IPA: West Coast vs East Coast Debate Settled
So, let’s settle the great debate.
Magic vs. Bird…
Biggie vs. Tupac…
West Coast IPA vs. NE IPA…
We’ve got some big decisions here. For full disclosure, Biggie always wins. Yes, I know I probably just upset 90% of you readers who clicked on this article, but in fairness I grew up on the East Coast. And Biggie was better.
So, while we may not agree on my musical tastes, I have to say it’s hard to vote on which coast is better. I’ve never been to the West Coast. Closest I’ve gotten is Vegas and who really remembers anything when they go to Vegas? This one I’ll give to you Cali kids. Our water may be warmer on the East Coast, but you’ve got better surf and that’s what it’s all about. It’s probably been 5 years since I’ve been on a board and would probably break an ankle, but it’d be worth it.
Now we get to the Big One. The Reason I’m writing this article. The Biggest Debate Ever (because this is Booze League) …West Coast IPAs vs NE IPAs…who’s really got the better beer?
First and foremost, we have to realize that these styles are completely different. West Coast IPAs are full of citrus and floral hop bitterness but with a relatively light malt body. This makes for some heavy IPAs in both flavor and ABV. NE IPA are all about the full-on haze, the citrus is more balanced to the body of the beer and often its somewhat like a milkshake.
The prime two examples that come to my mind when I think of West Coast IPAs are Stone’s IPA and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder (yes even us East Coast guys have gotten some to try). Pliny really pushes the idea to the forefront. The hops are unbalanced. Tons of hop bitterness hit your nose and tongue right away but leave a quick dry and crisp finish. Even at 8% ABV, the hops mask the alcohol. Once you’re past the hop bitterness you can drink 5 of these…and promptly fall over.
The hops in West Coast IPAs tend to also have some more dank and resinous qualities to back up the citrusy and floral flavors of which I’m a big fan.
Now let’s get to the East Coast. The New England IPA, (NE IPA), has become increasingly popular since 2010. The original NE IPA, to me, was The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. Still arguably in my top 5 beers of all time, the most surprising thing I noticed years ago when I first drank it was that the can specifically said to “drink from the can.” On the East Coast rumors stillrun rampant saying that the reason Heady Topper always tastes like so much fresh citrusy hops is because the brewery adds hops directly to each can before putting the lid on. This would explain why the beer has always poured so hazy...which believe it or not, people used to complain about.
Now that the NE IPA is a true style, nobody seems as concerned that the beer is hazy. In fact, they want more Haze. The most recent instance I’ve seen of this was Proof Brewing’s Fruity Pebbles I’m Popular. Proof, based in Tallahassee (plugging one of my favorites...deal with it), originally brewed I’m Popular their take on the NE IPA, and then for good measure, more haze and some nostalgia, they added Fruity Pebbles to the beer. It was great, and I drank way more than I should have. (Don’t worry, I called an Uber like a responsible beer nerd).
So, who truly wins? West Coast or NE IPA?
I think if you polled every craft beer drinker over the age of 27, most of us would agree that West Coast paved the way for more experimental IPAs. I also think we would choose West Coast. There’s nothing like a dank resinous palate-wrecking IPA to start your night off.
If you polled craft beer drinkers that are closer to 21, I think they’d side with NE. Mainly because these are the mainstream IPAs that every brewery is cranking out as fast as possible.
So, if you’ve read this far what have we decided? Probably nothing more than both beer styles are stellar and should be enjoyed. For me, I’ll take West Coast all day when it comes to IPAs.