With any fad, you’ll have those who embrace it, and those who shake their heads in mocking disgust. The latest trend in beer, the hazy IPA, is no different. For some, this popular style represents a departure from what beer is supposed to be, but for others, it’s a gateway to exciting new flavors and possibilities. As always there are those who execute the style well, and those who fail miserably. For me, the haze craze is a welcome experiment into different ways to enjoy hops. I let my taste buds be the judge, and right now, they’re dancing in the streets! The forecast is hazy, and I’m feelin’ alright!
The hazy IPA originated in the Northeast region of the US in states like Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Hence the unofficial style name, NE IPA (New England IPA). The new style emerged out of the heyday of the West Coast style IPA, where brewers would add copious amounts of hops to the kettle in hopes of satisfying hopheads who demanded more and more IBUs in their beer. The result was usually an aggressively hoppy beer with a lot of bitterness. The “hazies” came along and turned the whole idea of hoppy beer upside-down. These IPAs are usually bursting with hop flavors and aromas, but without a lot of bitterness in the finished product.
Because the New England IPA isn’t officially recognized by the major style guideline organizations (Brewers Association or BJCP), it’s still in its evolution phase. Every brewer has his/her technique for achieving the style, but they often keep their cards close the chest to maintain that edge over other breweries. Water chemistry and level of carbonation contribute to the softness of the beer while the choice of yeast and hops impact its fruity essence and sweetness. Hops and sometimes hop dust (oil-rich lupulin) are added late in the boil, dry-hopped even double dry-hopped to maximize their flavors and aromas and minimize bitterness. The haze itself is usually caused by starches (from grains) that are not converted to sugars and then aren’t consumed by the yeast. Adding wheat, flaked oats, or unmalted barley can achieve this effect, but then comes the trick of keeping these tiny particles in suspension. If the brewer succeeds, the result is a full-bodied IPA with the look, mouthfeel, and taste reminiscent of fruit juice.
Naysayers are, for the most part, purists who argue that all of these practices are considered either lazy or incorrect brewing technique. They’re not wrong. While some styles are traditionally cloudier, the skills of fining beer for clarity and head retention are important. The flavors and aromas of Hazy IPAs are also quite delicate and therefore have a much shorter shelf life than most beers, even IPAs, have. This prevents breweries from widely distributing the style, therefore making them difficult to acquire and, in many cases, inflate the price. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying them or brewers from making them. This style is merely a new avenue of creativity in the realm of beer that can only serve to expand the potential of the craft-beer market and open our minds to new opportunities.
As the NE IPA style slowly makes it’s way west, we’re lucky to have some breweries here in Utah trying it on for size. 2 Row Brewing seems to be the local standard with their “Tastes Like Citrus” and “Feelin’ Hazy.” Shades of Pale has “Grapefruit Revolution”, “Slick City”, and “Double Trouble” stepping up to the plate. Epic Brewing’s “Blizzard Conditions” and “Citralush” have paved the way for their upcoming NE IPA line. Wasatch modeled the style for their recent release of “Snowbird IPA” while Red Rock and Talisman have also been experimenting with juicy IPAs.
I for one am a fan of the fashionable hazy IPA, and it’s not because I’m a fashionable person. I’ve been a long-time fan of hoppy beers and IPAs, but I admit to disliking the more bitter versions. I really started loving them when brewers began dry-hopping them. I especially enjoy hops that exude the flavors and aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. Hazy IPAs are fruity without actually adding fruit. No grapefruits or pineapples harmed! Nothing against those adding fruit to beer, but I love that these essences can be achieved purely through hops and yeast. It’s a style that puts the hops on a pedestal to be worshiped and enjoyed in ways we never dreamed of. The future is cloudy, and that’s ok with me.