Brewers along the northeast coast are gaining a reputation for tweaking the American pale ale and India pale ale (IPA) styles. What have become known as northeast or New England pale ales and IPAs call attention to fruity tropical hoppiness, while dialing back on the sharp bitter qualities of hops. Some northeast brewers also load up the grist with wheat and/or oats, creating a hazy, cloudy appearance and soft, creamy body.
These trends haven’t gone unnoticed here in Wisconsin. They’ve influenced a number of local brewers. Bryan Kreiter of Next Door Brewing has his own take on the emerging style with his Stark Naked Pale Ale.
What is it? Stark Naked Pale Ale from Next Door Brewing.
Style: The pale ale is a medium-bodied beer with firm hop character in both aroma and flavor. These beers are usually golden to copper in color and 4.5 to 5.5 percent ABV. The northeast/New England signature is a hoppiness that can amplify flavors of grapefruit, peach, melon and tangerine. Because these ales are made with wheat and sometimes oats, they are soft on the palate. By comparison, the well-established West Coast pale ales and IPAs are more aggressive in piney and resiny bitterness, and sometimes they have a sharp, even stinging mouthfeel.
Background: The name Stark Naked comes from the Golden Naked Oats that go into the beer’s grist. “I started off wanting to create something softer on the palate than the typical American pale ale,” says brewmaster Bryan Kreiter. Oats make up about 10 percent of the malts in the beer, but that is enough for a noticeable difference. “Those oats are so delicious, I can eat them in a bowl with milk,” he says.
Kreiter’s selection of hops, Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic, are among the most popular varieties currently being used by craft brewers. “I use massive additions of both, over three pounds per barrel,” he says. Mandarina Bavaria has citrus and tangerine flavors, while Mosaic can lend softer hints of blueberry, papaya, bubble gum or a mosaic of flavors and aromas.
Kreiter describes Stark Naked as “inspired by” northeast pale ales. He even adjusts his brewing water to be similar to what brewers in the northeast brew with. A departure comes with Stark Naked’s clear orange copper color. Northeast brewers make these beers light yellow and hazy, with the appearance of a hefeweizens.
Another local brewpub, Vintage Brewing, just tapped a northeast-inspired beer called Northern Tropics IPA. Brewmaster Scott Manning makes it with a potpourri of Mosaic, Galaxy, Citra, centennial and Cascade hops; roughly a third of the grist is composed of wheat and oats for cloudy yellow color.
Even though Stark Naked is made and bottled in the Next Door Brewery on Atwood Avenue, you won’t find it there. It’s only available in select liquor stores in Madison and Milwaukee for $8-$10/bottle. It’s part of an exclusive line of bombers that are being released quarterly throughout 2017.
Aroma: A fruity-citrus nose
Appearance: Bright orange copper color. A bubbly, light tan head.
Texture: Medium-bodied and soft.
Taste: A crisp tropical hoppiness with hints of grapefruit and tangerine.
Finish/Aftertaste: Crisp, tropical fruity.
Glassware: The Willi Becher will focus the hoppy aroma under the nose and brilliantly display the clear orange-copper color of Stark Naked.
Pairs well with: fish, burgers, mildly spicy pizza and pastas. Kreiter’s pairing choice is fish tacos.
The Verdict: This pale ale succeeds because of its fresh citrus aroma and solid tropical flavors of tangerine, grapefruit, peach and apricot. The oats also helps bring out more of the mosaic hops’ range of fruit. I can see how Kreiter was inspired by northeastern pale ales, yet he gives this beer his own signature — just enough oats for texture but not so much that the beer looks cloudy or muddy. The result is flavorful, distinctively hoppy, yet clean in appearance and finish. Finally, this beer’s strength is a modest 5.2 percent ABV, which combines with softness on the palate for session-like qualities. Serious beer style enthusiasts will appreciate this different twist to a hoppy beer. That soft silkiness is associated with malt-focused porters and stouts.