The west coast-east coast rivalry goes beyond weather, sports and '90s hip-hop. The coastal debate takes place in the beer scene, too, where west coast IPAs and east coast IPAs vye for the attention of beer drinkers. And while a brewery doesn't need to be on a specific coast to brew that style of beer, the history of each coast's namesake IPA dictates the brew process and flavor. Here's how the two styles stack up.
Beer only requires four ingredients: water, yeast, malt and hops. Both styles of IPA are top-fermented using ale yeast strains, which are brewed in warmer temperatures. And they both use a metric crap-ton of hops, which contributes to the style's signature bitterness. West coast IPAs are most similar to the American-style IPA, in which hops are added during the boil. Much like brewing tea, the heat extracts a majority of the bitterness from the hops. On the other hand, east coast IPAs are brewed similarly to English-style IPAs. While the addition of hops can really occur anytime during the beer making process, the distinction between the two styles lie in their flavors.
Then comes the ubiquitous hazy IPA, also known as the New England IPA, or NEIPA for short. The east coast IPA was the stepping stone for the NEIPA, in which a majority of hops are added later in the brewing process. This late addition reintroduces the flavor of the hops without imparting a ton of bitterness. There's also a matter of dry hopping and double-dry hopping, but that's for another story.
At their cores, west coast IPAs highlight bitterness over everything where east coast IPAs strike a balance between malty sweetness and hoppy bitterness. West coast IPAs are dry and have an aggressive bitterness. An east coast IPA is sweeter on the front end, which fades into bitterness, thanks to the hops. Although east coast IPAs and NEIPAs aren't synonymous, the two beer styles often get lumped together. (Blame it on New England being on the east coast.) NEIPAs are distinctly juicy, as in they can sometimes taste like you took a bite into a tropical fruit or citrus. And any bitterness from an NEIPA is as if you took a bite into one of those aforementioned fruits with the rind still on.
So, Which Is Better?
These days, beer drinkers have favored east coast NEIPAs over the west coast-style counterparts. One is not necessarily better than the other, though you could argue tastes have begun to favor juicier, more fruit forward flavors. Newbies to the craft beer scene may find it easier to get in on the game through the NEIPAs more approachable flavors. But in the end, the bitter-heavy flavor of west coast IPAs is what helped start the craft beer scene to begin with. So keep your fridge stocked with all IPA styles because you never know what craving may strike.