Understanding the Haze Craze
Length: 4.75 minutes (949 words)
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As the craft beer industry continues to expand, new styles of beer constantly join the ranks of the classics. Most breweries produce not just IPAs, lagers, and stouts, they also increasingly produce hazy IPAs. You know a hazy when you see one: they are usually opaque, with a dense, floury mouthfeel, and most have a heavy floral taste.
But what are hazys, where did they come from, and why are they so popular?
Hazys began their life as New England IPAs, although over time the term did not keep up with the pace of the market and “hazy” has largely taken on a life of its own. But the Brewers Association, which serves as the de facto authority on the craft beer industry, has defined New England IPAs as the following:
Emphasizing hop aroma and flavor without bracing bitterness, the New England IPA leans heavily on late and dry hopping techniques to deliver a bursting juicy, tropical hop experience. The skillful balance of technique and ingredient selection, often including the addition of wheat or oats, lends an alluring haze to this popular take on the American IPA.
New England IPAs (and by extension hazys) have been a well-known style since at least 2010, when the Vermont breweries Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and the Vermont Pub and Brewery began canning and distributing their early versions of the style. All three breweries used the same hop strain (Conan) and they believed in maximizing an IPA’s fruit-forward, hop-centric flavor without going overboard on bitterness — even if that meant an unfiltered “hazy” result. Of the three, Alchemist’s beer Heady Topper is widely considered the original New England IPA.
“It took a long time for people to realize that not all beer needs to be crystal clear,” said Tom White, co-founder of The Hop Review and a certified Cicerone. “If you'd come out with a hazy beer a few years back, most people would have asked what was wrong with it.” Indeed, the Brewers Association did not even give hazys its imprimatur until 2018 when it added “Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale” to its style guide.
Drinking a hazy IPA — especially robust versions of the style that are particularly cloudy and dense — does not always feel like drinking a beer. The flavor is intense, the mouthfeel is noticeable, and the aroma can sometimes contribute to sensory overload, and not always in the best way.
But the style can also scratch an itch that many beer drinkers didn’t know they had until they tried it. Just as the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel can be overwhelming, a well-brewed hazy can also be immensely satisfying. Flavors pop, hops shine, and sometimes its nice not to have a bitter beer.
“Hazys hit all the right notes for IPA fans that were tiring of the palate fatigue American and West Coast styles can be,” said Corridor and DryHop head brewer Brant Dubovick. Corridor is well-known and well-recognized for brewing excellent hazys, such as Color of Life, which won a silver medal in the Juicy and Hazy Imperial or Double India Pale Ale category at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.
Jack Muldowney, also of The Hop Review, agreed. “Flavor-wise, they hit on something that a lot of people really enjoy that you don't get from any other kind of beer: big, juicy, tropical, and a full-bodied mouthfeel.”
Hazys disrupted the craft beer industry by offering something new and unique. But with the style taking off, it begs the question if it is an anomaly or a market bubble that simply cannot be sustained.
Dubovick does not think so. “I look at it more as an evolution,” he said. “I think they have reached peak popularity, but that's not to say they can't plateau and sustain a very, very popular niche in the beer world.” White agreed and put it simply: “The only bubble that will burst is poorly brewed beer as the customer gets more educated.”
West Coast IPAs went through something similar when they exploded on the scene about a decade ago. Early versions of the style could be described as bitter, dank, and pinecone. And like hazys, hop-bombs saturated the market. Eventually, the bad ones got shaken out and the good ones remained.
Muldowney thinks the same process will happen with hazy IPAs. “I see a lot of these kinds of beers getting bumped from taproom menus, leaving only the best versions from each brewery,” he said. “They're not the most cost-effective beers to make, so why not focus on just the handful that are your brewery's best interpretation of the style?”
Dubovick thinks there is still room for expansion, although he also conceded that a shakeout is coming: “To a degree it's definitely getting watered down, but if you are doing it properly, I think there is room to grow. It's a huge misconception that this is an easy style to brew… It's not just throwing flour into the boil. You are definitely cheating if you are attempting to pull it off by brewing a hazy that way. The consumer of this style is pretty smart, and they'll support the breweries doing it right and well,” he concluded.
Predicting what comes after hazys is difficult, if not impossible. Several years ago, before hazys made it out of New England, sour beers were considered craft brewing’s next evolution, and although they did find a niche, they never quite took off the way West Coast and East Coast IPAs have.
But Dubovick offered two guesses: Mountain IPAs and, perhaps, a return to a more traditional style. “I hear it every year, and I hope it comes true,” he said, “that lagers are going to be the next big trend.”
Thumbnail image: Houses of the Hazy by Corridor Brewing. Image via Instagram.