Just about every brewery in Colorado makes an IPA, or two, or ten. Most are decent. Many are outstanding. But recently, the definition of what makes a good IPA has gotten a little murky. A couple of events this week, including one tonight at Jake’s Brew Bar in Littleton, will put the issue right into the hands, and glasses, of Colorado beer drinkers.
It started late last year when a few local breweries began producing IPAs with a cloudy appearance, a look that many craft fans associate with some top-name beer makers in New England, like Lawson’s Finest, the Alchemist, Tired Hands, Other Half, Hill Farmstead and Trillium. These so-called “New England-style” IPAs, which some people compare to juice because of that hazy look, are also notable for tropical, juice-like hoppy flavors that lack the same bitterness as their West Coast counterparts.
For the most part, the haze comes from chemical reactions between the yeast and the hops, and the majority of these breweries are shooting for that cloudiness on purpose, either because they like the aesthetics of it or because they believe that it enriches the hop flavor. But a cloudy, murky beer can also be a sign of a flaw in the beer if it's the result of too much yeast.
Because of that, some breweries, bar owners and drinkers can’t stand what is becoming a growing trend nationally and in Colorado. Many of them have taken to Facebook to express their dismay or to discuss the issue in public forums. The primary concern, beyond personal opinions of what makes a beer look beautiful, is that breweries are using the hazy trend to mask poor brewing technique or outright mistakes. In the long run, they say the result will be bad beers that will turn people away from craft breweries.
Spencer O’Bryan, co-owner and brewer at Fermaentra Brewing, understands those quality concerns, but he also respects breweries that make hazy beers on purpose. He also thinks the debate has been overblown. “You can’t help but laugh at the amount of attention it’s getting,” he says. “Breweries are railing on them. It’s just something else to hate on, I guess.”
Last week, Fermaentra tapped its first New England-style IPA, called Aesop. O’Bryan says he had been thinking about making one for a while. All of the brewery’s other IPAs are crystal clear because Fermaentra uses fining agents, as most breweries do, to eliminate particles and turbidity. For this one, though, he decided to use a different kind of yeast and protein-heavy malts — and no finings — in order to create a hazy look, one that doesn’t come from an excess of yeast.
The beer will be served at 4 p.m. today at an event at Jake’s Brew Bar in Littleton that’s being billed as a New England-style Hazy IPA face-off. In addition to Aesop, Jake’s will tap Odd 13's Codename Superfan, Cerebral Brewing’s Rare Trait, Fiction Beer’s Cosmic Unity, Weldwerks Brewing’s Juicy Bits and Grist Brewing’s Trickle Down IPA. Jake’s will be doing blind tastings and picking a winner at the end of the night.
But on Saturday at 11 a.m., Station 26 Brewing will tap a beer at Falling Rock Tap House, in conjunction with the acclaimed beer bar and also Mr. B’s, a nearby boutique liquor store, that it made as a statement to express its extreme displeasure with cloudy IPAs. Called Drunken Tirade, the double IPA is described as an IPA “for drinking, not for chewing.” (It will also be sold in bottles at Mr. B's.)
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Station 26 owner Justin Baccary says the beer is all in good fun. "I personally don't want to brew 'New England-style' IPAs, so we don't brew them at Station 26. I've tasted several. Some taste very good, some do not taste very good. Visually, all of them are unappealing to me," he explains. "I have nothing against 'New England-style' IPAs per se. There are some good examples being brewed in Colorado. There are also some breweries seemingly jumping on the bandwagon and not doing the style any justice.
"Drunken Tirade is a tongue-in-cheek jab at the whole situation," Baccary adds. "I respect the breweries that are brewing well-made 'New England-style' IPAs, have nothing against them, and visit some of them to pay for their beer regularly."
Fermaentra’s O’Bryan appreciates that perspective, and says his hazy beer is well-made. He believes the bias against hazy beers may come from home brewing. “Hazy IPAs are pretty familiar to home brewers,” who make them without meaning to, he explains. “Maybe that is the source of hatred from a professional end. It’s a line of demarcation for professionals.”
The trend may be here for a while, though. Chris Marchio, the head brewer at Fiction Beer — which serves several New England-style IPAs, will tap another one on Friday. Consciousness, as it is called, was made in conjunction with Backcountry Pizza & Taphouse, another well-respected Boulder beer bar. It will be Marchio’s last event at Fiction since he has taken a similar job at Joyride Brewing in Edgewater, where he will no doubt bring his predilection for haze along for the ride.