Beer Sherpa Recommends: A Whole Lotta Hazy

In recent weeks I have sampled three very tasty beers that fit along the continuum of "hazy," but illustrate the ways in which this catch-all category is fracturing and spreading as different breweries reinterpret it to their own ends. In today's roundup, we will start with the least typical, and traverse ground that delivers us unto classic haziness. First up, a trip to Newberg.

Wolves and People Postman

My life is filled with beer-related regrets, most of them revolving around failing to investigate something I know is going to wow me. Near the top of that list is Christian DeBenedetti's traditional farmhouse brewery, Wolves and People. It is a farmhouse brewery in the sense not just that Christian makes farmhouse beers (which is true), but that it is located on the family farm out in the rolling hills of Oregon wine country. I know of no brewery trying harder to infuse the terroir of the land into their beer--W&P uses lots of local fruit, flowers, herbs, and so on--including particularly the yeast harvested there. But Postman reflects place in a different sense.

It is the brewery's most "American" beer, which is to say the one that uses modern, juicy hops. I discovered it on tap last night at the Screen Door, where the name was listed, inaccurately and vaguely, as "Farmhouse." The moment I put it up to my nose, however, I could tell it was farmhouse-plus. It has the hallmarks I look for in rustic ales, which includes some quality of unrefined graininess (W&P use spelt), a rustic appearance (saisons were hazy before hazy was cool), and of course yeast character. In Postman, I was finding a nice phenolic note, which it turns out is hard to account for. The beer actually uses an American ale strain, and the brewery doesn't stress it out or otherwise try to coax unusual flavors from it. Which means, probably, that the spicy note was not phenolic but came from something else. As we exchanged emails, Christian, a writer, wrote eloquently about Postman. I had asked him if he fermented the beer warm to pop the phenolics.

The opposite may be true. In midwinter, despite many efforts, the barn just stays pretty cold, especially on the outer (North) wall which is insulated but buffeted by weather, just inside of which sits the cellar. I suppose I could see some character from the struggle for survival that’s going on. We typically start the beer at 72 which is not especially high or low for the strain, but then the yeast does work rather hard in there and most of primary can hover in the high 60s. (I also throw about a pound of rauch malt in every beer, more a compulsion than need or intentional directive at this point. I’m not alone in this tradition, but it feels like it sometimes. I think it was Rick Allen who showed me this handshake, but I can’t be sure. At less than 1/400th of the batch, you’re not tasting that, although I’d like to think so.)

Of course, the keynote here are the hops--something more saison-makers really should explore. It's weird they don't; Dupont, the ur-saison, is a pretty hoppy beer, and ably illustrates their virtues. Hops can work so well with the spicy or estery quality of expressive yeasts--far better, in fact, than most spices, which breweries often (mis)use. Postman therefore both fulfills a longing of mine for hops in my farmhouse ales, and adds all the farmy rustic character I love. Delish.

StormBreaker Hazy…So Hot Right Now

Next up we have a beer that satisfies another of my longings--a hazy pale ale. Sometime in about 2015, pale ales became commercial death. They have basically vanished from store shelves and rate as "critically endangered" on the beer styles conservation status scale. (Hyperbole, yes, but not by much.) And so as the hazy phenomenon has taken hold in the west, it almost always defaults to IPAs. (This is less true in New England.) There are two reasons why this is a shame: 1) the hazy phenomenon focuses on sessionable flavors, but who can drink a session of 7% beers?, and 2) pale ales, with their sweeter, fuller bases, are a wonderful match for the intense, saturated flavors of American hops.

Which brings us to the awkwardly named but elegantly made Hazy...So Hot Now, which is made entirely with Mosaic hops, and a whole field of them. Now, my position on Mosaic is well-established. It reads as savory to my palate, sometimes hinting at the tropical juiciness others taste, but usually not. Except--and here's where modern hops are so weird--sometimes. In rare cases I get little of the savory and a lot of the juicy. Since I have banished them from the homebrew repertoire, I'm not sure what it is that draws out the savory and what doesn't (heat, probably), but whatever StormBreaker's doing is really working.

And what are they doing? Absolutely drenching their little 7-barrel batches in Mosaic. I don't know how there's room left for beer in the tanks. (Again, hyperbole, you pedants!)

100% Mosaic Hopped NE Style Pale Ale. We threw in 18 lbs of mosaic in the whirlpool and dry hopped it with another 36 lbs in order achieve intense citrus, tropical aromas.

If you read the label closely, it actually says 18 and 18. Either way, that's five or nearly eight pounds per barrel. The result of all this is a beer that is pure nectar. The aroma and palate are heavy with tropicality, but because it's a more modest 5.6% pale ale, they achieve less of that deep, sappy thrum of hop flavor and more of the perfumy aromatics that tease the drinker. The beer is sweet and lovely and ultra-fruity, but fortunately it finishes with a nice, dry snap, which inclines the hand to lift the glass for another drink almost instantly and involuntarily. Dunno how many 22 oz bottles of this hit the streets, but some did, so get out there and grab 'em.

Old Town Pillowfist

Finally we come to a pretty classic example of a hazy IPA, but one that may not have attracted your attention. It is 6.8%, has that lush tropicality you want--and, to my palate, a touch of caraway--and comes with what I'm now seeing is the typical level of bitterness for NW NE IPAs. (That string of letters is an abomination and must never be used again.) It's enough bitterness to provide the beer structure and act as a counterpoint to the intense fruitiness of the hops.

Mentioning Pillowfist also gives me an opportunity to direct your attention to an amazing series of videos Old Town is putting together. A parody of and homage to the David Attenborough-narrated Earth series, they highlight a different "species" of Old Town beers. Attenborough is played by Joe Sanders, the brewery's sales director--an enormously charismatic figure who may be off to Hollywood soon--and shot and edited by Jordan Wilson, the creative director. He may be right behind Sanders. For a small brewpub that certainly doesn't have million-dollar ad budgets, they are startlingly professional. Here's their first effort, which came out a couple weeks ago.

And now the current video, which dropped yesterday, featuring today's Sherpa, Pillowfist.

Go forth and enjoy--