Drinking a ‘New England IPA’ Brewed in Belgium
Can Belgian beer capture the flavor of American hops?
Written by Alex E. Weaver
Photography by Tolga Kilinc
A few months ago, I spent a week in Tuscany for my brother’s wedding. (He’s got a flair for the dramatic.) I went for him, and stayed for the fantastic food and wine. But I was on the lookout for good beer, too.
Locally speaking, the beer scene there is ruled by two elderly gentlemen: One by the name of Luigi Moretti, the other Giovanni Peroni. Though entirely unlike the big American IPAs I’m accustomed to, I enjoyed letting my beer nerd armor drop for a while and drink as the locals do. Those beers were light and unassuming, fitting for a week spent lounging on an old villa high atop a hill.
Imagine my surprise, though, when I learned a cousin of the now-bride was also a big beer fan, and had just stuffed his suitcase full of favorites from Belgium. Better yet, he was anxious to share.
Surprisingly — or, perhaps, not at all — he’d found a bottle shop there owned by a fellow Chicagoan and replete with rare beers from around the world. When a lull in the dancing hit, we took the opportunity for a quick beer tasting.
The first was an excellent American pale ale from Hoof Hearted Brewing out of Ohio called Are We Having Fun Yet? — an ironic phrase for the moment. Stuffed with Galaxy hops and notes of mango and pineapple, it was a jolt to a palate gone numb with local lagers.
The second, though, was the real head-turner. Before me was a New England IPA from Préaris out of Belgium. I knew because that was its name, printed right on the label: New England IPA — 6% ABV, 35 IBU, “boutique brewed” by a brewery RateBeer dubbed the best new brewer in Belgium in 2013.
Proliferation of the style has been fast and furious, spreading all the way to the West Coast (gasp!) before jumping ship and trickling into parts of Europe and beyond. It’s inevitable. But this attempt proved to me beers, like most things in life, shouldn’t be judged by their covers.
The Préaris NEIPA was fun to try, and it was tasty. But it wasn’t a true example of the style. It felt like the color was more orange than hazy, and the fruity notes hit hard upfront but dissipated quickly, leaving a thin mouthfeel in their wake where a more seasoned palate was expecting something viscous and enduring. The hops seemed to be an afterthought.
Brewers are known for pushing boundaries. Sometimes, though, it’s safer to stay in the lanes.