The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an open community gathering where beer bloggers coordinate to write about a single topic. Each month, a different beer writer from around the world steps up to play host to the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up review of all of the submissions, for the benefit of participants and blog readers alike. You can find a log of all of The Sessions and get involved in future topics on Brookston Beer Bulletin. This is the wrap-up for #126.
I asked “What’s the deal with these beers?” and then asserted, “We’re going to find out together.”
That may have been just a bit optimistic. One thing I learned is that the controversy is still alive and well. Also, much is still — forgive me — unclear about the borders of this style, sub-style or deviation.
Let’s start with two short strong opinions. Reuben Gray at Tale Of Ale started with a willingness to accept these beers but simply got bored and a little annoyed by the lack of good old bitterness. The bottom line? It’s ultimately a matter of preference. And looks still have an effect. “Some of them also look like a glass of bile.”
Jack Perdue expresses the view from the other side of the hazy divide at his Deep Beer blog. He does express a touch of appearance skepticism, with a theory about the common packaging choice for the style that has probably crossed a few minds hereabouts, but goes to on touch on the importance of appreciative beer drinking friends, the joy of beer discovery, and the innovations yet to come. “I love the way the beer scene has meandered. First traditional European beers, industrial beer (I don’t love that), IPAs, and hybrids (mixing of styles). So, New England IPAs is another joyful iteration in the crazy world of brewing beer. It is a wonderful time to be a beer drinker!”
Also, for those watching established breweries jump on board or try to cash in, depending on your viewpoint and their success at it, he mentions two interesting adaptations in the US mid-Atlantic area.
Another notable marker for the current state of acceptance is that there is still intentional agnosticism about the characteristics and definitions in this realm of beers. Stan Hieronymus is still learning about these beers, seeking science — including sensory science — on what is going on within them. At Appellation Beer, Stan talks of leading a tasting of these beers alongside clear IPAs. “The hazy beers were different, and excellent in their own way. Rather obviously brewers are learning to wring more out of odor compounds in hops and consumers are willing to pay for the experience. There’s more science to be figured out…”
Toronto’s Gary Gillman at Beer Et Seq. asserts that a 40 year increase in acceptance of visual haze led to this style, based on a misunderstanding of the degree of clarity of a traditional “unfiltered” English ale. “Unfiltered in English practice meant the beers were fined on cask to ensure a clear pint.” He sees these beers as simply another form of the American adaptation of the English IPA tradition that started with Anchor Liberty Ale and the Cascade hop, keeping these new beers within the family.
One thing that’s impressive is that those in this iteration of the conversation who dislike these beers still seem to be open to liking something hazy if it satisfies. Californian Derrick Peterman of Ramblings of a Beer Runner starts by saying he’s not a fan, then gives a shout-out to a Sante Adarius Rustic Ales for a hazy farmhouse IPA, and defends experimental brewing. But he has no respect for slavish trend-followers. “Call yourself a “craft brewer” all you want, but if you’re chasing fads by resorting to brewing gimmicks like using flour or generating excessive yeast and grain in suspension, you’ve lost any right to claim you’re brewing with honesty, integrity and a passion for brewing excellence, even if you slap the Brewers Association Independence Seal on your label.”
At Mark Ciocco’s Kaedrin blog, yeast is the thing. Appearance is secondary to the flavors and textures of the appropriate juicy yeast. (For anyone who has not followed along, many yeasts have been used, but the consensus is to use one that’s not very flocculent and was derived from an English yeast that was generally fined to achieve clarity for centuries.) For Mark it’s not about appearance, so imitating looks will not make a successful beer.
Mark prefers the idea of simply allowing the category definition of American IPA to include hazy and less bitter to encompass these beers as IPAs rather than putting them into a novel style. However, he takes the time to define the New England IPA based on both the yeast and the ingredients. His proposed flaws when judging the style would be grainy mouthfeel and staling. Appearance and bitterness can have a lot of variation: “I’ve had some of these that are no cloudier than an equivalent unfiltered West Coast IPA. Of course, I’ve had others that literally look like orange juice or chicken broth, but again, not an absolute requirement. Bitterness tends to be lower, but it doesn’t need to be (I suspect the juicy character leads to a sweeter perception no matter what the IBU).”
This is such a feel-good post, with its happy growler picture.
At The Beer Nut, Irish blogger John Duffy notes that not every brewery is up to the task of delivering juiciness. He delves into the promises made by appearance and aroma, and the curious confusion that happens when a hazy beer has more bitterness than expected. He has an appreciation for the diversity of good examples, yet still manages to deliver this visual description for the virtual slide-show: “It’s typically unattractive, with a dense custard-like appearance topped by a desultory effort at a head, but the flavour immediately exploded outward in a riot of ripe tropical fruit…” Reading the rest will make you thirsty.
Joe Tindall checks in from the UK on his The Fatal Glass of Beer blog. His defining description adds to our visual image of these beers, “cloudy bordering on murky, often brewed with oats for maximum fluffy mouthfeel and smooth, juice-like texture, and hopped only in the whirlpool for intense hop flavour and aroma with minimal bitterness.” He likes these beers, and asks brewers who disdain them, “But is it really necessary to mock other brewery’s products in order to sell your own? The inference here is, ‘we have a new beer, but it’s not one of those stupid New England IPAs everyone else is making. It’s proper beer.’”
He speaks to the diversity of flavors, and of hybrid approaches that, “like Cloudwater’s recent IIPA Centennial, marry the East and West coast approaches beautifully, using the intensity of the New England style to beef up the fleshy citrus quality of a now relatively old-school hop variety.”
And when he takes some of the critics to task, he makes an analogy to the What’s Brewing Letter Page, which, with a little googling, takes us into the back pages of CAMRA for a touch of the history of beer righteousness debates. (I was gleeful to read that, probably because I didn’t have to live through those particular arguments.)
Brian Yaeger blogs about his initial skepticism about the juicy beers, from the current vantage point of being “firmly in the camp of take it or leave it.”
Recently relocated in California after being embedded in the Portland, Oregon beer scene, he traces the rise in popularity of the style there, and considers one of the reasons these beers may meet with disdain. ” …some adult beer drinkers slag these adult-beverages that sorta-somehwat appeal to more juvenile palates. They are fruity and juicy and sweet and, well, nostalgic. But hey, it’s not like the industry doesn’t have its share of famous beers that famously taste like Mexican chocolate cake or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so there’s no reason to get sanctimonious about what other people enjoy in their glass of beer.”
It’s really interesting when a beer made from nothing but traditional brewing ingredients can be suspect for seeming like a hop-flavored alcopop. Weird times in beer land!
Finally, my own post is here on the Beer By BART blog. Prompted by many conversations, including some during a recent judging event, I wanted to start to note for myself what makes this a style or sub-style. And if they all fit together, what’s great? And what’s a fail?
My current top ten Hazy IPA flaws include “too flabby,” “baby aspirin yeast bite” and any perceptible oatmeal or dough-like flavor. Not sure making a list helps anybody else think about these beers, but beginning to define what I like and dislike is a natural process for me. I like some of these beers very much indeed, but am still grabbing a Blind Pig at the ballpark if I go to a baseball game. Maybe something from Cellarmaker afterwards. Beauty comes in many forms.
And now for a grand summary and unifying theory. I see gradual community progress in figuring out how to understand this beer innovation, and acceptance that tastes will differ. There is faddish behavior, and that can rankle, but the discussion has gotten beyond the idea that intentional haze is the same as a production flaw. Our responses paint a composite portrait of where the beer community is with this kind of beer at this point in beer history and point the way to further conversations to be had.
Also, there are a ton of great story or manifesto angles within this discussion. Thanks for these lovely posts. I believe the next session will be hosted at Alistar Reese’s Fuggled, though as of right now his topic is not up yet. Onward!
– Gail Ann Williams
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