To Haze, Or Not to Haze?

New England–style IPA // Photo by Kevin Kramer

New England–style IPA // Photo by Kevin Kramer

New England IPAs are divisive. Some argue the style converts the hop-averse into enthusiastic proponents of hop flavor and aroma. Others point out their trademark haze can cause short shelf life, disguise bad brewing practices, and lead eager but uninformed consumers to value haze over quality. But at this point it’s hard to make the argument that they’re a passing fad.

Recently, the Brewers Association (BA) updated its style guidelines and included “Juicy or Hazy Ale Styles” for the first time, thereby cementing its place in the organization’s highly esteemed beer competitions. This year, brewers will be able submit into any of the three new categories that encompass Northeast or New England–style IPAs: Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale, Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale, and Juicy or Hazy Imperial or Double Pale Ale.

Chris Swersey, competition manager for the Brewers Association, says the addition of this style of IPA was inevitable.

“About two or three years ago, we started getting questions from people,” says Swersey. “It started out as something missing and turned into a gaping hole.”

The decision to add “hazy” into the style description, however, came from in-depth evaluation of the current beer landscape.

The process of adding a new beer style to the guidelines begins with tasting the beers as a group to determine the range of possibility for the style. The first step is getting samples of beer.

“Andy Sparhawk (web manager for the Brewers Association) found brewers who had been interviewed about the style and were real thought leaders in the category,” says Swersey.  “We got 10 or 12 beers and asked for any lab data they had to see the range of [characteristics].”

Then they started the process of evaluating each beer, noting similarities and differences to determine the pillars of the style and the range of what it might contain.

“What we learned is a lot of these beers have the word ‘juicy’ in the brand name, or taste kind of juicy. And a lot of these beers have the word ‘hazy’ in the brand name, and a large range of haze,” says Swersey. He adds that beyond the initial discovery process, haze has been a consistent defining characteristic of the style.

“As we learned about these beers over time, every single one has had a certain degree of haze. So that cloudiness is a defining characteristic [of the style],” says Swersey. But he makes a point to note that the style guidelines aren’t meant to restrain creativity, or pick winners or losers. “The intent is to reflect what brewers are doing. The guidelines are driven by brewers getting out ahead of us,” Swersey says.

When it comes to the question of whether haze should be a part of the style if someone brews a non-hazy IPA with all the good characteristics, Swersey suggest it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“I don’t see a conflict,” he says. “Neither is right or wrong, they’re just how [the brewer] brews, and what their drinker wants.”

Swersey explains that by providing the language to talk about beer styles, the style guidelines are a conduit for conversation between brewers and drinkers.

“Brewers are going to continue to create new beers and evolve,” says Swersey. “How do brewers talk about beer with their drinkers? This is an instance where words matter, so we’ve tried to make sure the words [in the style guidelines] matter and that they work for the brewer and the drinker.”

The Debate Among Brewers

The staying power of the New England IPA across the country has proven enough that even dissenters are starting to brew them, if only to meet the sheer market demand for juicy, pillowy pints.

Andy Ruhland of Bad Weather Brewing has experimented with removing haze from a New England–style IPA. The beer, called Upside Down, was brewed as a NE-style IPA but run through a plate and frame filter to create a brilliantly clear beer. Ruhland says the end product was a conversation starter.

“There was some confusion [with customers], like ‘why isn’t this hazy?’” says Ruhland “Well, that was the point. Does a pale ale, IPA, or double IPA need to be hazy to be good? Absolutely not!”

Ironically, Ruhland has since been tasked with brewing a hazy IPA for Bad Weather. “I guess I’m doomed to enjoy it,” he concludes.

Ruhland’s biggest beef with the hazy IPA seems to be an issue of quality.

“Haze is one thing. Unfiltered yeast muck is another,” he says. “I think [the NE-style IPAs] can promote sloppy brewing practices.”

Matt Schiller of Lupulin Brewing suggests that maybe that’s missing the point. Maybe the point is that hazy isn’t always an indicator of good or bad beer—sometimes it’s just different ways of brewing.

“We don’t own a filter or a centrifuge, so our beer is left in its natural state,” says Schiller. “If the beer came out of the tank crystal clear and tasted the same, that would be fine. Can you make a great filtered IPA? Absolutely, and many breweries are making world-class IPAs that way.”

Bob DuVernois, head brewer at BlackStack Brewing, says it’s not the first time an unfamiliar new beer style has been pegged as a culprit of sloppy brewing practices.

“I remember when West Coast IPAs were scoffed at as being an easy beer to brew because you ‘just dump a shit ton of hops into it,’” DuVernois says. “Seems a repeat story to me.”

DuVernois thinks that beer left in its natural state—unfiltered—is part of what defines the style, hazy or not.

“Is it possible to leave the haze out and still have the flavor of a hazy IPA? Sure. Can you filter a hefeweizen and still call it a hefeweizen? No,” says DuVernois.

Seeking ‘Clarity of Purpose’ in the haze debate

A glass of Clarity of Purpose // Photo by Aaron Job

A glass of Clarity of Purpose // Photo by Aaron Job

Two Minneapolis brewers recently set out to capture the best of both worlds. Brew a beer with all of the juicy, creamy, fruitiness of a New England IPA—without the haze.

The project, called Clarity of Purpose, was born between Niko Tonks of Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Ben Smith of Surly Brewing over beers at Grumpy’s Northeast.

“We were coming from the same standpoint in terms of questioning why haze for haze’s sake was an important thing,” says Tonks.

So they put the inquiry to the test.

“We challenged ourselves to come up with a NE-style IPA in flavor, but a brilliantly clear beer in appearance.”

Clarity of Purpose was brewed in two batches, one at Surly’s Brooklyn Park facility for the Beer Hall, and the other at Fair State for distribution in kegs and cans. The recipe and process relied on nearly everything except traditional filtration methods to produce a clear New England IPA. Tonks explains that most of the haze in Fair State hazy IPAs is protein and polyphenol based, so the recipe aimed to reduce these two haze instigators.

“We set out to make a grist as low in protein and polyphenol as possible, as most of the haze in beer is derived from protein-polyphenol interactions,” backs Smith.

“[We used] low-protein adjuncts like flaked corn, and innovative polyphenol-free malts like Crisp Clear Choice,” says Tonks. Both batches also used high flocculating English ale yeast in the recipe, both were cold-crashed and centrifuged.

It’s at this point that the Surly batch deviates from taking the same route as Fair State. “We also decided to use Saccharomyces Trois in cooperation with our normal English ale strain for the batch at Surly,” says Smith. It never dropped out of suspension, even after centrifugation, and the resulting beer is quite opaque. “Long story short, we didn’t execute as promised on the Surly version and ended up with a hazy NE-style IPA. [We] renamed ours Obscurity of Purpose.”

The Fair State version continued on its path toward clarity by employing process techniques to complement the haze-inhibiting recipe.

“We dry-hopped post-fermentation to avoid as much of the theoretical biotransformation reactions that can contribute to haze,” says Smith.

“We additionally added vegan-friendly, pre-centrifuge finings, and relied on the proven method of conditioning at low temps for a number of days post dry-hopping,” adds Tonks.

After much anticipation, Clarity of Purpose was tapped at Grumpy’s Northeast on April 2. While not brilliantly clear, it was significantly less hazy than the Surly beer, and just as fruity and aromatic. Tonks says the canned version has even better clarity, likely because it had a few more days than the kegs to clear up before packaging.

“The stuff that went in cans was clear as day,” says Tonks. “The draft beer was almost where we wanted it.”

“Will it be crystal-clear brilliant? Probably not without using a traditional filtration method,” adds Smith.

Ultimately, Tonks and Smith feel the project was a success. They achieved the fruity citrus and tropical flavors and aromas of a NEIPA in a beer with very minimal haze. But when blind-tasted with a hazy New England-style IPA, Clarity of Purpose seemed to be missing a subtle sensation of biting into a ripe, juicy fruit that one might expect from most hazy IPAs.

Related Post: Hazed and Confused: Defined style or passing fad–examining the fate of NEIPA

“I think we developed the characteristic ‘soft’ mouthfeel via other methods,” says Tonks, “but the high protein [of hazy IPAs] does make for a somewhat more ‘pillowy’ drinking experience.”

The overall results of the project add perspective to the hazy IPA debate. The conversation pulls the focus away from debating whether haze is good or bad, and brings it into the relationship between type of haze and beer quality as a whole. Smith is even coming around to the idea that haze has a place in beer—when done well.

“I have a lot of appreciation for the people who are doing [hazy IPAs] well by figuring out the process and science,” says Smith. “The best hazy IPAs have a haze that stays in suspension. The particles are small; you’re not getting a snow globe. When you pour a can, there shouldn’t be a slug of solid precipitate in the bottom.”

The haze craze may be here to stay

The exploration of the juicy/hazy style is already making an impact in reshaping how the industry thinks and talks about IPAs, making for more thoughtful brewers and consumers.

“I think the haze craze has really proven to people that freshness in IPAs is crucial, and that bitterness and crystal malt flavor is less important than hop aroma and flavor,” says Tonks.

Whether you think haze has a role in IPAs or not, at least you’re engaged. In that way, perhaps haze has carved its place as an invitation to keep learning and exploring. Reminding us that differences in beer characteristics don’t always have to be better or worse, they can just be different. Right now, the consensus seems to be that juicy, hazy beer is keeping the industry fresh and on its game. Brewers are innovating and testing new methods, consumers are learning more about hops, and more people are engaging in the conversation.

DuVernois sums it up in saying that for now, the style is exactly how it’s supposed to be. “Haze is part of the craze. It is the epitome of fresh beer. It is glowing and beautiful. It is real and looks it. Not filtered, not pasteurized, not adulterated. Just a different beer style that is finally being recognized.”