Haze – The Final Descriptor

The “Haze Craze” has been totally upon us now for a few years. IPAs seeking out tropical aromas, low IBUs and a whole host of additions like oats and heavy hopping creating a turbulent appearance with many brewers taking it to the level of subcategories like “Milkshake IPA.” While my opinion on whether adding blueberries and lactose to a New England Style IPA is a good idea or not is irrelevant, the one big hangup I have is hearing people ask about “hazy IPAs” and thinking they’re missing the point. Haze should not be the most noteworthy aspect of this style of beer. I keep hearing stories about one local brewer who often has their amazingly aromatic, juicy IPA kegs rejected by bars because they’re “not hazy enough.” I cannot tell you how much that sentence makes me laugh out loud. But that’s where we’re at these days. So if not haze, what then should the “New England/Hazy IPA” Style be defined by?

THE FRUITS.
Peach rings. Apricot. Straight up POG juice.  And sure, while “dankness” is often achieved alongside all this, this style of beer offers insane levels of fruitiness that go unparalleled to any IPA I’ve had previously. What do we have to thank for this? Hop varieties like Mosaic, Citra and Ekuanot that explode with tropical and citrus characteristics. Southern Hemisphere hops like Nelson Sauvin, Galaxy and Motueka that showcase winey, exotic fruits with a waxy mouthfeel that doesn’t exist in our US hops. To me, the crux of where these fruit-bombs come together is in using yeasts that actually have a flavor and aroma impact. For years west coast brewers fell into line using clean, low-ester producing yeasts letting the hops shine. But given that these new hops showcase fruit, let those formerly shunned British yeasts do their thing! The fruit-forward esters are clearly playing a part in the overall olfactory experience that intermingles wonderfully with contemporary hops. And it’s not just the ingredients that make things click in NE IPA, it’s how they go in.

THE TECHNIQUE
There are a lot of common brewing practices out there with the goal in mind to make “clean, clear beer” and if we all started following them rigorously we sure as hell wouldn’t have things like New England IPA. We’d also not be experiencing the unique hop flavors and aromas they provide. So ignoring the “rules” turns out to be a great idea. Take dry-hopping for example – it’s common practice to dry hop once fermentation has slowed down significantly. Part of this is practical (nobody wants to launch expensive hops and with it the liquid right out of the blow-off tube), but the other part is the worry that vigorous fermentation is going to also blow away a lot of aroma you could have kept if you waited. While people have been studying biotransformation of hops for years, I’d only heard of it within the last couple or so and NE IPA is a wonderful style that takes advantage of the fact that yeast help turn certain hop compounds into other wonderfully aromatic ones. Something that would not-likely occur if you waited for fermentation to arrest. A focus on hop aroma and flavor in these beers means adding more hops late in the process which also promotes haze.  Knowing freshness is key often means less conditioning time and combined with less flocculant yeasts means more haze. Adding oatmeal to obtain body means more protein which means more haze (you see where I’m going with this). So by looking at aroma and flavor as the end product, you really have no choice to break the other common convention and that is clarity of the beer. So while haze is a by-product of a lot combined factors, what do I think is arguably the most important aspect of NE IPA?

THE JUICINESS.
Breweries keep adding the word “juicy” into descriptions for certain IPAs and for good reason. The plethora of fruits produced by the hops and yeast alone would probably be accurate, but when you focus on drinkability it takes the framework of IPA to another level. Lowering IBUs in a beer that has an already more approachable hop aroma character than your classic west coast IPA is a great way to introduce new comers to the style. The addition of oatmeal is helping to round out mouthfeel and fatten up lower abv beers. Throw in chloride water adjustments and suddenly you’ve got tropical, juicy goodness coming out the ears. If you want to dive deeper here, people like Scott Janish have done a much better/more intellectual job than I ever would of explaining this, but the point is we’re talking a much different water quality than the “put some gypsum in there” adjustments of typical west coast IPA. And as a result you get a beer completely unlike anything we’ve seen in a while.

Years ago while working as a full time bartender hops like Mosaic came into use and it helped open up patrons of mine who were completely anti-IPA to a whole new aroma and flavor profile in IPA. If I had styles like NE IPA then I feel like I could have converted IPA nay sayers left and right. As a twenty-something who grew up drinking grapefruity, pine resiny, cannabis-aroma laden IPAs on the west coast, I embrace the NE IPA style and what it’s helping create in new beers to its fullest. Some of my favorite beers last year were things from Great Notion, Claim 52 and luckily Trillium thanks to a tour guest at work. And while truthfully I wish people would leave the lactose and fruit out of IPA, I understand where they’re coming from in trying to create super round, fruit-forward IPA that is appealing. So though I highly encourage folks to get out there and taste the loveliness that is NE IPA, don’t forget that haze is the by-product of the juiciest IPA you may have ever had.

 

Edit – After writing this I came upon a blog from Josh Hare at Hops and Grain in Austin essentially hitting on similar thoughts. Neat that other people are thinking about this. You can read his article here

 

The Bug is Back

There was a point about 4 years ago where I was homebrewing every two weeks, had multiple batches of kombucha active and had started to play with water kefir and sauerkraut. My kitchen started to look like a biology lab. Needless to say I was very much into fermentation. And then life happened. Luckily I always had time for at least one batch of one ferment or another, but my time was limited with moving to a new state, finding and then working a full time beer job and raising two children. Passionately pursuing the ins and outs of fermentation was no longer a priority. Call it luck or intuition, but moving to Eugene, OR was a boon for someone as into microbes as I am. We have 2 homebrew shops, roughly 15 breweries,  multiple distilleries, a world-class cider producer, an annual fermentation festival and a whole lot of people interested in all of the above. So while it took some time to shake out the larger life details, I can say with great pleasure that the urge to have fun with fermentation is back thanks to a few welcome additions. In part, the flame was lit by something spicy and new.

Kimchi!
For years I had steered clear of Korean food under the impression that it was a bit of the fiery side for me to tolerate. Luckily in recent years having known more families willing to enlighten me I got exposed to a few tasty side dishes that kindled my curiosity for the funky stuff. Admittedly I watch a lot of Maangchi on YouTube and after watching her integrate kimchi and other fermentation into yet another video I figured it was about time to try a batch for myself. Other than a few confusing moments of trying to scale back the recipe size and also guess at how many pepper flakes to hold off  things went really well. I like my cabbage well fermented so I did let it go considerably longer than she does, but all in all it wasn’t scary and I’ve been nibbling at it over the last few weeks to much delight. Using unfamiliar ingredients was enjoyable and reminded me to add foods I have on hand into products I had never really thought about before.

“Homegrown” Kombucha
I’ve been a lover of Kombucha for years now, but I never really took to getting to creative about my addition of flavors. I’m usually happy without much else in it although I am partial to adding lime and ginger slices upon bottling. In regularly visiting small local markets, I noticed commercial Kombucha producers adding an array of seemingly out-there ingredients such as chamomile, lavender, turmeric and hops. Being a lover of IPA  and realizing the small amount of hops I grow in my yard might work as a dry-hop turned out great in one batch. The herb garden we started last year provided a wonderful combo of mint and rosemary. Really what excited me was being able to walk out my door and start seeing (and tasting) homegrown fermentation creativity. The other thing that led to better and more frequent Kombucha is something I’d been meaning to do for years, but only recently felt the push to do – building a kegerator.

The Joys of Kegging
I’ve never hated bottling in the way that so many of my fellow homebrewers do. Perhaps it’s the love of seeing products from start to finish or the tangible feel of glass and the hiss of a well carbonated bottle being opened. All the romance aside, with the way my schedule and utter lack of time goes these days, I’ll reserve bottling for special occasions. I’ve been collecting used draft parts over the last two years knowing someday I’d have enough second hand soda kegs, spare regulators and other bits to throw something functional together. Realizing I could have homebrewed beer, kombucha, as well as packaging-free sparkling water at home was enough of a pull for me to seek out a deal on a chest freezer and finally put it all together. The amount of time I used to spend bottling homebrew and Kombucha really added up. Kegging takes a fraction of the time and takes far less floor space and setup. I was perpetually short on bottles, and given that I barely had time to brew, dumping any product due to lack of glass was a crime. It’s all this savings of time and space that has really been put back into experimentation and finding new techniques or products to make.

What’s next?
Because winter is thawing here, I’ve already got ideas going for what I can plant and have on hand in a few months to add to already existing ferments. Mostly some additional herbs to add to kombucha, a new variety of hop and possibly some vegetables to pickle. I’ve also gotten to homebrew considerably more recently and did my first lager. I am now plotting the next few months of beers to have on hand through seasons change. In the longer term, there’s a couple new-to-me ferments that I would like to take a crack at. The few real misos I’ve tasted have been mind-blowing, but something about working with koji is daunting. Someday I’ll get a proper miso and sake going, but until then, I’m just trying to keep the right amount of ferments on the counter going that won’t get my family to think I’ve lost it. While my temporary time away from frequent ferments was tough, I can say I’m glad the bug (really all the bugs) is back. Let me know in the comments what cool ferments you have going!