FACT: Hazy beers have been made in America for over three decades. They were not even uncommon.
FACT: Hazy beers are undissolved solids in suspension. It’s science, not magic or elevated craft beer alchemy.
FACT: Undissolved solids in liqud suspension ALWAYS precipitate out. ALWAYS. Why? See second fact.
FACT: The NEIPA is a fad. It will undoubtedly have some legs because some – not anywhere near all – beers made in that style are absolutely delightful. But it IS a fad and will pass, probably soon. That’s not even a criticism of it. Extreme IPAs were a fad. Ditto for pumpkin ales. And the Riedel beer glass. And the Gose craze is one now. “Fad” is not a pejorative term. It just says that this popularity, which is certainly warranted, has a shelf life. Which it does.
FACT: Some breweries have been caught, nailed red-handed, making hazy beers by adding flour or cornstarch or God Know what else that will render it hazy. People who have been brewing for umpteen years and who own breweries walk into someone else’s brewery, order a beer, and detect flour in that beer. Later, when told, the brewery denies it. So…veteran brewer has his head up his ass? Or does the brewery have a vested financial interest in making sure the beer will actually sell….as they know that, if they’re caught cheating at it, they’ll get killed by beer purists? My money is on the brewery lying about it.
FACT: An actual hazy beer is hazy because of undissolved solids produced in the legitimate brewing process: hops, yeasts, grains, etc. Flour, corn starch, milk, etc., IS cheating.
This isn’t going to be long because it doesn’t have to be. Hazy beers are for damned sure possible because breweries like Widmer have been producing them since, for what passes in the Indie Brewing culture, Forever. Widmer Hefe was introduced thirty-one years ago. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a milkshake. It was opaque; a whitish, milky, glowing glass of stuff…and it was wildly popular. Widmer was the first in the PNW but not the last. Along comes Mac & Jack’s African Amber – for a while, the word’s largest selling draft-only ale – and it was unfiltered and looked like a cream soda with a dollop of real cream.
The Northeast brewing community, apparently not satisfied to be just lights-out freakin’ brilliant, decided that they needed A Thang, a hook, something that they could claim as their very own, so a NE beer fan decreed hazy, hoppy beers should be dubbed “NorthEast IPA”, and so it came to pass. Now, breweries everywhere are making hazy beers, most notably Fort George Brewing’s annual group hug, 3-Way IPA, which featured FG, along with the brilliant Seattle icon, Reuben’s Brews, and emerging colossus, Portland’s Great Notion, brewing…you guessed it, a “Vermont-inspired” IPA. And it…is…Game Changing; with no exaggeration, one of the greatest IPAs ever produced by any individual or group collab in the country.
But making one of these that actually works requires some serious brewing chops and a big working knowledge of chemistry and physics…and, predictably, there will be brewers without those skills who look at all the buzz and say, “Well, why can’t I make that?”
And so, you get a few failed attempts, the investment in trying it starts to add up, and they think, “Screw it” and add…stuff. Something that produces clouds without all the science.
Bad move. As with making a sour ale, there are things ya can do in the brewery and things ya can’t. You make a sour beer by adding vinegar and the acetobacter, the bacterium which produces vinegar, will eventually turn your beer into vinegar. You can still drink it but it would take some serious cojones and wouldn’t be anywhere near as pleasant as the current wave of drinking vinegars, which has also become A Thang.
You don’t use bread yeast to ferment your beers, even though it’s dirt cheap and plentiful, because your beer will taste dull and cardboardy. You could make an unfiltered Imperial Stout and add cinnamon powder, artificial cherry flavoring, artificial vanilla, and add a bit of Bourbon and Pinot Noir and have…something, but it ain’t gonna be The Abyss. You can try bittering your beer with rosemary and pine sap but it’s not gonna be an IPA. It’s not even really going to be a gruit, although that would be a lot closer to the truth. Beer is such an experimental craft that almost anything goes, so you can TRY any of this and, if you’re a really fine brewer, you might succeed. But a really fine brewer would know better.
I’m not saying that all hazy beers are bad or even a bad idea. I’m saying it’s Been Done, both very well and VERY badly, and just the fact of the beer being hazy does NOT mean it’s magical. The magic comes from exceptional breweries, as with Fort George’s “3-Way” and Reuben’s Brews Crush Series and Great Notion’s “Juice Box” and “Juice Jr.” and Cloudburst’s “Soft Shock” and Silver City’s “Tropic Haze”. It’s The Alchemist and Lawson’s and Trillium and those other great NE breweries who started this new wave and their crazy brilliance that made the craze possible. But LOTS of people – even brewers – are leery of this style. As Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead said in an interview with Beer&Brewing Magazine, “Nearly every yeast, every barrel, every hops, and every citrus fruit has been used in combination with the three magic letters…Surely, something new will transpire, but I do not see a revolution.”
One of the nation’s best brewers, of a legendary Southeast brewery, said it more bluntly, just this morning, on Facebook: “No aspect of science maintains turbid intent. I hope that we will realize that. Right now, we practice “hazed and confused”…That’s not what I want to sell or be attached to, sir. We will educate and turn things around. Everything is backwards for now.” This pertains to that pesky insistence that physics and chemistry have for insuring that stuff floating in your beer will, eventually (and rather quickly) precipitate out, leaving you with a decidedly un-hazy beer. And short of those pouring it on tap either selling through it within hours or sticking the keg in a paint shaker, Everything Cloudy is Clear Again.
Here’s how to detect a doctored hazy beer: If there’s a distinctly floury taste and a pronounced grainy feel to the beer, it’s probably been dosed with something to haze it. If you have doubts about what flour tastes like, the answer is in your kitchen. Eat a little and see…OR, if you’re very conscientious, take a hoppy ale, dump in a tablespoon of flour, and stir well. You will not be able to tell by just looking at it. Floured beers look the same as legit hazed beers. You’d have to taste it, unfortunately, which often means buying it. But many of these beers ARE very appealing and drinking properly-made ones is a genuine pleasure. Just maybe refrain from calling out the brewery while you’re at the brewery. Breweries DO, after all, have their financial interests to think of and I, for one, don’t want to be the jackass who costs them their very existence. If you don’t like the beer, just leave it in the glass. But remember that the beer which repulses you may be Mother’s Milk for the people at the next table. America IS, after all, the country that has made Pop Tarts, Cheese Whiz, Captain Crunch, and chicken nuggets dietary staples for decades…and it is also the country that habitually drank insipid, watery, fizzy yellow adjunct Pilsners for 120+ years and equated them with manhood, patriotism, and flavor. We are not exactly gourmands and drinking beer with flour in it is a long way from our worst crime against our taste buds.
This post is a warning that some breweries may well try to fake this style…and, frankly, that while you can expect this style to stay around in some form, because it CAN be wonderful, the same realities apply that apply to evaluating any beer: great brewers make great beers every time. What they find less than successful goes down their floor drains, not into your glass. Which is the exact reason 14 brewers with whom I’ve spoken have decided against making any hazy beers. As one said, “I can’t beat chemistry. That haze is going to settle in the keg and then my hazy beer is just my regular IPA. There’s just no upside, for me.”
Drink beer made by great brewers and you’ll find great hazy beers. Drink just any old haze…and you may just wind up soured on the whole style.