If you’ve been reading our weekly emails of late, or paying attention to ‘beerstagram‘, you can’t have helped but notice the huge rise of hazy IPAs and pale ales that seem to be dominating what everyone is drinking. But it hasn’t always been that way. For a while most brewers were looking to brew their beers with ever greater levels of clarity with people using phrases such as “hazy is lazy” when it comes to the more turbid side of brewing. Now, however, these cloudy beers are becoming some of the most sought after releases we’ve ever experienced and amongst the highest rated on websites like RateBeer and apps like Untappd. With a fresh batch of haze arriving every week, we thought we’d delve a bit deeper into this sub-family of IPA to find out why everyone is going doolally for them.

If your finger isn’t constantly on the craft-beer button, then we’ll quickly sum up what these hazy IPAs here. Although they all obviously have their own characteristics, and each is different, they tend to have a lower bitterness than other similarly strengthed IPAs, with a far more pronounced fruity character coming from the hops – comparisons to Um Bongo are frequent and not unwarranted – with this flavour being backed up by a soft, pillowy mouthfeel and generally lower carbonation. How is this achieved and why is it so popular? Carry on reading on below!

Photo by Chris Coulson
Hazy IPAs aka East Coast IPAs aka Yeast Coast IPAs aka Vermont IPAs really seemed to start, amazingly enough, in the North-Eastern state of Vermont. Despite their huge upsurge in popularity in the last year or so, people often reference Heady Topper from The Alchemist, first brewed around 10 years ago, as the forefather of this style.For many years, Heady Topper has been considered one of the best beers in the world with people travelling and queuing for hours outside the brewery to purchase just a case or two of the beer. Based in a town of only 4,000 people and only selling on-site, it really says a lot about the quality of the beer that they never have stock that is more than a week old.

Naturally hazy because of the yeast in suspension, it’s not surprising in the slightest that people have looked to emulate the Heady Topper beer. With a soft, pillowy body and fruity flavour without too much bitterness, it’s a far cry from the Great Bittering Arms Race of 2010-2015™. However, their popularity could in some way be born out of this all out bitternes war. When people started adding grapefruit, oranges, mangos etc. to enhance the natural hop flavour, it became clear what everyone was after, and that was juiciness! What’s incredibly cool about these beers, however, is that to create this juiciness they’ve taken a step back and are recreating all these crazy tropical flavours with only the help of the four traditional brewing ingredients.

However, despite Heady Topper’s dominance of all sorts of “Best IPA in…” lists, it’s only been in the last 2 years or so that this style has been steadily growing in popularity in America. Over in Europe and the UK, it’s probably been the last year or so that we’ve started to see more of these beers being brewed with any regularly. However, whilst there might have been a little lag time in their uptake, they’ve since exploded in popularity. If you look at the RateBeer top 10 IPAs, 9 are truly hazy, and look at the top 20, there are 17 of them. There’s probably no style we sell which sells out as quickly if it’s from a reputable brewer, or any style which is requested as much.

Although the most sought after beers of this style are American, we’ll unfortunately probably not be seeing those ones over here for a while. Breweries like Trillium, Tree House, Hill Farmstead and others sell their beers almost exclusively out of their breweries, with queues forming several hours before they open every week. However, luckily we’ve got plenty available from breweries a lot closer to home – and although you’ll have to be quick to nab them, you won’t have to queue up for hours!

The simple explanation to why these beers are hazy is just because there’s more stuff within the beer, and this stuff contributes to the overall flavour of the beer. So, what is this extra stuff? Well, one of the big parts of brewing these beers is the use of oats and wheat in the mash, alongside the traditional malted barley. These produce more complex proteins which aren’t as readily broken down by yeast and enzymes, so they remain in the beer. In part these contribute haze, and they also provide the beer with a fuller body and help to provide a softer mouthfeel. If you’ve seen German wheat beers then you can understand how these alternative cereals can create a haze, however, even these beers aren’t as turbid as some modern IPAs, so there must be some other things going on.

When people first wanted to recreate beers like Heady Topper they began looking at the yeast The Alchemist were brewing with, a strain the brewery kept as a closely guarded secret. However, those aiming to recreate these hazy IPAs were right to look at the yeast. After fermentation yeast “flocculates” which means it clumps together and drops out of suspension to either the top or the bottom of the fermenting vessel. However, the yeasts used to brew these styles of beer are very poor at flocculating and will stay suspended unless filtered out. By keeping the yeast in suspension, not allowing it to flocculate and not filtering it out, the brewer feels it keeps more flavour in the beer. As a result, more yeast in suspension means more stuff in the beer, and therefore more haze.

So, we know there are some contributions from the malt, and some from the yeast, but why are we still seeing far more turbidity from these beers than from, say, a German Hefeweizen which is, by definition, a yeasty wheat beer (“hefe” = yeast, “weizen” = wheat). This is where the hops get involved and we get science! Most of the large proteins are removed from the beer when boiling the wort or chilling it, but smaller ones stay in suspension. Whilst in suspension these proteins won’t contribute any haze, and normally they’ll happily stay in suspension. However, when adding hops to a beer you introduce polyphenols which will bind to these smaller proteins and pull them out of suspension to create haze. Normally this is fine, because again, hops are traditionally added during the boiling phase and most of these polyphenols are removed. However, to get the huge, juicy aromas and flavours out of a beer without imparting too much bitterness, brewers will add the hops after boiling. This results in more polyphenols than, for instance, in a German Hefeweizen, and in turn creates more haze. Who said science couldn’t be fun?

We hope we’ve inspired you to give haze a go and look forward to many hazy days ahead. Read on for details of a whole host of new arrivals, many of them on the hazy side.