Friday, 1 June 2018

Session #136: Farmhouse Brewing - Not Looking For A New England

Before I opened the can of Green Path, the flagship IPA from Suffolk-based brewery Burnt Mill, I had a good idea of what I was going to get, and I had a good idea of how this post was going to go. It's a New England IPA, of course. Burnt Mill describe themselves as a "farm brewery", and the design of the can - field, windmill and sky, all in impressionistic green and blue watercolour - anchors them solidly in the Suffolk countryside. While the phrase "farmhouse beer" and the associated rural imagery have traditionally conjured up images of saisons, spontaneous fermentation and complex, subtle beers aged in dusty wooden barrels, to me it increasingly feels plausible when applied to soft, hazy, juicy New England IPA, too.

This is, on the face of it, strange. There's no obvious lineage linking Trillium or Cloudwater to historic farmhouse brewing traditions, or even, beyond a shared appeal to beer geeks, to new-wave farmhouse breweries like Jester King. Maybe, then, it's something to do with the the hazy appearance of NEIPA as visible evidence of the presence of oats or wheat in the grist, cereal crops making themselves visible in a class of beers where they've traditionally been kept firmly out of the way of the hops. You can also read the haze as a signifying the work of a simple rustic artisan rather than a scientifically precise industrial technician. The particular importance of freshness to the style maybe suggests a sort of pre-modern utopia, before industrialised distribution, with beer going from field to fermenter to glass. The connection might also be influenced by the association of New England IPA with rural Vermont, and hence Hill Farmstead, even though that brewery isn't actually one of the drivers of the style.

This clearly a loose and rather fanciful association - style defining NEIPAs are currently being brewed with scientific precision and meticulous attention to detail in Boston, Manchester and New York, among other places. But it goes some way toward explaining why I knew without opening the can that this beer was going to be a soft, hazy, juicy IPA.

But it wasn't, of course.

As I'd have known if I'd bothered to read the can rather than just admiring the pastel-shaded artwork, Green Paths is brewed in the classic West Coast style. And it's really quite fantastic. It pours clear-ish, at least by modern standards. Big juicy hop aromas follow through with a prickly citrus-toffee body, creamy mouthfeel and a long bittersweet finish. It's bold but it's balanced. Green Paths tastes like the IPA that first got you into this whole craft thing, updated to make an impression on your DIPA-fatigued 2018 palette.

Subsequent beers I've had from Burnt Mill - their lighter pale ales, Pintle and Steel Cut, and their full-blooded DIPA, Solar Light - have all brought the haze, though. Maybe there is something in all this after all?

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