At one point, not very long ago, New England IPAs (aka hazy IPAs) didn’t exist. It seems difficult to remember a time without them, but this doesn’t mean they will be around forever: Like black IPAs and session IPAs, they could quickly go the way of the dodo.
That preamble might make it seem as though I’m advocating that “hazies” go away … and, well, that is not far from the truth. Honestly, I’m kind of bored with them at this point.
When the New England IPAs first started showing up here, I had a very hard time telling one apart from another. They were all citrusy and/or tropical in aroma and flavor—sometimes intensely so. Then some breweries found their stride, and the IPAs that resulted made stars out of hops with names like Idaho 7, Riwaka, and Motueka, while showcasing wide ranges of flavors, from various tropical fruits to cannabis and more. Not long before the plague arrived last year, I wrote a column about how the incredible amounts of hops that were being added to these beers was spurring on research into hops—their growth, their processing, their use in beers (how much too add, and when to add the hops, for example), and their seemingly endless aroma and flavor possibilities. Hazies’ relative lack of bitterness in comparison to IPAs of the past exerted influence on regular ol’ West Coast IPAs. If you had the experience of having your palate scrubbed of taste by bitterness in the past, you’re probably joining me in praise of this development.
What I mentioned then—but didn’t elaborate on—is the “haze bro” culture that developed alongside. This may be a bit of oversimplification, but the culture is all about hazy IPAs being held in a regard above all other styles (except maybe “pastry stouts,” which seem to be equally popular), causing a person to stand in ridiculous lines for a release when they don’t even know the contents of that release. As long as it’s cloudy and milky—even if it’s released too soon—it’s game. Some have even gone so far as to hire people to stand in line. One of the biggest upshots of this was that every brewery felt as if it had to get in on the hazy game—and that led to far too many mediocre to abysmal versions of the style. When I was a home brewer, I found IPAs to be one of the hardest styles to do well—and from my experience, that also seems to be the case on the professional level. I have tried some truly tragic hazies, and they always made me wonder if it was worth it for that brewery to have produced it, given the blind worship to which the style is often elevated.
There’s also the matter of matter: There are varying amounts of suspended (and sometimes not-so-suspended) matter in hazy IPAs. I’ve seen shocking amounts of hop matter, yeast and other things—and while none of these bits will kill you, they are less than appetizing or palatable when pouring a beer. I’ve personally poured hazy IPAs from fresh kegs into buckets to purge all of the matter that has settled to the bottom of a keg, so that a customer would not have to suffer through a thick, bitter mess. Cans of hazy IPAs can be just as bad—and this only adds to my love of the clear West Coast examples.
I personally don’t find the colors of hazy IPAs very appealing, but that is not a good excuse to set aside a new style. Witbiers and hefeweizens are supposed to be cloudy to a degree, after all. The New England IPA is a valid and even interesting style, and great strides have been made in the past few years by some breweries to make them more exciting and unique. Still, I’ve grown quite weary of them. Maybe that is a failing on my part, but I often can’t tell one brewery’s hazy apart from another these days. Is it good? Yes; it is a well-made hazy IPA. Is it satisfying to me? Not really. When I am enjoying, say, a Citraholic from Beachwood Brewing, or a Treevana from Burgeon Beer Co., or a Blind Pig from Russian River, I often want to order another. That almost never happens with a hazy IPA.
I am patiently awaiting the calming of the storm that this trend has brought—and looking forward to the bright, clear future that West Coast pale styles have. Luckily, there are breweries that never stopped making them—and making them well. This may lead you to ask: Why am I awaiting the end of the hazy hype? Because that may encourage breweries that make mostly hazy IPAs, yet are perfectly capable of making brilliant West Coast versions, to make more clear beer. The flavors of the hops and the malt backbone marry so spectacularly in the best straight-up IPAs; they are wildly quaffable, and the flavors just seem to “pop” far more.
My purpose is not to shame those who genuinely love the New England IPA style—far from it. It is to ask you to reach for a clear one on occasion, and see what you think. Their deceptively simple beauty might have been clouded in your memory by your dedication to the hazy.