Cloudy beers have started to fill glasses in tap houses and brewery tasting rooms, but we’re not talking about German hefeweizens or Belgian witbiers. Instead, these opaque beers are a newish style called “hazy IPA” and they’ve taken the West Coast by storm over the past year.
Also known as the New England or Northeast IPA, the style originated more than a decade ago at The Alchemist brewery in Vermont, where brewer John Kimmich created an IPA called Heady Topper that was cloudy and hoppy but had very little bitterness. Other breweries in the region followed suit and a whole culture of New England IPAs developed there. Heady Topper has since become one of the world’s most sought-after beers, one that you basically have to travel to New England to taste.
Due to the lack of filtration and huge amount of hops used in the beer, hazy IPAs are generally produced in small batches and only sold at the breweries themselves. Even if they are packaged in cans, as Heady Topper is, they have a very short shelf life and don’t travel well, so they are not distributed very far from the brewery.
Recently, however, West Coast breweries have started experimenting with hazy IPAs, including several here in BC.
So what makes them so special? Essentially, they are all about showcasing hop flavours, but without the potent bitterness usually found in extremely hoppy beers. Some hazy IPAs have even been dubbed “zero-IBU” beers because the process used to brew them results in virtually none of the bitterness – as measured in IBUs – being extracted from the hops, just all the fruity, citrusy, tropical flavours and aromas. The haze is a result of the brewing process, as well as the purposeful lack of filtration or fining, which would reduce some of those big, juicy flavours.
When Steamworks Brewing’s Flagship IPA won Best in Show at the BC Beer Awards last October, it marked a symbolic shift away from the clean and dry West Coast IPA style that has dominated the marketplace here for several years (e.g., Driftwood Brewery’s iconic Fat Tug IPA) toward this new, hazy style.
But Steamworks wasn’t the first BC brewery to produce a New England IPA. That was probably Superflux Beer Company, which brewed a murky beer called Pulp IPA late in 2015, when it was still known as Machine Ales and operating out of Vancouver’s Callister Brewing Company.
That beer was only available on tap, though. North Van’s Bridge Brewing Company released its Sidecut North East IPA in 650-ml bottles a few months later, making it the first packaged hazy IPA in BC.
But the breakthrough moment seemed to be when Port Moody’s Twin Sails Brewing started experimenting with the style as part of a new small-batch series in tall cans. The first release was a pale ale called Day Blink (yes, a pale ale: the “hazy” brewing process can be used in any hoppy beer from ISAs right through to Double IPAs). A bunch more hazy, hoppy beers followed, including Space Armadillo, Dat Juice, Juice Plus, Bread Winner, High Socks and Two Straws — a so-called “milkshake IPA” brewed with mango, pineapple and unfermentable lactose.
The pinnacle — perhaps, depending on your feelings about the style — was the “zero-IBU” Hot Take IPA, in which tons of hops were added after the boil so that virtually no bitterness was extracted, just all the fruity aroma and flavour.
According to John Folinsbee, who developed the recipe for Steamworks’ award-winning Flagship IPA, the malts used in hazy IPAs are very important, as well. Instead of sweet caramel notes typically found in West Coast IPAs to balance out the bitterness, brewers use lighter malts “to make the hops shine” and other grains that contribute texture to the mouth feel: “oats, wheat, flaked oats, anything that builds body in the beer,” says Folinsbee, who has since moved to Backcountry Brewing in Squamish.
“You’re trying to create an IPA that’s like juice – pulpy, thick and sweet.”
Equally important is the yeast. “That Heady Topper yeast is a really powerful yeast strain,” Folinsbee elaborates. “It throws a lot of tropical fruit esters.”
It’s an English ale yeast that generates much more fruitiness, whereas most West Coast IPAs use an American ale yeast that results in cleaner, more fully fermented beer.
And then there’s magic. Seriously, there’s a sort of magical interaction between yeast and hops that seems to add an extra dimension of flavour to hazy IPAs. Folinsbee refers to this as “biotransformation,” and argues that “even the hop scientists don’t really understand where the flavour comes from. Hops are interacting with yeast during fermentation and they’re taking these hop compounds and transforming them into something else. It can change flavours in hops that you don’t even like and turn them into more appealing flavours.”
Whether it’s magic or not, more and more BC breweries are experimenting with hazy IPAs. Twin Sails keeps pumping out different versions and Yellow Dog Brewing Co., next door, recently took home Best in Show at the Okanagan Fest of Ale for its High 5 Hazy IPA, which it launched last fall.
Superflux now has two in cans: Colour & Shape and Rainbow Machine. Bridge’s Side Cut is part of its year-round lineup. Spinnakers Brewpub and Cannery Brewing recently launched their own packaged versions, and many other breweries have been experimenting with them in their tasting rooms.
It’s safe to predict that the forecast this summer is hazy.