It's not easy to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the recent phenomenon that is hazy, New England-style IPAs. Although many local brewers and breweries tried to forswear them over the past eighteen months since they took Colorado by storm, a good number of those ended up caving in to customer demand. Examples include Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs, Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora, Grist Brewing in Highlands Ranch, and Station 26 Brewing, which went so far as to bottle a beer last year called Drunken Tirade that was meant to criticize the style. And yet earlier this week, Station 26 tapped its own hazy IPA, called Hop Sequence No. 7.
The hilariously divisive battle over the beer "style" mostly involves appearance: In addition to their tropical, juice-forward flavors, New England-style IPAs often resemble juice, too. But some people simply can't stand the pulpy, turbid look, which runs the gamut from a golden glow to a cloudy fog to full-fledged flakes. The appearance is often the result of brewing techniques that allow hop oils to bind to yeast particles.
But hazy IPAs are meant to be imbibed fresh — very fresh. Packaging them can cause a reduction in the flavor profile, along with a degradation of the appearance, which can make a beer look like it's full of fish food. Packaging breweries like Dry Dock, New Image Brewing in Arvada and even style leader Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette have worked hard, often publicly, to battle these problems, sometimes with mixed results.
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Others have yet to make the leap. Weldwerks, which makes what is arguably the highest-rated hazy IPA in Colorado, Juicy Bits, has yet to package it outside of Crowlers, in part because of the difficulty of getting it right.
Which is what makes Avery Brewing's recent blog post, titled "Why Aren’t Our IPAs Crazy Hazy?," on the issue so interesting. Rather than bash the style, the Boulder brewery laid out an argument for why it doesn't plan to package a New England-style IPA — despite the intense customer pressure to do so — and promising that it will put one on draft instead. Here is the text of the post, which you can also find on Avery's website.
The crazy-hazy IPA has taken the craft beer industry by storm of late and has sparked the question: why aren’t we joining in the haze craze?
Over the last few years, our family of IPAs (Avery IPA, The Maharaja, Raja, Hog Heaven, The Real Peel IPA) has actually gotten hazier, but they still don’t compare to today’s craze of super-hazy, unfiltered, can’t-see-through, turbid, milkshake IPAs. Why is that? Well, it comes down to two things: First, history; second, stability.
Avery Brewing Company has been in existence for 24 years and our Avery IPA was born in 1996. In those days, IPAs were not beloved like they are today. In fact, most people initially found our Avery IPA too bitter, even though it’s arguably a well-balanced IPA by today’s standards. The craft beer industry was only just starting to develop, so Adam Avery’s main competition for shelf space and tap handles were classic ‘big beer’ brands such as Coors and Budweiser. The one characteristic that these brands had in common was that their beers were all crystal clear. This put a lot of pressure on Adam to clarify his beer as clear as possible to mimic the competition, given that it was already a struggle to sell a hoppy IPA that the craft beer market wasn’t ready for yet.
Oh, how the times have changed, and for the better!
Fast-forward 21 years, the haze-craze movement has been great for Avery Brewing because it allows us to focus more on the quality and flavor of the beer, without having to worry as much about the beer’s appearance. We are always trying to make our beer better, so having the freedom to make it slightly hazier is great. As we experiment with newer hop varieties for dry-hopping, such as Idaho 7 and Vic Secret, we don’t have to worry as much about filtering a beer crystal clear afterward, and losing valuable hop aroma and flavor in the process. We’ll probably never make a snowglobe or orange-juicy beer, but our brewers certainly have the space to experiment in our perpetual pursuit of the best beer possible.
The other reason behind our motivation not to join in the haze-craze is due to its effect on shelf stability. We distribute to 39 states and need to guarantee that our beer will taste and look great, even if it takes two weeks longer to reach the outer edges of our distribution. Our lab performs floor stability tests on all of our beer, where we subject it to extreme hot and cold conditions rapidly to test the stability of flavor and appearance.
(Disclaimer: super nerdy and awesome beer science ahead.)
A highly hazy IPA has great aroma and fresh hop flavor from all the dry-hopping, but that freshness goes away over time due to the fact that hop aroma compounds break down first in beer. In addition, the increased amount of polyphenols that result from dry-hopping can lead to precipitation, or fall out. Polyphenols are found in both grains and hops, and during the brew process, they readily bind with proteins. As this occurs, they create solids large enough to precipitate, or fall out of solution. These solids are readily removed during the brewing process, aiding in the stability of the finished beer. However, beers with higher hop levels — especially heavily dry-hopped beers — have higher levels of polyphenols in the finished beer. Polyphenols are also primarily responsible for haze in hoppy beers*. However, they can continue to form solids that will eventually fall out. This will occur in any style of beer if you let it sit long enough (which you may have observed in a bottle you kept in your cellar for too long), but with higher levels of polyphenols, the fall out can occur within a few weeks.
The nature of crazy-hazy IPAs make them great for enjoying straight from the source, but very difficult to distribute and maintain quality standards over time. Since we do clarify our IPAs after dry-hopping, our shelf life gets extended to between 120 days and six months without compromising quality, allowing regions farther away to enjoy our brews, such as Hawaii and Alaska.
As much as we love some crazy-hazy IPAs, we will probably never package and distribute one, due to its exceptionally short shelf life. However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t brew one for the tap room at some point soon (hint hint). We are always experimenting and are excited that this trend allows us to continue to explore what an IPA can be!
*Many examples of crazy-hazy IPAs also use wheat and/or oats, which contribute to haze through additional proteins. These additional proteins will interact more rapidly with the increased levels of polyphenols, though, further decreasing the shelf stability of the beer.