutely drink your beer on day 7.
Cold Side Oxidation
Cold side oxidation is the biggest killer of brewing New England IPAs. A once beautifully golden IPA is now a muddy and unappetizing flat brown color with sometimes a purplish tint. It’s an amazing phenomenon considering how careless you can treat other beers and not have any real adverse effects. Sure, all beers suffer from oxidation, but with the NEIPA, they become ugly, lose their popping hop flavor, and taste stale or like wet cardboard. Not to mention an incredible waste of expensive hops.
My NEIPAs are exposed to a negligible amount of oxygen and remain golden, hazy, and full of rich flavor for months in the keg. I always fully purge my serving kegs using the Star San method (fill keg with water/sanitizer and push out with C02) to ensure there is very minimal oxygen pickup. I use C02 to transfer my beer from my fermenter to the serving keg through a completely closed system. This part is incredibly important. You can learn more about oxidation and my process here.
Here is the recipe pictured above. I applied all these techniques in putting it together. Imperial’s Dry Hop yeast honestly steals the show and throws so much tropical fruit and nice esters. It’s loaded with pineapple, mango, and passionfruit. It features a nice creamy head, perfect lacing, and beautiful color thanks to golden naked oats. It’s juicy with a creamy pillowy finish without being overly murky despite being a heavily oated recipe. It’s honesty the first beer that’s made me really excited to share with friends.
I think it’s important to understand that producing a high-quality beer is the sum of doing every little thing right. There are no shortcuts and it’s certainly been a major learning process for me. It’s honestly taken me all of 1 year to finally produce a NEIPA that I really enjoy and would honestly stack up against a commercial NEIPA.
After several failed attempts I began to wonder if I could honestly produce what I was looking for at the homebrew scale. I went as far as investing in a conical to replicate professional processes and not run into any limitations. While I don’t think this is 100% necessary to make a great beer, it certainly makes things a whole lot easier. If you’re really serious about brewing NEIPAS, I think it’s an investment worth considering.
I hope this was helpful and I would love to hear about what’s working well for you too.