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?
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.
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?
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