Serious Beer: New England IPA

Beer Reviews

Seeking out the best in malty, hoppy refreshment.


[Photo: Nick Leiby]

Our Favorites

Ipswich IPA
McNeill's Sunshine IPA
Smuttynose "Finestkind" IPA
Peak Organic IPA



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India Pale Ale needs no introduction to beer fans. This week, we continue Serious Beer's geographical tour of the style by focusing on IPAs brewed in New England. (We've previously checked out the IPA options from Washington State, Oregon, California, Colorado, and the Midwest.)

The IPAs brewed in New England don't fit into a single mold. Some hew to the British origins of the style and showcase malts as much as hops. Others subscribe to the modern American view of hops—if some are good, more must be better. Many examples walked the line between these two categories, balancing gentle hops with malt. Perhaps that's New England's stamp on the IPA style—a respect for heritage with a willingness to occasionally toss tradition into the harbor and start a revolution.

Seriously Hoppy IPAs

These examples follow the modern American tradition of piling on the aromas, flavors, and bitterness from hops. Citrus and pine characteristics are abundant here, and these beers tend to finish dry.

Serious Beer Ratings

5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite 4/5 Awesome, stock up on this 3/5 Around average for the style 2/5 There are probably better options 1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water

Ipswich IPA Massachusetts, 6.5% ABV Ipswich makes a darker, chestnut colored IPA. The aromas are earthy and nutty with apple and orange highlights. Sweeter caramel and toasted flavors are beautifully balanced with citrus and pine bitterness. A sharp, oily resin in the finish reminds you that this is an IPA, no matter how easy drinking it is.

McNeill's Sunshine IPA Vermont, 5.7% ABV Sunshine IPA is as bright and cheerful as its name implies, with aromas of pear, berries, and zesty grapefruit. Grapefruit sugar appears in the flavor, along with citric sourness and the bitterness of pith; it's like eating a grapefruit, skin-on. Apricots, pine, and biscuity malt flavors round out this beer. 4.25/5

Smuttynose "Finestkind" IPA New Hampshire, 6.9% ABV We smelled only faint aromas of scones and grass, and so were surprised by the piercing grapefruit bitterness that dominates the initial taste. Melon and floral flavors back up the finish, melding well with honey and biscuit to play off the bite. Smuttynose's "Finestkind" is puckering and refreshing, but not for the faint of heart. 4.25/5

Thomas Hooker Hop Meadow Connecticut, 6.5% ABV We smelled rising bread along with pine and floral hops. The flavor is balanced, crisp and smooth, with a mineral bitterness up front and a lingering hint of biscuits and graham cracker on the finish. A well carbonated and creamy beer. 4/5

Cisco Indie Pale Ale Massachusetts, 6.5% ABV I don't like the word bouquet, but this beer has one—apricot, grapefruit, honey, apple, and caramel are all evident, along with some musty cellar aromas. There's excellent balance between sweet honey and caramel and bitter pine resin and grapefruit. Even and quaffable. 3.75/5

Wachusett India Pale Ale Massachusetts, 5.6% ABV Sweet floral and orange aromas introduce flavors of golden raisins, biscuit, and walnut, all underlined by a delicate pomelo bitterness. Good carbonation makes you want to roll this beer around on your tongue. 3.5/5

Sebago Brewing Frye's Leap Maine, 6.2% ABV This beer is dominated by tongue-curlingly pungent grapefruit. Pine and raw cereal come along for the roller coaster ride, which coasts to a finish with sugary-sweet toasted malt flavors. Mild carbonation and sticky hop resin make for a slick mouthfeel. 3.25/5

Harpoon IPA Massachusetts, 5.9% ABV Harpoon's offering has caramel, floral, and citrus aromas. There's citric bitterness throughout the flavor, but it's fairly mild. There's nothing outstanding here, but the flavor balance is well-crafted. This is a good intro IPA. 3/5

Blue Hills IPA Massachusetts, 6.6% ABV We smelled peach, orange, and caramel, and tasted sweet berries and rye spiciness. A musty aftertaste was a little distracting. 2.75/5

Sam Adams Latitude 48 Massachusetts, 6.0% ABV The nose is clean, bright, and piney, with some mild citrus. A medicinal bitterness is present, mild at first, though leaving a chalkyness on the tastebuds. The malt flavors at the finish are sweet and syrupy. This was reminiscent of Sam Adams's lager, just hoppier. 2.75/5

Magic Hat Blind Faith Vermont, 6.2% ABV Part of Magic Hat's seasonally-rotating 'IPA on Tour' family, Blind Faith has rising-bread aromas, married to sweet grain, caramel, and vanilla tastes. The hops contribute a mild, spicy bitterness that lingers, fading to faint metallic notes. 2.5/5

Haverhill Leatherlips IPA Massachusetts, 5.0% ABV We tasted leather and bark, and a mild sweetness that reminded us of sugar water. A pungent floral bitterness sticks around like oil in your mouth. Low carbonation and a watery mouthfeel don't endear Leatherlips to us. 1.75/5

Maltier IPAs

These beers borrow from the English IPA tradition, which focuses more on malt flavors than American IPAs do. The butter and butterscotch characteristics in some of these beers comes from the chemical diacetyl, which arises as a natural byproduct of fermentation in certain yeast strains common in England. Some beer fans love it, others hate it, but it's certainly unique.

Peak Organic IPA Maine, 7.1% ABV This beer has sweet and gentle smells of honey, peaches, and moss. It tastes of caramelized, buttery malt up front, with a mild grapefruit bitterness at the end. The flavors are harmonized, the mouthfeel is creamy and luxurious, and the 7.1% ABV is well-hidden. 4.25/5

Portsmouth IPA New Hampshire, 6.5% ABV Citrus and floral hop aromas struck us first, with caramel appearing as the beer warmed. Warm alcohol, creamy malt, lemon rind, and deep nutty flavors are carefully calibrated to balance. In the lineup, Portsmouth's stands out in its subtlety and restraint. 4/5

Mayflower IPA Massachusetts, 7.0% ABV The nose is subtle peach and flowers. The flavors are much more assertive, with a citric bitterness fading to reveal a rich toasted biscuit, honeysuckle, and pepper. 4/5

McNeill's Dead Horse Vermont, 5.7% ABV Floral, earthy, and woody aromas play well with sweet malt. Finely layered flavors of toffee, biscuit, and caramel mesh with burnt sugar and orange peel bitterness. The combination of flavors conjures marmalade on extra-dark toast. 4/5

Gritty McDuff's 21 IPA Maine, 6.8% ABV We smelled candy sugar and toffee, and tasted butter, along with over-ripe fruits. Think toast smeared with jam and topped with movie theater popcorn. 3.5/5

Sea Dog Old East India Maine 6.2% ABV Butterscotch aromas are very strong here, trailed by caramel. Slightly sour flavors round out toast malt and rich, sweet caramel. The subdued, earthy bitterness and lower carbonation reminded us of an English bitter. 3.5/5

Shipyard Fuggles IPA Maine, 5.8% ABV This beer is named after the single variety of hops used in the recipe. The nose is all malty, sweet butterscotch, which continues in the flavor, rounding out biscuity notes and a spicy rye bitterness. 3.5/5

Opa Opa IPA Massachusetts, 6.0% ABV Opa Opa has a grape and raspberry aroma and a rich toffee and caramel flavor. There's an herbal bitterness and some burnt sugar backing up the sweet malts. However, other than the bitterness, the hop characteristics are understated. 3.5/5

Cottrell Mystic Bridge IPA Connecticut, 6.0% ABV This beer smells like tea time in a spring garden, with grass, flowers, and shortbread. There's a bite of metal and peat as the beer hits the tongue, but then the malts take over completely, finishing with bread, biscuits, and caramel apple. 3.25/5

The People's Pint Pied pIPA Massachusetts, 5.7% ABV Caramel, molasses, and toast are the strongest characteristics in the Pied pIPA. The hops are earthy and dirty, with hints of pepper. This bottle conditioned beer has lower carbonation and a stickier mouthfeel than many we tried. 3/5

Wolaver's IPA Vermont, 6.5% ABV We smelled yeasty banana and apple. The flavor was sweet all the way through, with some sourness and rye spiciness in the middle. The finish is metallic copper, with just a bit of orange peel. 3/5

Paper City India'n Pale Ale Massachusetts, 5.4% ABV The India'n has a mild aroma of tea and citrus. Toffee and biscuit malt flavors are up front, and the herbal, sweet tea aftertaste fades to a bitterness like a teabag steeped overnight. Unbalanced astringency and a watery mouthfeel knocks this down a notch. 2.5/5

Hop Flavor Without the Burn

These beers show off some of the gentler aromas and flavors of hops while keeping the bitterness light. They might be good bets for IPA drinkers-in-training.

Wachusett Green Monsta IPA Massachusetts, 6.0% ABV Wachusett kept the name of their now-retired Green Monsta Ale, but the IPA is a whole new beer. Sharp pine from a heap of Centennial hops dominates the nose. There are lots of grassy and floral flavors without a corresponding bitter kick in the mouth. The hop flavors balance well with bread and biscuit, and the carbonation is spot on. 4/5

Long Trail IPA Vermont, 5.9% ABV We smelled fruity yeast with a bit of sour lemon in this unfiltered and hazy IPA. The flavors were mellow, with grainy wheat character and hints of crisp, tangy orange. The lightness of the flavors and the delicate citrus notes reminded us of a Belgian wit. This will make an excellent summer beer. 4/5

Redhook Longhammer New Hampshire, 6.5% ABV Longhammer has a very mild aroma of rising bread. There's plenty of fruity hop flavor without too much bitterness, and the yeastiness reminded us of Belgian beers. As the flavors are more pronounced than the aromas, this would be a good choice if you had to drink something out of a bottle while grilling. 3.25/5

Disclosure: All beers except Wolaver's, Blue Hills, People's Pint, Paper City, Peak Organic, Opa Opa, Ipswich, Mayflower, Haverhill, and Harpoon were provided as samples for review.

About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.