Well, DO Hazies Age Badly?
Yesterday's post on hazy IPAs provoked a storm of conversation on Facebook. (I regret that comments don't land here anymore, but they don't, and if you want to see the rest of the chatter, I'd recommend the Facebook page.) In the interest of full disclosure, I offer you some of the feedback. It started with a comment by Parker Hall, who observed rather innocuously, "Oddly enough I've heard from at least one reputable brewer that their hazy IPAs actually age better than non-hazy beers."
This has not been my experience. Last year, I dipped pretty deeply into the hazy waters of hazy Boston IPAs, which confirmed by suspicions that these beers aged badly. They seemed to go in one of two directions. The very sweet, thick ones tended to become intolerably treacly. In others, the hops seemed to turn so that once the delicate aromatics and juicy flavors dropped out--which happened lickety split--they left behind a harsh, weedy bitterness not present when fresh.
Nevertheless, brewers at two of my top ten Portland breweries replied to the thread to smack me down. Ben Edmunds, who oversees things at Breakside, wrote:
Parker is correct. If well made, a hazy IPA has way more shelf stability than a classic west coast IPA. The idea that these beers “must” degrade quickly makes for great mystique and sales, but it’s not actually true— if they’re well made (can’t emphasize that part enough).
I protested weakly, only to have Baerlic's Ben Parsons come deliver the coup de grâce. "I would agree with Ben," he began, continuing:
A number of people sent me a link to a wonderful interview John Holl did with Ken Grossman, wherein Ken explains that Hazy Little Thing is not a New England-style IPA.
"When I started brewing commercially back in 1980, we really had some pretty hazy beers. Our consumer back then was not really used to--well, you couldn't see through it, essentially. So we did what we could to figure out how to stabilize the beer. Back in those days the haze was coming from in some cases high-protein malts; we were using malts that were produced for adjunct lager brewing."
He continued on, describing the process the brewery went through to get rid of the haze. And man, this is exactly a point I've made. New England didn't invent haziness. I'm sure there are many examples, but let me turn to my home state as a case in point. Oregon beers have been hazy since the Widmer Brothers created the state's best selling beer in the 1980s--an opaque wheat beer. In 1996, when BridgePort introduced its IPA, that sucker was seriously murky. For literally decades Oregon's hoppy ales have had at least a shimmer, and often a pretty dense cloud cover. Way back in 2009, long before "juicy" was a twinkle in a Beantowner's eye, Stan Hieronymus was wondering what the hell was up with our cloudy beers here. (He took that photo of Double Mountain's Vaporizer to illustrate.)
In fact, we’ve seen plenty of hazy beers in Oregon (not just the ones made with wheat). I guess there is a pun in there about “partly cloudy,” but I’ll pass. I’ve heard brewers in other states say if their beers aren’t a little cloudy their customers don’t understand they are “natural” but on a per capita basis — and granted I’ve only managed a small sample in a state with just a ridiculous number of brewers — a lot more haze in Oregon.
This is not to say that the haze craze isn't real or different--it is. But Ken Grossman's point can't be dismissed out of hand. For decades, New England made malty English-style ales that were short on hopping. When they discovered hops in the past decade, they had the same kind of amazed a-ha Oregon brewers and drinkers did, and found that with many hops comes some haze. Beware the single-origin story.
One of the other notable results of yesterday's post is how nomenclature is already shifting. A couple of years ago, breweries talked about "New England" when they made hazy or juicy styles. They're already shifting to calling them "hazy" (or sometimes "juicy"), which frees them from adhering to certain features of those characteristic New England examples--milkshake appearance, thick body, sweetness, ultra low bitterness. This is both welcome but also confusing. The "style" may already be fracturing into subtypes--and subtypes that take us right back to the kind of Northwest IPAs Stan wrote about almost ten years ago. And I wonder if that doesn't somewhat explain the two Bens' conviction that hazy IPAs are suited to longer shelf lives. I will definitely follow up with them to find out more.
In the meantime, I will wait on the edge of my seat for the inevitable smackdowns the insufferable wisdom of hive mind is always ready to deliver.