This month, I want to take a look at what has been officially dubbed the “New England IPA,” but is otherwise known as the hazy IPA.
If you are a craft-beer nerd, you may be thinking, “Aren’t you, like, years late to this party?” While I don’t get many questions about hazy IPAs at my taproom, I know people are still learning about them—and I also know there’s a small universe of things still being learned, either about these beers or about the ingredients used in making these beers.
What I’m trying to say in a roundabout fashion is this: Whether you’re new to this topic or the haziest of “haze bros,” read on—because there may very well be something you can discover about this young style of IPA.
Let’s start with the facts (as far as I can ascertain them), shall we? The Alchemist, a brewery with a very cool name in the town of Stowe, Vt., opened in 2003 and brewed a somewhat murky double IPA called Heady Topper as an occasional release. Founder and head brewer John Kimmich chose to emphasize, rather than considerable bitterness, the flavor and aroma aspects that hops add. The huge additions of hops—along with an English yeast strain that produces fruity esters and doesn’t “finish out” (a brewing term meaning that the sugars are not as fully converted into alcohol) like a typical West Coast IPA yeast strain—left the beer a little sweeter. All of that, along with the massive amount of proteins and polyphenols from the malts and hops used, created the haze that has become the de facto name of the style. The resulting beer had an impression of juiciness: It was citrusy and tropical, yet not cloying in its sweetness.
Somewhere along the way, this style of IPA caught on in the northeastern U.S., and then spread westward; a craze resulted. I can’t say for sure when it reached our coast, but I tried my first Heady Topper in 2011, and I didn’t start seeing breweries in Southern California making the style for a few more years after. Instead, West Coast IPAs reigned supreme here, with breweries like Stone at the forefront, making 100-plus IBU hop bombs. Much like the excesses in music in the late ’80s and early ’90s led to grunge music, people who were fed up with the bitterness arms race among brewers—people who formerly couldn’t stand IPAs—could now begin to enjoy the myriad beguiling flavors that hops provided.
When the trend first made it here, all of the varieties I tried seemed quite similar to each other in flavor; they were very citrusy and juicy. As with any industry’s trend, many people then stepped into the hazy arena, resulting in all kinds of tomfoolery—from hazing up regular IPAs with various ploys such as the use of flour and apple sauce (I know of a case of this firsthand, and the results were wretched), to creations of just-plain-terrible beer that happened to be anything from lightly hazy to near-muddy or even “green,” with the flavor of hop matter not yet having settled out of the beer.
Some breweries even responded by completely changing up what they brewed. When they did, lines would spring up at their doors on the beer’s release date. I’ve heard stories of surrogates hired to wait in line, sometimes early in the morning, to get whatever hazy liquid was being sold. Monkish Brewing in Torrance is a prime example of this phenomenon: The brewery went from Belgian styles almost exclusively to being the coolest kid on the block when they switched their emphasis to N.E. IPAs and “pastry stouts.” Please don’t mistake my reference to Monkish as a slight: They do what they do well, and their success is well-deserved. (They also make other styles that they put on in their taproom, including a great Belgian-style tripel with hibiscus called the Feminist that they’ve brewed from the beginning.)
I have since come to enjoy these IPAs, as they have evolved a bit since their early days. Hops strains have played a role in this. There are too many hop strains to keep up with; there are strains that give off flavors of virtually any fruit you can imagine—and the same goes with various herbs. Sabro hops are particularly interesting, as they can give off flavors and aromas of pineapple and coconut. I had a hazy IPA from Brouwerij West out of San Pedro using the hop, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like a piña colada beer—without a single fruit addition!
There’s also been a welcome upshot of this style’s rise to prominence: a lowering of bitterness in regular old West Coast IPAs, allowing consumers’ palates to survive more than one IPA in a sitting without fatiguing to the point of confusion.
A pseudo side effect has been an increased interest in research conducted on hop oils, and the hottest of industry terms at the moment: biotransformation. These subjects are far too dense to get into here (and largely above my current pay grade), but to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there are more things in IPAs than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Thomas Shellhammer and his group of researchers at Oregon State University are leading the way on this front, and you’d better believe the Germans are looking deeply into the matter at the Hop Research Center in Bavaria.
If any of this is interesting to you, stay tuned in the upcoming decade. When I said there was a small universe of things contained within hops, their growth and their use in beer, I probably wildly understated things.
Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.