Please welcome Andy MacWilliams to the site. You may have seen him at a beer share or two.

June 28, 2023 is a balmy night in the Northeast. Only 85 degrees or so, but the humidity is high. It’s rained for a month here and people are appreciating the sunshine, if not the heat. I have the pleasure of taking my wife and son to the “Cathedral of Boston.” We stand for the National Anthem; the crowd stays standing through Brayan Bello’s first pitch and when most have a seat I head to the beer stand. There is a “craft beer corner” that appears to have at least two dozen options (and three times as many people in line), but I don’t even need that. It’s hot, I’m thirsty and will stick with whatever is there.

To my surprise, alongside RTD cocktails, Sam Adams Summer Ale, and the various macro offerings, this stand has cans of Night Shift Whirlpool, a 5.2% alcohol by volume hazy pale ale. Night Shift’s original location in Everett is not even 6 miles from this Fenway Beer stand as the crow flies. Local craft beer, hyper local, served easily next to your classic ballpark stalwarts? I get back to my seat, take a sip and realize: this beer slaps. It’s everything you want, zippy with grass and some soap, citrus is clearly present, and a decent body. I take a peek under the can to see the canning date: June 14th. A revelation. I am at a major American sporting event drinking accessible craft beer that has been in the can for exactly 2 weeks. I’m floored.

Can of Night Shift Santilli
Pic via the brewery

Long ago, in a nascent beer market, the best IPA in America was brewed in the west. Coveted hop bombs came out of California from Alesmith, Alpine, Stone and Russian River. Most small breweries and brewpubs would have an IPA of course, but outside of California they would have been dosed with “C” hops and crystal malt and would not have impressed. The best ones came from the Golden State.


Prior to 2011, California breweries won 32 of the 48 available medals in either the American IPA category or Imperial American IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival. 2011 was the first year California failed to medal in the American IPA category, with La Cumbre, Oskar Blues, and Fat Heads taking the top 3 spots. The same would happen in the American Imperial IPA category in 2013 when Fat Heads, Three Floyds, and Smartmouth (of Nortfolk, Virginia) kept California breweries from medaling since the category was introduced in 2005.

The domination west of the Rockies was also clear, with “West Coast” breweries taking 27 of 30 possible American IPA medals and 17 of 18 in American Imperial IPA prior to 2011. To get the best IPAs, you had to cross the Rockies. California was particularly strong in the IIPA category until 2011, when Trinity Brewhouse out of Providence, Rhode Island sniped the first medal in the category from a brewery east of Yosemite. Perhaps the 2011 bronze medalist in IIPA isn’t exactly on par with the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976, when Stag’s Leap became the first American winner of a blind tasting in France, but it does signal that IIPA begins to branch out.

In the 2010’s a shift began. Juicier but still fairly clean beers started trickling out of an entirely different market and one as far from California as you get: Vermont. The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead start offering relatively clean but less bitter IPAs. Later, Lawsons would enter the fray, as would Fiddlehead. These begin to inspire other brands such as Trillum and Treehouse, and the Night Shift I had at Fenway. People begin traveling further for these beers. They come with coolers so the beer never spends a moment above 45 degrees. A trade market and a grey market appear; Heady Topper and the like fuel a hop craze.

Juicy or hazy IPA and IIPAs, hell let’s just call them New England IPA, aren’t recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BCJP) until 2018. California and the West have done well in these categories too, but not as significant as their success in the early 2000s. Additionally, winners across all IPA categories begin to significantly diversify around this time frame, with breweries from 14 states amongst those on the podium at the Great American Beer Festival.  Interestingly, the only New England brewer to medal in either of the Juicy/Hazy categories, which should otherwise be rebranded to NEIPA or NEIIPA, is Lone Pine Brewing out of Gorham/Portland, Maine.

Andy MacWilliams
Pic via Matt Splain

Following my night at Fenway, the rest of my NE journey takes me to Trillium in Fort Point. To Treehouse in Tewksbury. To Bissell Brothers and Modestman in Portland, amongst many others. Even old-world style producers Schilling (lager) and Allagash (Belgians) have hazy IPAs on the menu when I stop in. I drink them all, for science of course, and realize that there is no clear winner. Did I like some more than others? Definitely. The Trillium and Treehouse collaboration ‘Swishium’ was particularly dank.

But today, gas stations in Vermont carry Heady and Focal Banger. The Hannaford’s in Wells, Maine has plenty of fresh Mast Landing and Lone Pine. Quality IPA is everywhere you look in New England. More than anything, I’m left realizing that in New England, good IPA is never more than a step away. And the closest (fresh) can is king.