One of the biggest trends in beer, especially over the last year-plus, has been the proliferation of New England IPA, an extremely hazy, unfiltered, juicy version of the American IPA and Double IPA styles that have taken over craft brewing. Until about three weeks ago, the state of Arkansas had not seen a major local example, but that changed when Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock released its Trash Panda IPA.
So what’s the story on this style? Largely a regional variation of the standard American IPA for many years, the general consensus is that NEIPA originated at The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, Vermont with its now-highly regarded Heady Topper. For a long time the #1 rated beer on BeerAdvocate (and currently chiming in at #9), the unfiltered, slightly hazy, tropical juice bomb of an IPA would now be considered a very restrained version of the style, much like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale may seem compared to more hop-forward and bitter American Pale Ales.
Many of the most well-known and highly rated version of the NEIPA are now extraordinarily hazy, cloudy, and thick, bearing a very close resemblance to orange juice or pineapple juice. Fittingly, that tends to be pretty similar to the flavor profile, as big dank tropical and citrus hops are the stars in these beers. And though that milkshake-like appearance may seem a bit off-putting on paper, the aromas coming off the best examples of these beers make them impossible to turn down. Packing all that hop aroma and flavor, and really dialing back a lot of the typical bitterness of an IPA, makes for an irresistible beverage. That said, these are not the lightest of beers, and you may find yourself feeling a bit full after a pint or two.
So getting back to the here and now, a very important aspect of the New England IPA is that it really should be enjoyed fresh. The cloudiness settles out, the hops age quickly, the aromas fade, and what was once irresistible gets a lot less exciting. Though there are many incredible versions of this beer out there (I count 5 in the top 10 on Beer Advocate, and 11 in the top 20, with seven of those from Tree House Brewing in Massachusetts), short of trading via mail or ordering online from one of the few sites that ship to us, it was very difficult to get a fresh example anywhere in Arkansas, if then.
Lost Forty’s Trash Panda IPA, named after the ring-eyed varmint you might find sifting through last night’s rib-bones if you walk outside at the wrong time, is the first large-scale production of New England IPA in the state, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve had this beer twice now, once at the Great Arkansas Beer Festival and once at Big Orange Midtown, and the glass of pineapple juice-like liquid set in front of me yielded tropical aromas of mango, melon, tangerine, and of course pineapple, as well as a certain green leafy substance, and the flavor profile matched. And though this beer looks heavy, it actually drinks fairly light and easy, with only moderate bitterness to create balance.
Hopefully this is the first of many examples we see in the area (Edit: On a smaller scale, a big nod to Rebel Kettle for variations they've done on this style). And remember, these are best enjoyed as close to the source as possible, so get it on tap if you can, in a growler or crowler for immediate consumption or from a can that hasn’t been sitting around for long, for the best results.