What’s in a Hazy IPA, Anyway?

Instagrammable murkiness wasn’t the original goal, but it’s become the New England-Style IPA’s calling card. This is how brewers achieve it.

One of the calling cards of the New England-style IPA (more colloquially, NEIPA) is its characteristic haze. But the telltale murkiness wasn’t necessarily the original aim of these beers. In fact, the NEIPA was the byproduct of a goal to craft a highly aromatic, juicy and soft beer as a counter to the more aggressive, dank West Coast-style IPA. The thinking was that unfiltered beers were typically more fragrant and flavorful, but the haze wasn’t meant to be part of their allure. Today, however, it’s the haze that has become the keystone of the biggest trend to sweep the craft beer industry in decades.

In fact, it’s become such a thing that the backlash has inspired a whole slew of memes: derogatory labels like “hazeboi” or “hazebro” for those who enjoy the style; allegations that the beers are geared more towards Instagram appeal than drinkability; and claims that brewers pander to unsophisticated palates with beer that, well, tastes and looks more like orange juice than actual beer. But the appeal of the hazy IPA is undeniable, and its in such high demand that today’s brewers are using a number of techniques to achieve an even haze, from aggressive dry-hopping to incorporating controversial ingredients, like apple purée and wheat germ, to boost the haze.

So, as the NEIPA continues its world domination, it seemed high time to take a closer look at the combination of factors, techniques and ingredients that contribute to its characteristic cloudy look.

Keeping Yeast in Suspension

One of the cornerstones of creating hazy IPAs is the use of medium to low flocculating yeast strains to ferment the beer. Lower flocculators are yeasts that tend to stay in suspension within the liquid—rather than aggregate into large masses and either drop out or rise to the surface—long after fermentation has ended. Many American NEIPA brewers have proprietary house strains with unique mutations that facilitate their beers’ cloudy appearances. Other styles that use medium to low flocculators include Belgian witbiers and German Hefeweizens, which are also characteristically hazy or at least nominally cloudy in appearance.

From Dry-Hopping to Hop Dust

Another way to create haze is through high rates of dry-hopping. Dry-hopping is the addition of pelletized hops into the beer after the initial fermentation is complete, which occurs just a few days before kegging or canning. Many beer styles (saisons, sours and even some pilsners) are dry-hopped to add bright hop aroma, rather than hop bitterness, to the beer. But the hazy IPAs take the practice to a whole other level with outrageous volumes of hops added during this phase.

That practice has led to the term “DDH,” or double dry-hopped, which you might see noted on cans or beer lists. The term doesn’t connote a specific volume or percentage of dry-hopping, so it’s less than helpful in determining exactly how a beer might taste. However, hop particulate matter left over from colossal dry-hoppings can add even more murkiness to a beer. (In a bygone era, brewers would have routinely filtered this out, but today, many brewers claim hop aromas and flavors are diminished in filtered beer.) Besides hop pellets, ultra-concentrated hop powders—also called lupulin powders or Cryo Hops—are added to beers in the dry-hopping stage and can contribute to cloudiness.

The Power of High-Protein Grist

The types of grain, malt and adjuncts used for the base beer impart haziness, too. Most hazy IPAs are brewed with at least a small percentage of high-protein grains, like oats, spelt and wheat, which create a distinctively soft, smooth body and can contribute to the beer’s cloudiness. Adjuncts like lactose or milk sugar are commonly added to both NEIPAs and so-called Milkshake IPAs, and while lactose does not make a beer cloudy, it can enhance the body and mouthfeel while obscuring perceived alcohol sensation. It’s often what contributes to the “creamy” mouthfeel endemic to the style.

Water Chemistry

Water chemistry can be important, too, though it’s less often attributed to hazy beer. Peter Kiley, brewmaster of Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing, says he tried to recreated the water profile of regions like Vermont and New England when brewing a hazy IPA or pale ale, as both a tribute to the style’s originators and to achieve a soft, luscious base on which to build the finished beer. He says higher chloride levels in water enhance the mouthfeel and create a more balanced beer. Sulfates, on the other hand, should be high enough to accentuate the hops but not so high that they create perceived hop bitterness, like you would see in, say, a West Coast-style IPA.

Unconventional Ingredients

By far the most controversial haze practice is implementing unorthodox ingredients like flour, fruit pectin and wheatgerm in order to enhance a beer’s cloudy appearance. While many brewers distance themselves from such processes (or, at least, would never cop to it on the record), others are completely open about it.

In 2016, for instance, Jean Broillet of Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing unabashedly revealed on the podcast Steal This Beer (of which I am the producer) that in order to create the texture and appearance for his series of Milkshake IPAs he uses a combination of lactose, green apple purée and wheat flour in the kettle to create a stable hazy appearance.

While such an avant-garde approach may make traditionalists squirm, it’s a perfect example of how these beers are more than the sum of their parts. The combination of overly aromatic hops, a soft, pillowy body and a restrained bitterness add up to a style that has taken the beer world by storm.

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Tagged: brewing, craft beer, IPA