How short is the shelf life of a NEIPA? A (kind-of) scientific study

One of the major criticisms of New England style IPAs is their extremely short shelf life. While all hop-forward beers suffer from this shortcoming, it especially hurts a beer that relies on late/dry-hopping for flavor and aroma as a predominant feature. The aromatic compounds that give these beers their fruit juice flavor and pungent nose dissipate or degrade quickly, so it is extremely important to drink the beers as close to the packaging date as possible. This wasn’t an issue with many of the original versions of the style, they were brewed in small batches and sold directly to the consumer within days, ensuring optimal freshness in most cases. Now that some bigger breweries like Sam Adams an Sierra Nevada are taking a crack at the NEIPA style it is important to see how sitting on a shelf in a bottle shop will effect the quality of the beers. I read constantly about how short the shelf lives of these beers are, but I haven’t seen an in depth study that proves this. Fortunately, in addition to writing about beer, I am a research scientist, so I designed a fun experiment where I intentionally ruined one of my favorite beers in the name of science.

Melcher Day 1Materials: For this study I obtained a couple 4 packs of Trillium Melcher Street IPA, one of my all time favorite versions of the NEIPA sub-style. You can read my full review of Melcher Street IPA HERE. I bought the beer in December within days of canning, directly from the brewery in Canton. I wanted a beer I had enjoyed  number of times so I had a solid foundation of what the beer should taste like under optimal conditions.

Study Design: Ideally I would have a number of beers brewed/canned on different days and then aged, so that I could sample them in parallel, but logistically this is nearly impossible. For one, most of these breweries have rotating release schedules, so you never know when a particular beer will be brewed. I also don’t have the ability to drop everything and run out to a brewery at any time. There is also the potential for variation batch-to-batch that has nothing to do with the aging process. Instead I purchased a couple 4 packs in December and left three cans to age on a shelf in the glassware cabinet in my dining room. I was hoping to mimic the environment of a shelf of a liquor store, which is much different from a proper storage cellar. I sampled beers on the day of purchase and again after 1, 2 and 3 months of warm storage. I also sampled a beer that had been stored in the fridge for the first month. Each beer was transferred to the fridge for a day before consuming, and then consumed to check the changes in taste and aroma. Here is what I found:

Month 0: This beer is world class when it is fresh. A giant burst of fruity hops on the nose followed by big hop flavor, peach, grapefruit and mango with a little resin and a very subtle bitter bite. There is just a hint of sweetness here, but more from the fruity hop flavors tricking the palate than any lingering malts. A great beer.

Month 1 (warm storage): I was amazed at how much this beer changed. I was initially going to do 1, 3 and 6 month time points, but tasting this beer led to a shift in the study design. The flavor is still top notch, plenty of citrus and tropical fruit, but I was amazed at how much aroma was lost in just a month on the shelf. You still get some aromatics with a good deep breath, but the pungent hop aroma that helps make this a world class NEIPA is gone. If this was my first time trying the beer I would have still enjoyed it, but my evaluation would take a hit due to the lowered aromatics.

Melcher on the shelfMonth 1 (cold storage): After I finished the warm stored beer I immediately opened up another can that had spent the month in my beer fridge and the difference was striking. The big nose was very much present, and the beer was stellar. If anything the month in the fridge mellowed out a few of the more assertive notes from the fresh beer and improved it. I wish I’d saved 2 more cans in cold storage for the other time points, but I honestly didn’t think of it and I have limits on the amount of amazing beer I am willing to ruin, even if it’s for science.

Month 2: The first month on the shelf dissipated a substantial amount of the beers aroma, and after two months it was completely gone. There is still solid hop flavor, but the malts start to assert themselves a little more. This isn’t a bad beer, but it is a huge downgrade from the fresh version. I really wish I had saved a can for two weeks in the fridge to see if it held up.

Month 3: No nose on this beer at all. The flavor is OK, some fruity hops come through along with some bready malt. The change from month two to month three is much less dramatic than the changes over the first two months. Not a terrible beer by any stretch, but not at all what you would expect from the style.

Melcher FinalConclusions: New England style IPAs have a reputation for incredibly short shelf lives, and this study helps back up that reputation. After even a month on the shelf you notice a substantial decline in quality, and after 3 months even a top shelf NEIPA is pretty much ruined. It is always important for breweries to date their packaging and for consumers to check dates before they buy the beer, but it is especially critical with this sub-style. As NEIPAs hit distribution I’ve seen a number of freshness dating strategies. One of the best is Springdale Brewing who clearly marks the canned on date, the best by date (2 months after canning for hoppy beers) and a directive to store the beer cold. Other breweries just have a single date with no explanation of what the date means, have numbers that are impossible to read or decipher, or even worse have no date coding at all. If a brewery really cares about delivering the optimal product to their consumers they will clearly date all of their cans and work with distributors to keep the freshest possible beer on shelves and encourage bottle shops to store the beer cold whenever possible. It is also critical for consumers to check the dates and store the beer cold once they buy it.

It was fun to delve into a little science as part of Hoppy Boston!

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Down the Road Spring Heel Jack

My life has been a little chaotic recently, one of the March storms threw a wrench into lots of plans and knocked power out at my house for a few days, and then during the most recent storm my wife and I went into Boston for the birth of our second child. Now I am back into caring for a newborn mode, which means too little sleep, tons of family commitments and living in a general haze. I am hoping to keep up with Hoppy Boston as much as possible, posts might be a little more infrequent, typos will definitely be more glaring and my social media presence will be less regular, but I should settle into a new schedule and find some time to write about (and drink) beers. As winter weather lingers into late March I am still drinking a number of porters and stouts, I’ll need to grab a few more if we get hit with this storm on Wednesday. One new-to-me beer that I finally sampled is Spring Heel Jack, a London Porter from Down the Road Brewing in Everett. Down the Road has been expanding their lineup recently, with a variety of different styles out in distribution and served in their taproom in Everett. Spring Heel Jack is one of their winter releases, brewed with roasted malts balanced by Fuggle hops. It is available during the winter months on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Down the Road Springheel jackDown the Road Spring Heel Jack porter pours pitch black with a solid light brown head. The aroma is rich with roasted malts. The flavor is also malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, cappuccino, caramel and black licorice along with a hint of sweetness. This is balanced by some herbal and grassy hops that help crisp up the finish. Spring Heel Jack is medium bodied and drinks smooth, not overly boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish is full with some lingering roasted malt flavor. This is a nice porter, plenty of flavor and goes down easy, a good beer for the lingering cold weather as winter heads into spring. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Down The Road Reviews:

Down the Road Seventh Star IPA, Down the Road Hooligan Nut Brown Ale, Down The Road Rasenmaher KolschDown The Road Pukwudgie Pale Ale

 

 

Mayflower X

In many industries a company that’s ten years old is still relatively early into their lifespan and just establishing themselves in the minds of their competition. Craft beer is a very different beast, a 10 year old brewery is a grizzled industry veteran that was around before the current explosion of new breweries. It will be really interesting to see how many of the breweries that opened in the last few years make it to their tenth anniversary. I bring this up because Mayflower Brewing Company recently celebrated their 10 year anniversary, a huge milestone for a brewery in the current market. To celebrate ten years Mayflower brewed a big and boozy imperial stout simply named X. It seems like breweries tend to make high alcohol beers for big anniversaries, maybe because these styles tend to age well and it’s fun to cellar some and re-visit the anniversary beer in subsequent years. Mayflower X is a one-off beer, available for a limited time on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Mayflower XMayflower X pours pitch black with a mild tan head. The aroma is rich roasted malt, chocolate and dark fruit. The flavor is malt forward, notes of cocoa, coffee, dates and brown sugar along with some warming booze. There is minimal hop flavor, as you would expect from a boozy stout. Mayflower X is a full bodied sipper and packs some serious punch at 11% ABV. The finish is rich with some lingering malt flavor and booziness. This is a really nice imperial stout, happy 10 years to Mayflower! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Mayflower Reviews:

Mayflower Hometown Brown, Mayflower Alden, Mayflower Standish, Mayflower Daily RationMayflower SquantoMayflower PorterMayflower Scotch AleMayflower Spring Hop, Mayflower Oatmeal Stout

 

Hoppy Boston Best Beers- Winter 2017/2018

Every three months I do a summary of the best beers I reviewed over the last quarter. The last few “best beer” articles have been very IPA-heavy so I was determined to focus my winter reviews on some more diverse and malt-forward styles. Mission accomplished, my favorite beers of winter are all bold and boozy, and only one is an IPA. As always, all of these beers take up permanent residence on my Favorite Beers list and the links provided below lead to the full reviews. If you have any suggestions for beers I might have missed feel free to pass them along. Cheers!

Foundation Forge

Foundation Forge: A stellar imperial stout. Robust roasted malt flavor, smooth and almost no boozy burn despite the big ABV. Foundation is known for their IPAs but this is a top-notch dark ale.

Ommegang Three Philosophers

Ommegang Three Philosophers: A classic beer for a reason. Huge flavors from the malts and the expressive Abbey-style yeast strain, big and boozy but still smooth and drinkable. One of my favorite quads.

Allagash InterludeAllagash Interlude: While they make stellar beers up and down the lineup, Allagash Brewing’s barrel aged and wild ales show a true mastery of the craft. Interlude is a mixture of a traditional saison, Brettanomyces fermented ale and an ale aged in red wine barrels. Complex and delicious.

Night Shift The 87Night Shift The 87: Night Shift decided to rework the recipe of their flagship DIPA and the results are phenomenal. Huge hop flavor and aroma and incredibly easy to drink for a bigger beer. Everything you want in a New England Style DIPA.

Random Beer Thoughts: February 2018

If you read one thing from this links article it should be Jeff Alworth’s four part series on sexism in the beer industry. Part 1 is an introduction, part 2 is about the experiences of women in the industry, part 3 is a female brewers perspective, and part 4 is what you can do to help. I think this series should be required reading for every person in the industry.

If you read TWO things from the links article the second one should be my new post for The Full Pint; Making Spectacular Beer isn’t Enough: Ways for a Brewery to Stand Out in a Saturated Market. Feel free to chime in and let me know the best things (other than the beer) that make you come back to your favorite breweries over and over again.

The Mass Brew Brothers did a summary of the “So You Want To Start A Craft Brewery?” articles, using information acquired from each article in the whole series. It was really fun being a part of this series and seeing how each writer approached their article.

Mystic VoltageMystic Brewery has announced that they are building a new brewery in Malden, which will allow for expanded production and overcoming some of the issues with their current location in Chelsea. Mystic is doing some amazing things, balancing their expertise in Belgian styles with creative and delicious hop-forward beers.

The Massachusetts Brewers Guild is working on a number of pieces of legislation that will help local breweries. There have been some issues getting these bills moving, especially the bills to reform franchise laws. All Massachusetts beer fans should take a few minutes to read up on these bills and then contact your state reps to express support for your local breweries.

Anonymous Brewing is starting a Kickstarter Campaign to help get the brewery off the ground. To learn more about the prospective brewery you should check out this article by the Mass Brew Bros.

Boston.com does a virtual brewery crawl through the state of Rhode Island. They are making a ton of amazing beer in the smallest state in the union.

Lamplighter Birds of a FeatherLamplighter has expanded their taproom, opening up a second area with seating. I’ve usually stopped by on weekday afternoons to grab beer to go (I work nearby), but I’ve heard the place gets packed early on evenings and weekends, so this should help.

The good news is that Dann and Martha Paquette, the founders or Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project, are opening a new brewery. The bad news is that the new brewery is in Sheffield, England. Pretty Things was one of my favorite breweries, I wish they were re-opening something locally but I’m glad they are making beer again and I hope some of it makes the trip across the pond.

Notch Zwickel BeerJosh Bernstein has an article in the New York Times on the rise in popularity of Kellerbier and Zwickelbier, unfiltered young lager styles. A number of local breweries are featured in the piece. Plus the beers are delicious.

After over 200 columns Dave Patterson, author of the stellar Beer Muse column in the Portland Press Herald is signing off to publish a novel. His articles have always provided an informative look at the Maine beer scene. Fortunately they hired another great beer writer to take over the column, Carla Jean Lautner. Her first column profiles Industrial Way, where you can get a variety of amazing beers from a number of different breweries all in one place.

The Full Pint has a rundown of the reasons that some brewers and drinkers hate the NEIPA craze. I think it is mostly a backlash against something that is new, different and extremely popular (along with some jealousy at the buzz these beers have created).

Trillium named their new beer Storrowed after the phenomenon of trucks getting stuck under the low bridges on Storrow Drive. One of my favorite recent beer names.

Andy Crouch writes an ode to session beer, and at the same time bemoans the lack of quality session beers in the US market. In Massachusetts we are a little spoiled in this regard due to breweries like Notch that focus on quality, low ABV offerings.

Paste Magazine continues their standout series of blind tastings with an overview of the porter style, including a few local favorites.

Night Shift The 87The uncertainty on the future of Smuttynose also effected Night Shift, who was using the New Hampshire brewery for some of their overflow production. Fortunately Night Shift now has an agreement to produce beer at the Isle Brewers Guild in Pawtucket, so we won’t see shortages of Santilli and Morph any time soon.

Widowmaker Brewing has signed on with Night Shift Distribution, so we should start to see their beers appear on draft lines in metro Boston and other parts on Massachusetts.

Wachusett has kicked off a series of collaboration beers dubbed the “1794 series”. The first release is a collaboration with Irish brewmaster Fergal Murray, a hoppy New England stout named The Fergal Project.

Good Beer Hunting has an article on breweries skirting trademark laws by releasing one-off beers that are clearly a violation but are gone before legal action can be taken. As much as I love seeing beers named with cool pop-culture references, this practice is pretty shady.

Bon Appetite has an overview on the 10 types of IPA, with a good explanation of the different sub-styles and terminology. You know that beer is fully into the national consciousness when publications like Bon Appetite are writing beer articles.

That is it for this month, as always feel free to pass along anything that you feel should be included in the article. Cheers!

Two Roads Two Juicy

One of the most interesting developments in the early part of the year has been mid-sized and larger breweries jumping on the New England IPA bandwagon. Breweries like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have introduced hazy and low bitterness hop-forward ales and began distribution across the country. This is a big change for the style, most of the breweries that spearheaded the popularity of NEIPAs are small and sell the majority of their beer directly to consumers from their breweries. It will be interesting to see how the beers do in wide distribution, the style is notorious for it’s short shelf life. One brewery who has been brewing and distributing a NEIPA for a while is Two Roads Brewery. Two Roads has managed to launch their double NEIPA Two Juicy across a number of states and they do a good job keeping fresh beer on the shelves and draft accounts. Two Roads Two Juicy is brewed with Hallertauer Blanc, Citra and Mandarina Bavaria hops and is available year round on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Two Roads Two JuicyTwo Roads Two Juicy pours hazy light yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a solid burst of hops, lots of tropical fruit. The flavor is hop forward, notes of pineapple, mango and stone fruit along with a crisp bitter bite. There is just enough malt for balance, hints of bread dough and cereal. Two Juicy is medium bodied with a solidly rich mouthfeel and packs a little punch at 8.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with plenty of hop flavor. This is a really nice NEIPA, plenty of hop flavor and super easy to drink for a bigger beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Two Roads Reviews:

Two Roads Ok2berfest, Two Roads/Evil Twin Geyser Gose, Two Roads Rye 95Two Roads Route of All EvilTwo Roads Workers Comp Saison