Fads are no stronger to craft beer. Some fads have grown into cornerstones of craft beer, IIPA and barrel aging are prime examples. While others haven’t obtained such longevity… looking at you Black IPA. Yet few of these trends seemed to have spark such passion, for or against, as hazy IPAs.
For those not familiar, hazy IPA is, well, hazy. They’re referred generically as hazy, or as New England IPA, Vermont IPA, Northeast IPA, Juicy IPA, double-dry hopped IPA, or New Era IPA. In case it wasn’t clear at this point, the style originated in New England. Most importantly, it is an IPA, hops are central. However, these beers are the flipside of the traditional American IPA. While most IPA is brewed with a certain level, usually a relatively high level, of bitterness balanced with the hop’s flavor and aroma, hazy IPA is all about the juice. Different techniques are used to make an IPA that is overloaded with hop flavor, but almost void of bitterness. Hence, juicy.
In simple terms, where American IPA is focused on bitterness and hop flavor/aroma in balance, hazy IPA shuns bitterness and focuses solely on flavor/aroma. What’s interesting is that less than a decade ago craft beer was absorbed in an arms race of bitterness. Whoever had the highest IBU score was deemed to be the coolest kid on the block. Now, it’s the opposite. Making the current rush to the bottom of bitterness is difficult to fathom for many.
Which may be where the detractors begin. This is a style that certainly comes with baggage. Terms like “one-dimensional,” “unfinished,” “unbalanced” are thrown around liberally. And there is some truth to the claims. By all classic styles and modern craft standards alike, hazy IPA is a style that throws a middle finger to the rules. No brewer worth their brewing salts would dare allow visible yeast to remain in a finished beer. However, this style demands such characteristics to compliment the juicy quality. On that thought, clarity is often seen as the testament of a well made beer; again, not with hazy IPA. I mean, come on, the name is “hazy” for a reason.
However, like any well-made beer, even hazy IPA needs to find a balance. Too much sweetness is simply not palatable. This style, when made with forethought and skill, actually demands the brewer walk a fine line between soft, gentle, approachable, lush, fruity. This style has more in common with a fruited wheat beer (coming soon too – see our collaboration with Swinging Bridge) than an American IPA. One dimensional can’t work. Too much yeast bite and the juicy quality of the hops is completely lost. Too little focus on the malt bill that can’t back up so much yeast and hop accentuation, leaving an overly sweet undrinkable concoction only passable as an after dinner dessert.
Further, hazy IPA is not lazy brewing. Corners can be cut, and have been by some, but that doesn’t mean they style is the problem. Consider this: If a brewery released a lager with too much sulfur character, most wouldn’t dare blame the style of beer for the brewery’s problem. For example, the hazy quality of hazy IPA is actually more of a byproduct of yeast selection and hop oils than an actual goal of the style. So put down your bag of gold medal thinking you can turn your flagship IPA into the next car on the haze train. A bit more calcium chloride, adding hops very, very late in the boil, as well as in the primary fermentation (google “biotransformation” to learn more), multiple dry hops, throw in some oats and wheat, and corners don’t need to be cut. Of course the right yeast choice to make sure flocculation remains low is critical.
Craft beer is always evolving, it’s art, and when any style gets too comfortable, even the venerated IPA, a little change can be a good thing. But change often comes with with push back as well. While hazy IPA seems to be a bit more than just a passing fad, what’s left in another five years will likely be a little more “main stream” and toned down, that’s just the nature of things. But until then, there’s something to be said about embracing the murky/hazy/cloudy/fruity wave of change and seeing where it goes.