The only thing rivaling the hazy IPA in ubiquity nowadays is jokes and complaints about the hazy IPA’s ubiquity. A decade ago, hazies were a welcome change after years of clear, piney IPAs racing up the IBU scale. Their juicy sweetness courted drinkers previously alienated by bracing bitterness, paving the way for a market saturation that has many discerning beer geeks feeling weary. Their main gripe: that hazy IPAs all taste the same.
But, do they? Or is this claim just low-hanging fruit—a way of writing them off and establishing oneself as too beer-savvy to fall for something so—shudder—accessible?
When thousands of breweries feel the pressure to churn out a popular style, it stands to reason that not all hearts will be in it. Plenty of hazies exist for breweries to tick a box, and while there are outliers on both the positive and negative end of the spectrum, that mediocre middle can indeed be a sea of sameness. As Brandon Capps, founder of Colorado’s New Image Brewing, notes, you could try five versions from the 98 percent majority and not find much variation. “We had no idea the hazy IPA was going to explode in popularity and become what it has, and it’s been disheartening to watch so many people halfheartedly produce the style.”
Some specific factors explain the carbon-copy phenomenon. Many brewers rely on yeast for their beer’s haze, even using the same strain as one another. When it comes to hops, plenty more coast on one particular variety’s popularity. “There are a ton of beers made [with] Citra, and therefore tend to have a quite similar flavor profile,” says Andrew Godley, founder of Parish Brewing Co. in Louisiana. “A lot of brewers tend to just try to clone some of the bestsellers instead of branching out into new flavor horizons with innovative hops, hop products or hopping techniques.” On the other hand, too many hops in the dry hop can wash each other out, says Scott Janish, co-founder of Sapwood Cellars in Maryland and author of The New IPA. “Anything over two in there, to me, starts to get this generic hoppiness,” he says. “When you focus more on one or two hops you can distinguish the beer more with that hop profile.” Too many hops can tip past generic qualities into unpleasant ones if there’s too much contact time between those hops and the beer at too high a temperature. If you’ve had hazies with harsh, astringent, vegetal characteristics, you’ve experienced something called hop burn.
There’s hope for the hazy, though. Plenty of breweries don’t see the style as a necessary evil and have instead invested time and money into both innovating and perfecting their own ingredients and methods. Flip through a book like Janish’s The New IPA and you may marvel at the sheer volume of possible decisions to be made during the brewing process, from when to hop, for how long, and at what temperature, to what hops to use and whether to use extracts or oils.
The brewers who create distinct—and, importantly, delicious—hazy IPAs walk a fine line between experimentation and mastering what works. Brewers like Capps and Godley pursue hop-centric science with processes like thiolizing, which, through products like Phantasm and genetically modified yeast strains, helps unlock hops’ aromatically powerful thiols to bring out big, tropical flavors. Meanwhile, Sam Richardson, co-founder of Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Co., sees the hazy IPA as pretty settled, with the major avenue for innovation being new hops steadily appearing on the horizon. To him, a good hazy IPA comes down to clean, healthy fermentation and the ability to source high-quality hops. “We’re just trying to make the best beer,” says Richardson, which to him means continuously “improving overall quality, improving fermentation profiles, improving on our selected hops, dialing in recipes old and new.”
If craft beer is flooded with hazies that phone it in, how do you find these shining examples that have the potential to surprise and delight? We bravely sampled our way through a slew of hazies all in the name of highlighting a few we can recommend. Even if you think you have haze fatigue, here are a handful capable of reminding you of what you loved about the style in the first place.