“Canned City” would be an apt nickname for Sand City Brewing Co. The brewery, located in the idyllic waterfront village of Northport, produces the most coveted IPAs on Long Island and has quickly emerged as one of the Northeast’s hottest hop-pushers since starting to can them this summer.
IPA continues to be the most dominant, defining, diverse, and exciting style in craft beer, accounting for roughly a quarter of the segment’s overall sales and encompassing a seemingly infinite number of subcategories. The sought-after nectar being made by Sand City is a standout example of an emerging class of IPA that is quickly changing how beer loons drink the popular style, and even how they acquire it: the “New England-style” IPA.
Earlier this year, Aaron Goldfarb wrote a #juicy article for First We Feast on the growing trend of limited-edition canned IPAs, the vast majority of which are New England in design, and it’s recommended reading for anyone interested in learning about what will eventually inspire Naughty By Nature to remake two of the group’s biggest hits into “O.P.I.P.A.” and “Hip Hops Hooray.”
Sorry! Goldfarb defines the New England-style IPA as “lacking in much bitterness, dry-hopped to oblivion to produce an insanely fragrant aroma, soft in carbonation and thus crushable like a glass of orange juice, and about as hazy as some pulpy fresh-squeezed too.” Furthermore, they are “generally packaged in 16-ounce ‘pounder’ cans [and] sold exclusively from their breweries, a day-old in freshness, and usually in highly-limited quantities that necessitate queueing up, sometimes for hours.”
Unsurprising to beer loons, on Goldfarb’s list of culprits causing this current canned-IPA commotion are Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Co.; Monson, Massachusetts’ Tree House Brewing Co.; and Marengo, Ohio’s Hoof Hearted Brewing. And at the end of the piece, among a few more breweries “worth ogling,” is Sand City.
Kevin Sihler, Sand City’s head brewer and co-owner, is a native of Northport, which was once home to a flourishing sand-mining industry. I met with Sihler at his brewery one afternoon two weeks ago as he and several employees were canning two IPAs for a release on Sunday, December 18 that elicited a line of beer geeks wrapped around Main Street prior to its start. (In just over an hour, all of the 250 cases packaged, roughly equivalent to 750 gallons of beer, were sold.)
I asked Sihler to reflect on his favorite of Sand City’s IPAs from 2016; and after, his most influential IPAs.
Favorite Sand City IPAs of 2016
One, 8.0% ABV
Opening a brewery, you have fears that no one is going to walk in or even like your beer. But it’s been great, words can’t describe how it feels to have such a big following so quickly. It was so unexpected, better than anything we could’ve imagined. So we had the idea as our first anniversary approached this fall of brewing a special IPA as a thank you. And that was One.
While we used Citra hops, One is really a showcase of Galaxy, a unique hop variety that would be easy to pick out of a lineup if you were blindfolded. You get this tremendous tropical-fruit character when you use Galaxy, and in One there was a lot of citrus, orange, and sort of an orange popsicle flavor that I love. I also think Galaxy adds some softness when you use it. Part of that is the grains you use and the water profile, but some of that softness I think is from the Galaxy hop. Of course we released One on our one-year anniversary, and the response was so tremendous that about 110 cases of cans were gone in an hour. In fact, we had so many people ask for it that we made the beer we’re canning now, Infinity + One. We consider it to be One’s cousin. We’ll be making it pretty regularly.
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Great release from one of Long Island's top breweries! Proud to have a local beer that you need to wait in line for. Well worth it every time! Thanks @sandcitybrewery 🍻 #licraftbeer #oopsimangoedmypants #closetalker #rebellionbarrelagedbourbonstout #craftbeeraddict #craftbeerlover #longislandcraftbeer
Oops! I Mangoed My Pants!, 7.5% ABV
We debuted “Mango” at Blue Point’s cask festival last year. We planned to have a cask of Oops! I Hopped My Pants!, which is the base beer, and I decided to add 10 pounds of organic mango puree to it just to see what would happen. Then I added a second round of dry-hopping to it, and I thought it came out really nice, really aromatic and not too sweet. Now over time people kept asking if we were going to make it again, so I finally got the balls to do a large 20-barrel batch. That meant we brought in about 440 pounds of pureed mangos from Oregon and added them to a batch of Oops!
I chose mangos because it’s a big descriptor in a lot of IPAs, and I wanted to use a fruit that would complement the base beer, which already has a big fruity aroma and flavor. I think the mangos gives a nice texture to the beer as well as a fantastic aroma. We’ll definitely be doing this one again.
Mofosaic, 7.2% ABV
Mosaic Promise from Founders gave me my first taste of Mosaic hops and right away I thought it was such an interesting flavor. Then as we started brewing with it, I really loved its complexity, the different sides to it. There’s a candy sweetness, but also an earthiness. So we wanted to make a beer that showcases the Mosaic hop in all of its greatness, and that’s Mofasaic.
Most of our IPAs have anywhere from two to five hop varieties in the recipe, so while it’s not tougher to brew a beer with just one hop, you’re at the mercy of the hop. So people may say they like or don’t like your beer simply because of the hop you used. But despite the risk involved, on the other side people have the opportunity to experience the hop from all angles, from the bittering to the flavoring and so on. So it gives someone a real chance to get to know the hop, and I think that’s a lot of fun.
Most Influential IPAs
Stone IPA, Stone Brewing Co.
I first had it about 10 years ago, long before the IPA craze hit. It made me realize what beer could be, and really turned me onto IPAs. And it was really my first go-to as I got into craft beer.
Abner, Hill Farmstead Brewery
I’ve enjoyed a lot of different IPAs over the years, but Hill Farmstead’s Abner, I can really remember like it was yesterday. It was about five years ago and I was in Burlington, Vermont, with my wife, we were expecting our first child, and we were just looking for a few days to get away. So we we’re in Vermont and we go out to dinner, and our waiter tells us about a bar that has Hill Farmstead on tap. I had never heard of Hill Farmstead before, but the second I tasted Abner, it was like entering a new world, especially a new world of IPAs. Prior to that, it was all about the West Coast IPAs: filtered, clean tasting, bitter with those classic West Coast hops that lend themselves to grapefruit aromas. But Abner really tasted like something I had never had before: creamy and soft, like drinking hops in liquid form without the bitterness. I was immediately hooked.
Heady Topper, The Alchemist
I’d put Heady in that same category as Abner, as far as it was something that I had never tasted before, and it changed my perception of what an IPA could be. But while Abner showed me that softness and creaminess character, Heady introduced me to the tropical side. I remember the first can of Heady that I cracked. I put it right to my nose and it just blew me away. Mango, pineapple, flavors I had never associated that with an IPA before. Heady blew my mind.