While West Coast craft beer drinkers for a while have only been able to experience hazy IPAs through trades or travel, there are plenty of brewers starting to experiment with the haze craze. Also called New England style IPAs, murky IPAs, or hazy unfiltered IPAs, the turbid IPA style grew in popularity due to breweries such as Treehouse and The Alchemist, makers of Heady Topper. These beers have been much sought after for a good while, but as the trend grows, lots of brewers steeped in tradition are fighting back against the style.
India Pale Ale has gone through so many different variations and growth in its time on this planet, it’s hard to determine, outside of “definition”, what the style is. The true definition of the style has even evolved over the years, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program, the primary craft beer industry dictionary of styles. The program notoriously adjusted parameters to be able to include Pliny the Elder in the category. As time has gone on the BJCP has added categories for styles as White IPA, Black IPAs also called Cascadian Dark Ales if you’re an unamerican separatist, Imperial IPA (the lovely home of Pliny the Elder) to the style. Why is the haze craze receiving pushback from some brewers while being embraced by IPA fans?
Some brewers find problems with the style either through practice or nomenclature. Those that argue against the name say they shouldn’t be called IPA’s because they don’t have a pronounced bitterness, too much residual sweetness, not enough clarity, or the use of adjuncts to fall within the parameters set by the BJCP. Others find fault in the style because of the intense fervor fans have for these beers, breweries are rushing out sub-par product in the name of selling out of a beer that receives automatic praise for having the turbid look. The argument that they’re not IPAs bears no fruit in my eyes, as IPA is not a style with rigid tradition like many Belgian or German styles that have been brewed a certain way, using certain ingredients for thousands of years.
The evolution of IPA has been a long one in the grand scheme of craft beer. When the notion of craft beer first started in America, IPA existed only as the English had defined it. While still overly hopped, definitely favored a strong malt backbone and the use of English hop varietals that pushed more earthy and perfumey characteristics. As the style caught on in the Pacific Northwest, home to 98% of the hops grown in the United States, the style held onto the strong malt characteristic, reddish copper hue, but morphed into the resinous and piney hop character we’ve come to know and expect from American IPAs. As San Diego’s craft beer scene boomed, now home to over 140 breweries, IPA took on a less malty character and become more of an expression of hop character than a balance of malt and hops which came to define the West Coast IPA.
Now we’re seeing the transformation of the style once again, this time towards this unclean look as craft beer drinkers clamor for the haze. This visual characteristic is brought on using high amounts of protein-rich wheat and oats, and yeast strains that don’t flocculate (which is the process by which matter falls out of suspension in a liquid). The other primary character New England style IPAs carry is usually a bright citrus juicy hop character and a lot of late addition hops, which add flavor and aroma without imparting a lot of bitterness.
The style definitely has legs, as beer drinkers line up to buy the beer in limited amounts and participate in online pre-sales that sell out in record times. It seems that breweries in Los Angeles like Monkish and Mumford have can releases every weekend of these beers. The question is does the style have the fortitude to last, as opposed to the slow simmering of some categories like barrel aged stouts that were all the rage a few years ago. As more and more breweries made more and more barrel aged stout, the category became flooded and beers that used to garner intense fandom and have huge releases like Hunahpu and Dark Lord have lost some of their former luster.
Craft beer is still a young industry by most standards, with the leaders and forerunners barely old enough to drink themselves. While industry titans are seeing diminished sales and stagnate depletions, the new wave of brewers are going to help define what craft beer looks like for the next generation. Millennials are spending their money vastly differently than the generations before them, and as more and more of them reach the drinking age, craft beer will continue to take chunks out of the macrobrewer’s dominance in the market.