The Clear Hazies Arrive
If you listened to our most recent podcast, you’ll remember that we received and sampled a care package from Minneapolis—four cans from Fair State Brewing Cooperative. One of those beers was a collaboration with Surly called Clarity of Purpose, a “haze-free IPA.” Interesting! On a blog post in March, Surly described the inspiration this way:
Our latest collaboration started like this: Let’s make a hazy IPA, only clear.... Surly’s Ben Smith and Fair State’s Niko Tonks were kicking back after work and talking about Fair State’s successful experimentation with hazy IPAs. Like Ben and fellow Head Brewer Jerrod Johnson, Niko’s inclination lies more towards brewing traditional German-style lagers and Franco-Belgian saisons. They landed on the idea of crafting a New England-style IPA in flavor, with a brilliant appearance and aesthetic, as opposed to the standard haze. The name and beer Clarity of Purpose was born!
This brings us to a moment I have long dreamed of, where brewers make beers that goose the juice without all that chunky, ugly milkshake turbidity. These two elements, juiciness and cloudiness, that characterize New England (or hazy) IPAs have become stubbornly fused. Surely, I hoped, a brewery would make a "clear hazy." Surly and Fair State aren’t alone, either. The Boston Globe reports on a collaboration between Springdale (a project of Jack’s Abbey) and Kentucky’s Against the Grain.
Springdale recently released Any IPA, a New England IPA that is nearly as clear as water. In a press release Tuesday, the two breweries said the beer was intentionally designed to be as light in color as possible.... The beer features over four pounds of hops per barrel and, despite its appearance, “has all the typical flavors of a New England IPA,” according to Scarpone.
I was recently tasting hazies at Gigantic with Ben Love and Van Havig—they were demonstrating how well these kinds of beers can age in the bottle, contra a claim I made here—and they mentioned they were toying with a similar concept. (No promises, but they might debut something in this vein at the Oregon Brewers Fest in July.) No doubt others have dabbled with the clear hazy as well.
There is so much mystery and misunderstanding about this whole new direction in brewing that it’s difficult to get a sense about whether the techniques used to make deeply hop saturated, hazy IPA can be replicated to make a deeply hop-saturated mostly haze-free IPA. It’s definitely possible to get tons of juiciness without the haze, but is the juiciness the same? We return now to that Surly blog post, where their experiments reveal interesting findings.
The theory is that there are hop compound biotransformation reactions catalyzed by something in the yeast used in fermentation, with some yeasts more inclined to catalyze these reactions than others. The theory states that geraniol is transformed to B-citronellol, and additional glycosides are hydrolyzed, freeing them to volatize in flavor-active forms – both also contributing to haze. The argument is that adding dry-hops during active fermentation further catalyzes these reactions.
Surly brewed a beer with corn and a low-polyphenol malt; In the first iteration, brewers used a second yeast they thought would bind with the primary English strain. That didn’t work, and they ditched it in version two—which is the one I tried. It was a bit hazy, about typical for Northwest IPAs, and was plenty juicy. It did also have that really intense Mandarin/Satsuma sweetness in the middle, which I've come to associate with hazy IPAs. I wonder if that’s the note people are responding to—and I wonder further if it’s actually a biotransformed terpene, rather than one from the hops. (Sally says she notices it in hazies and finds it overly cloying and unpleasant—a minority view but perhaps instructive.)
I've been interested in this whole thing because there is a persistent claim that equation of English yeast + dry-hopping during fermentation = haze, and all of these things are necessary to get the characteristic flavor that results from biotransformation. The Surly/Fair State team seem to have proven that equation is not entirely ironclad.
I look forward to a future in which the experimentation focuses on flavor rather than appearance, when breweries are concerned more with the aromatics and flavor notes, and less on trying to make them as murky (and Instagram-ready) as possible. Does biotransformation work similarly well with American, Belgian, or German ale strains? I know they don't all cause haziness. I recently ran an experiment with a French farmhouse yeast in a hazy-ready wort where I dry-hopped it at the last stages of active fermentation and got a nearly bright beer. (It was also disastrously bad, because that yeast produces a lot of phenols, and phenols do not play well with juicy hops.)
In other words, there's lots of experimentation yet to be done, and a lot more to be learned. Freed from the goal of making the beer look like a milkshake, breweries may discover wondrous new things. More, please.