Beer Man

Will New England-Style, Hazy IPAs Become a Recognized Beer Style?

Trends come and go. Fads fade even faster. But change is inevitable. That is one of the exciting things about craft beer. It is dynamic, it is always different, and it keeps people coming back for the newest thing.

The latest flavor? Hazy, juicy IPAs made popular in the past few years by breweries in New England — Vermont, in particular — and now being made by other breweries around the country. In Colorado, a handful of beer makers began serving hazy IPAs late last year. They have since been joined by at least a half-dozen others who are experimenting with this so called “New England” style of hoppy beers.

Is it a trend, a fad? Maybe. But brewer Neil Fisher would like to see hazy IPAs stick around and become a recognized beer style. Fisher is the owner of Weldwerks Brewing in Greeley, the maker of Juicy Bits, which has become one of the most sought-after hazy IPAs in Colorado in recent months. Loaded with tropical — almost sweet — hoppy flavors and aromas, rather than the bitter ones that most craft-beer drinkers are used to, Juicy Bits has a murky appearance that delights fans of New England-style IPAs and infuriates people who believe IPAs should be clear.

“Everyone is talking about it, and I would love to see the Great American Beer Festival and the Brewers Association have a hazy-IPA category. It would help to define it — to give us a baseline for discussion and some common ground,” he says. “It would also give it legitimacy. It would validate what all of us are doing.”

Last week, Fisher and several other brewers gathered at Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette to collaborate on Robot Librarian, a hazy double IPA that will be tapped on Thursday at Odd13 and then distributed around the state on a limited basis in cans and in kegs (scroll down to find details about the release party). The 8.25 percent ABV beer was brewed with Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Galaxy and El Dorado hops. The joint effort also included Cerebral Brewing and Fiction Beer Company, both in Denver. The four breweries were the first, or among the first, to adopt and embrace hazy beers in Colorado — and they’ve gotten a lot of attention because of it.

Odd13 has had so much success with its Codename: Superfan that the brewery has decided to stop canning its previous IPA, Eric the Red, in favor of the hazy Superfan. “It’s been fun and really well received, for the most part,” says Odd13 co-founder Ryan Scott. “Some people are passionately against it, but most people love it. It has become our best-selling beer.”

The beer is also contributing to the brewery’s growth and success: Odd13 recently opened a new production facility with a sixty-barrel brewing system and several fermentation tanks (with more on the way). It also signed on with a distributor in May to help get its beers into liquor stores, bars and restaurants around Colorado.

New England-style IPAs are typically defined as having a hazy look, but they are also distinguished for the most part by “juicier,” more tropical-fruit-forward flavors and aromas. Most are much less bitter than the classic West Coast-style IPAs and often appeal more to non-hopheads than West Coast IPAs. Other Colorado breweries that have made one include Joyride Brewing, Fermaentra, Grist Brewing, Verboten, Liquid Mechanics and Ursula Brewing. Odell Brewing will release its own hazier pale ale, Drumroll, this month.

Chris Swersey, the competition manager for the Brewers Association — host of the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver — says the Boulder-based trade group is following the trend and that he has tasted several East Coast IPAs. But he cautioned that the BA prefers to take its time when adding new beer styles.

“As far as whether we would add it as a style, we would have to wait and see. IPAs are a broad category, but the style could differentiate itself,” he explains. In the past, some beer “styles” turned out to be “more fads than beer styles, and then faded quickly.”

If hazy IPAs were added as a category, though, it probably wouldn’t have the geographical descriptor of “New England," because the BA prefers to stay away from those. “It’s difficult to associate a style with a particular geography unless you have definitive proof it started there,” Swersey says. One example is the American Black Ale category, which is sometimes referred to as Cascadian IPA because of its association with the Pacific Northwest. But Swersey adds that that style of beer had been brewed all over the country at one time or another before becoming tied to Washington and Oregon.

He says it’s exciting to see the hazy IPA style catching on, even if isn't a designated style: “It’s a really interesting trend, and great that those beers are gaining acceptance.” When it comes to craft beer, “the East Coast has been slower in the draw than the West Coast. But they are on to this early.”

Robot Librarian will be tapped on Thursday, June 16, at 3 p.m. at Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette. The brewery will also tap its own Superfan, along with Cerebral Rare Trait, Fiction Cosmic Unity and WeldWorks Juicy Bits just for the event, and will also offer flights of all five beers. Robot Librarian will be available exclusively in the tap room beginning Thursday, but the brewery will begin distribution in cans and kegs later this month.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes