This New England Style India Pale Ale instantly legitimizes Chicago’s “East Coast” IPA game
By Kevin Sterne
I’ll be honest, I can’t taste much difference between an East and West Coast-style IPA—other than the obvious signifier of location. Beer Advocate is equally at a loss here. Ten to fifteen years ago—when there was a fraction of the microbreweries as today—it might be like comparing apples to oranges. Now, it’s comparable to finding subtleties between Kardashians. They’re all the same to me.
I’ve had Heady Topper from Vermont and West Coast IPA from California; Boom Sauce from Massachusetts and Fresh Squeezed from Oregon. Full disclosure: I have not had the opportunity to try Pliny the Elder nor any beers by Tree House or Trillium. Heading into this write up I would say West Coast IPAs have a more prominent pine taste and malt backbone while their East Coast counterparts forgo malt for citrus flavors and a more juicy body (insert your Kardashian joke about juicy body here). But even those big tent differences feel like big straw grasps.
Two grafs in and we haven’t even talked about how the Midwest factors into this discussion. My take on the Midwest IPA and pale ale game is of fizzy, fructose-forward ales that cater to the demands of entry-level craft drinkers. IPAs are the Marijuana of beers, providing an easy gateway to the world of craft. But Midwest (aside from a few exceptions) hasn’t pinned down a style, nor exceeded (caveat to come) in copying the coasts. Chicagoland area microbreweries, in particular, have been culling from the same well of inspiration, and it’s only slightly better than the Chicago River. No doubt, Chicago is an IPA-thirsty market, but most Chicago IPAs exhibit what I like to call “the 7-Up taste,” where most of your sip is syrupy and overly fizzy (subtle nod towards a particular anti-establishment fizzy fist).
To totally bury the lede, Telehopic by Hop Butcher is the exception to everything above. This beer all but legitimizes the “east coast” style IPA in the Chicago.
For tasting notes here, look no further than the Denali, Mosaic & Columbus hops. Denali takes the driver’s seat with tropical pineapple while Mosaic rides sidecar, splashing heaven-sent mango juice. Don’t let the weak orange color of this beer fool you, this one packs a tropical punch.
I’d place this one a few notches below The Alchemist’s Heady Topper in terms of New England styles. It lacks the complexity and full body flavor. And to keep with this theme of East/West-Coast confusion, I’ll say it’s on par with the West Coast-brewed Fortum by Firestone Walker. Compared to the Chicago’s best beers, however, it’s among the best—as juicy as 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust but with far less malt compared to Pipeworks’ Citra. People I talk to say this isn’t even the Hop Butcher’s best New England Style IPA. Which, in terms of quality and consistency, puts Hop Butcher in a class with 3 Floyds and Pipeworks.
I admire Hop Butcher’s bent for perfecting a specific style, in this case the “East Coast” IPA. In such a saturated IPA market, many a microbrewery take a jack of all trades approach to their brewing, ultimately creating good, but not great beers. But Hop Butcher has nailed down a style, albeit a style that’s hard to define.
Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.