Perhaps the two hottest beer trends this year are the continued growth of Hazy / New England IPAs and the emergence of the polarizing glitter beers. Looking over the last four years of Google Trends searches of Hazy IPA / NEIPA / New England IPA shows they are still hot, and arguably getting hotter:
In addition, as I noted earlier, “Hazy IPA” is largely a West Coast term for these juicy tasting unfiltered IPAs, while “New England IPA” is used predominantly in the Central and Eastern United States, and these regional uses of the terms continues.
On the other hand, glitter beer was the hot spring sensation, with Google searches for “glitter beer” peaking in March:
Glitter beer searches have basically dropped back into the noise. Is glitter beer dead? I’m not sure I’d write it off as a one-time fad but for now, people aren’t looking for them on Google.
It’s easy for people like me to get addicted to Google Trends. It’s a website devoted to the frequency of search terms people “Googling” to find information online and the geographical locations of these search. It turns out to be a pretty handy way to find out what things are popular and where, and test out some of the conventional beer wisdom.
For example, some people claim the cloudy, unfiltered “Hazy” or “New England style” IPA is just a fleeting beer fad like the Black IPA was back in the day. Could Google Trends provide some insight into the validity of those claims? I thought I’d give it a try. If I enter “Black IPA” into Google Trends, it will report the frequency over time and the geographical locations of a statistical significant sample of searches with “Black IPA” in it.
Anyone who’s asked Google “Where can a find a Black IPA?”, or “Black IPA home brew recipe” will be reflected in the Google Trends under “black ipa”. (Google Trends aren’t case sensitive.) Of course, searches like “Where can I find black market IPA” will also be included in the frequency count, so the data isn’t perfect. While there are certainly limitations to using this data, plenty of social scientists and market analysts have come up with all sorts of interesting, and at times counter-intuitive conclusions using Google Trends. (A great read for those interested in that is Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.)
I’m started using Google Trends to investigate the following question: Are Hazy/New England IPA’s just a flash in the pan style like Black IPAs? But in the process, I discovered something interesting about where in the United States names like “Black IPA”, “Hazy IPA” and “New England IPA” are actually used.
Let’s start by comparing search terms for “black ipa” wiith “hazy ipa”, “new england ipa”, “ne ipa”, and “neipa”. (Other plausibly related search terms like “cloudy IPA” or “juicy IPA” yield significantly less searches, but I’m just going to simplify things and leave those search terms out of the analysis.) Below is a plot of the frequency of each search term from April 8, 2006-April 8th, 2018. (You can view the plot in Google Trends yourself at this link.) I limited the search geography to the United States.
Searches for “Black IPA”, the yellow line, emerge from the noise starting in early 2010, and hit their first peak in February 2011. They continue to grow gradually, hitting their overall peak in April 2014, and then start a slow decline afterwards. Searches for “black ipa” actually show rather surprising durability for the style, contradicting claims that Black IPAs were a short lived fad. Even by early 2017, there were far more searches for “black ipa” than the Hazy/New England variants. By contrast, the Hazy/New England search terms don’t emerge from the noise until late 2016, but then really take off, especially searches for “hazy ipa” and “new england ipa”. OK, no big surprise here. Interest in Black IPAs has existed for almost ten years, while interest in Hazy/New England IPAs has skyrocketed in just the past few months.
But start looking at where across the country these searches have been conducted and things start to get interesting. For example, according to Google Trends, Black IPA’s are almost an exclusively California thing.
Note, the map above doesn’t mean there haven’t been any searches for “Black IPA” outside of California. It’s just that these searches are overwhelming made inside of California, indicating Black IPAs are of interest to Californians, but hardly anyone else. This is why I suspect some people living outside may have perceived Black IPAs as a fad. They may have heard about them, but rarely saw any of them, or Black IPAs released outside California had little staying power.
On the other hand, searches for “new england ipa” or its abbreviation “neipa” show a much more broader geographical interest.
What’s interesting is that search term “Hazy IPA”, is dominated from searches from the West Coast states of Oregon and California.
We can zoom into the metro areas and find that “hazy ipa” searches originate all over the West Coast, with San Diego, Sacramento, Portland as the major metropolitan areas having the highest proportions of searches for “hazy ipa”. The larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco have significantly less searches.
Note that the strength of search frequency chart at the rate measures a higher proportion of queries, not a larger overall number. As Google Trends explains, “A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count. So a tiny country where 80% of the queries are for “bananas” will get twice the score of a giant country where only 40% of the queries are for “bananas”.”
For grins, we can also look at the Metro areas for “new england ipa”.
By far, the metro area for with the highest proportion of searches for this term is (surprise!) Boston. But the Midwestern cities of Detroit and Chicago figure prominently, too. If we look at leading metro areas for the search “neipa”, we find pockets of interest all over the country.
Again, lots of usage for the term “neipa” in New England, but the term extends all the way to the West Coast. It’s not apparent from this graphic but the San Francisco Bay is way down this list, as the 12th leading metro area for this search term, third from last. That splotch you see in Southern California? That’s Los Angeles, not San Diego. There aren’t a lot of searches for “neipa” from San Diego, but plenty for “hazy ipa”. Just like Portland.
And by the way, I Googled the term “neipa” to double check that “neipa” doesn’t also stand for something like “New England Independent Pediatricians Association” or something like that which would skew the data. It doesn’t.
OK, I could keep playing around with the data, but it’s time to wrap this up. I’ll concede the data has some limitations, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions from any of its subtleties. However, three things strongly emerge from the analysis which are unmistakable.
Black IPAs aren’t so much fad, but a slowly declining beer style confined largely to California: Google searches for “black ipa” are largely confined to the state of California. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough searches for Google Trends to perform a metro area geographical analysis of the term.
Hazy / New England IPAs have enjoyed a fast growing popularity all over the country. In no way does the growth of this style mimic Black IPAs. They are popular all over the country, rather than confined to a single state. In addition, their growth is far sharper than Black IPAs were, at least from the search term data.
On the West Coast, it’s mostly “Hazy IPA”. Everywhere else, its “New England IPA”. It’s telling that California’s Sierra Nevada released Hazy Little Thing IPA about the same time Boston Beer released New England IPA. I’ll note that some places in California, they are called “NEIPA” by a few. Seattle seems to favor “NEIPA” over “Hazy IPA”. I think it’s significant both in Portland and in San Diego, the two cities where the IPA style are arguably most strongly tied to local identity, there is resistance adopting the “New England” name, and instead these beers as “Hazy”.
As you might have guessed, I’ve been playing around with all sorts of Google Trends searches the past couple weeks and found some other interesting beery things right there in the data. Hope you liked this post because you’ll be seeing a few more like it.
Welcome to this special installment of Rambling Reviews, covering three recent hop-driven releases from Sierra Nevada. One of the earliest pioneers of craft brewing from the early 80’s, Sierra Nevada has evolved into a multi-billion dollar company while still remaining at or near the forefront of brewing trends normally driven by smaller, nimbler breweries.
If you don’t that’s impressive, consider both of Sierra Nevada’s early craft brewing counterparts, Anchor Brewing and Boston Beer (Sam Adams). Anchor Brewing is still a respected name, but their recent releases have been hit or miss, suggesting more of a game of catch-up. It’s also worth noting Anchor was recently bought by Japanese brewery Sapporo and is considerably smaller than Sierra Nevada, which is still owned by founder Ken Grossman who shows few signs of slowing down. Boston Beer is basically a messy corporation fighting declining stock prices, distracted from their brewing operations as they pump out uninspired ciders and alcopops with seemingly no real idea where to go beyond their flagship Sam Adam’s Vienna Lager released decades ago.
OK, on to the reviews. With considerable fanfare, Sierra Nevada has jumped into hazy IPA race with its new national year-around release, Hazy Little Thing. Given the notoriously short shelf life of hazy IPAs, it’s pretty ambitious national roll-out fraught with risks. (It’s worth noting the much maligned Boston Beer is also rolling out a hazy IPA .) As you may know, when it comes to hazy IPAs, I generally hate those things. My take on Hazy Little Thing is….well, it’s OK. It definitely has the orange juice thing going, with a pith note on the aftertaste in otherwise, simple uncluttered brew. I’ve done some soul searching as to why I rarely like the hazy IPAs others adore. I can deal with hazy but huge amounts of detritus in suspension is pretty off-putting. I also miss the bright, sharp hop flavors that get muddled in the haze, and besides, late hop additions create juicy flavors just fine without all the floating crap. I’m not really the right guy to be reviewing this, but I suppose if I find any hazy IPA to be OK, that’s a ringing endorsement. So if you like beer with a bunch of crud floating in it that tastes like muddy orange juice, you’re going to love Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing.
A far more successful release in my never humble opinion is Sierra Nevada’s new spring seasonal Hop Bullet Double IPA. Now this is an IPA, and without that hazy shit. There’s some sweetness to it, with light citrus and soft pine that harmonizes effortlessly, the neutral malt quietly supporting it all in the background. In Hop Bullet, Sierra Nevada uses plenty of Magnum, which are overlooked, underrated hop that really shine in this brew. At 8.0% abv, it’s not one of those booze-bombs Double IPAs, it’s just a very solid beer, well put together.
We finally come to my favorite of the trio, Sierra Nevada 2017 Estate Ale, an IPA made with both Estate-grown hops and barley. Beer terroir is nebulous, emerging concept given that most beers throughout the United States are brewed with barley and hops coming from the same place: The barley from the high plains of central North American and hops from the Pacific Northwest. Sierra Nevada’s Estate IPA, made with ingredients grown in Northern California, has flavors all of its own. It’s a very balanced brew, with black current dominating with a gentle piney background, a slight caramel note from the toasted malt, with a touch of resin emerging at the finish. A unique combination of flavors that suggests a lot of great opportunities are in store as new regions for barely and hop growing start flourishing.