The Taste Test: Hazy IPA

Attendees of Unlabeled No. 1: Hazy IPA tasted and ranked 49 local Hazy IPAs // Photo by Tj Turner

Everyone loves a Hazy IPA. They have powerful aromas of tropical citrus. They’re juicy on the palate and pillowy on the finish. A soft and mellow reprieve for drinkers who appreciate hops but are repelled by the bracing bitterness of West Coast IPAs. A canvas for experimentation, pushing craft beer into new realms and generating enthusiasm over new releases.

And yet, everyone hates a Hazy IPA. They’re flabby and imbalanced. A candy-sweet orange juice brew for the Capri Sun generation. An overpriced waste of hops. Anathema to brewers who diligently work to remove haze. An under-attenuated slurry of yeast. A venue for adjunct-addled laziness.

It’s high time for The Growler’s editorial staff to fully confront the most divisive beer style of the decade, the Hazy IPA, known formally as the New England IPA (NEIPA) and alternatively as the Juicy IPA, the bane of brewers, the scion of subreddits, the unfiltered, the unfinished, the breaker of boundaries, and the mother of controversy.

From its idiosyncratic beginnings in Vermont with The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, New England IPAs have rocketed to the top of the nation’s craft beer consciousness. Hazy or Juicy IPA (with 414 entries) was the most-competitive category for judging at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival, ending a 16-year reign for the now-demure American-style IPA as the festival’s most popular.

But who makes a good one around here?

To find out, we enlisted Jeff Merriman, instructor of Dakota County Technical College’s Brewing and Beer Steward Technology program, to help organize a double-blind tasting, in which The Growler’s editorial staff, eight Beer Judge Certification Program judges, and two Certified Cicerones rated 49 Minnesota-brewed Hazy IPAs against the BJCP style guidelines for category 21b. Specialty IPA: New England IPA.

These very same beers were also judged against the same style guidelines by the public at Unlabeled No. 1: Hazy IPA, the first in The Growler’s new series of blind tasting beer festivals, held July 18 in St. Paul (three days after the editorial blind tasting). Hundreds of tasters turned out for the event (we’ve crunched the data and returned their Top 10 favorites; see below.)

The Field

What We Learned

Official BJCP score sheets // Photo by Tj Turner

“I walked in feeling conflicted about the style,” remarked one judge, “and I’m going to leave feeling that way, too.” This tasting was all over the map—some entries were fragrant as an orchard and gossamer on the palate. Others were severe and disjointed. Many were simply okay.

For such a relatively new beer style, we were prepared for this divergence. And upon close inspection of the style guidelines, category 21b allows for a wide range of interpretations. Still, we found a few common errors that marred several entries.

The main problem was bitterness. NEIPA is supposed to be soft and delicate, not bracing, astringent, or acidic. Because NEIPA is brewed with an emphasis on late-addition hops, brewers need to add more of them (sometimes twice the amount as a regular IPA) to balance the style’s higher level of perceived sweetness. But get too aggressive with these late additions and the result is what’s been called “hop-burn”: a mouthfeel that’s so acidic it feels corrosive on the tongue.

Several beers in our trial displayed a powerful, lasting bitterness—it’s clear to us that the Hazy trend has proliferated so quickly that some brewers haven’t yet fully grappled with the mechanics of the style. (Though it should be said that a select few of these bitter beers were actually tasty, just not stylistically appropriate.)

We also encountered a good deal of piney, dank, and resiny flavors that are out of character for the fruit-forward NEIPA. This green flavor component was due in part to some poor choices with hop varieties, but more likely due to the problem outlined above—brewers are dealing with far more vegetal matter in the whirlpool than normal.

We found carbonation levels to be routinely on the lower end of things, perhaps angling for a mellower feeling on the palate. Haze levels ranged from Kellerbier to full-on snowstorm.

The best examples showcased why Hazy IPAs are so popular—they all achieved that delicate balance between intense, juicy hop aromatics and yeasty sweetness.

Here are the judges’ tasting notes on the top 12:

Advanced to the Best of Show Round
(in alphabetical order)

56 Brewing Super ‘Ssippi Squeeze

8.5% ABV
Citra, Mosaic

This one nailed the tropical citrus profile, with the right amount of astringency to dry out the bulky body. Though that extra alcohol (in the realm of an imperial IPA) pushed the boundary of body and sweetness, making it more of a one-pint wonder—but what a good single pint it is.

AEGIR Brewing Co. Valhoppa Hazy IPA

6.6% ABV
Citra, Simcoe

A refreshing, juicy IPA with a good deal of dry-hop character, almost tea-like in its astringency at the end. Perhaps on the bitter end of the style guidelines, but a really nice entry from the young Elk River brewery.

Blacklist Brewing Peach Hazy

6.3% ABV
El Dorado, Amarillo, Citra

One way to make a Hazy IPA fruity is to add actual fruit—you risk making it truly Tropicana, but with a temperate hand, the result can be extraordinary. So it is with Blacklist. “I could drink way more than one,” said one judge, noting the lack of recognizable hop acids. “It’s fruity. But doesn’t burn a hole in your stomach.”

Clutch Brewing Co. Hypnotoad

6.6% ABV
Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo

A pitch-perfect level of bitterness, with a mellow stone fruit character that unfolds as the glass warms. A lighter body, less hazy than many, made it seem sessionable against the field. “I would drink lots of it,” remarked one judge, to numerous heads nodding in agreement.

Drastic Measures Brewing Co. Stupid Good

6.6% ABV
Citra and Galaxy

A showcase of hop flavor—truckloads of tropical, passion fruit aromas lead the way into a soft body with mild astringency. We get a little resin and dankness near the end, so the finish comes off a tad brittle, but we’ll overlook it for what is in total a stupid good juicy ale.

Inbound Brew Co. Juicy Lucy

7.5% ABV
Azacca, Cashmere, Amarillo

This one hits all the juicy notes—full of mango and tangerine, with creamy malt character to back it up. We got a hint of leathery astringency on the end that was unexpected and ultimately delightful. “That strawberry note is still there,” said one judge, minutes later. “I can still taste it!”

Lupulin Brewing Co. Hooey

6.2% ABV
Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Amarillo, El Dorado, Mandarina

One of the most popular Hazy IPAs in the state is indeed one of the best, with pineapple, OJ, mango, mandarin, and marmalade flavors layered over a distinct graininess. One of the judge’s scorecards was filled with stars and smiley faces.

OMNI Brewing Company FAD

8.0% ABV
Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo

A well-balanced tropical fruit flavor, like pineapple pulp, that finishes pithy but not too astringent. Again, this one bites back a little more than we’d like it to, but there’s just enough perceived sweetness from the imperial-sized body to keep the acidity mostly in check.

Urban Growler Brewing Co. Cloudy Sunshine

7.0% ABV
Cashmere, Citra

Our tasting notes on this one were all over the board, from papaya and tangerine to biscuits and toast to leather and diesel. It sparked conversation. It evolved as it warmed. But it was undeniably juicy and supremely well-balanced.

Third Place

Lakes & Legends Brewing Company Hazy No. 3

7.0% ABV
Ekuanot, Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra

A strong effort from the Loring Park brewery. A beautiful, nearly opaque orange color bursting with ripe citrus aromas. The bitterness is on the higher end for the style, but a compelling creaminess to the body keeps things in check—both malted and flaked oats are in play. Soft tangerine flavors round out the finish. Wonderful.

Runner Up

Fair State Brewing Cooperative Mirror Universe

7.0% ABV
Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado

If we had to bet beforehand, we’d have guessed Mirror Universe would be in the upper echelon. And our blind tasters confirmed it—a textbook NEIPA full of ripe and squishy stone fruit aroma and a body that skews a tiny bit sweet while retaining a good hop punch for balance. “It has the brightness without the bitterness,” said one judge. A juicy guava flavor leads the way into a lip-smacking finish.

The Winner

Junkyard Brewing Co. Zappa Experimental IPA

6.8% ABV
Azacca and Zappa

We surmise that our grand champion owes its title not only to the skill of Junkyard’s brewing staff, clearly, but also to the unique profile of the Zappa hop. We tasted strong notes of starfruit and melon—fruit flavors we don’t necessarily think of as “juicy”—which made it distinctly different from the citrus fruit profile that the industry-default Citra hop delivers in this style.

The aromas leaped from the glass, the bitterness was restrained, the fermentation flavors were clean, the body was perfect. “The drinkability is really nice,” concluded one judge. “It’s a standout thing. For so many of these, a little sample was all you could take. But this—very soft, but not overly sweet—I could drink a pint of that.”

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.