Sublime juice. Yeasty swill. The apex of 15,000 years of brewing art. Why can’t these lazy brewers clarify their beers?
Deeply held opinions swirl around the controversial hazy IPAs. Whatever your feeling, there’s no denying that these aromatic, fruit-tinged beers have upset the norms around IPA, including the level of passionate devotion to them.
The roots of this sub-style originated in the late 1990s when John Kimmich—later a cofounder of the Alchemist brewery—was a junior brewer to the legendary Greg Noonan at his Vermont Pub & Brewery. In search of more aromatic beers, they tolerated the increasing haze, which was then considered deeply inappropriate in an IPA. When Kimmich opened Alchemist in 2003, he had a clear mission: to brew a beer that smelled as much like weed as possible. Eventually a beer called Heady Topper emerged, the first in this radically new mold. This, in turn, inspired Shaun Hill of nearby Hill Farmstead brewery—he became the first to bestow the “juicy” descriptor. The style exploded to a number of other breweries in New England, and eventually the word got out to the rest of us.
The first thing you notice as a juicy IPA is set in front of you is the haze. While more of a by-product of the radical dry-hopping than an impactful asset of the style, juicy-looking haze has become a touchstone for the style. Woe unto the brewer who gets this wrong.
Second, even as it sits on the table, there’s a face-full of elegant, fruity hops. This is not your father’s West Coast IPA. There is usually little-to-no piney-resin or pungent floral (a chemical called geraniol: think marigolds) aroma. Tropical notes of passion fruit, mango, guava, and pineapple are the most desirable characteristics; stone-fruit aromas, especially of apricot, are also beloved, if not as sexy as the tropicals. Bright lemony citrus, lime, orange, and tangerine all have a place.
In the mouth, you’ll notice a viscous, creamy texture, the result of lots of unmalted grains, usually at least 20 percent flaked wheat and/or oats. I like the denseness attainable by fully half the grist—and it doesn’t hurt the haze, either. To me, these are hoppy wheat beers rather than a natural descendant of IPA. Certainly, from a grain standpoint, this is unquestionable. Flaked wheat is neutral in flavor and delivers glucans that create the oily texture. Oats are also mild, but because they’re so gloopy, they’re limited to a 10–20 percent range. Uncommonly, flaked rye up to about 30 percent offers a hint of gentle spiciness and a plummy fruitiness.
The viscosity that adds such a wonderful creaminess also makes the mash as sticky as oatmeal, which leads to the ever-present threat of a stuck sparge. If you use a lot of rice hulls to enhance filtering and otherwise have your act together, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. In our experience, a protein rest can add to the creaminess of any wheat beer by breaking down longer proteins to ones beneficial to head and body, and this may be haze-positive as well.
When you smell it, the tropical bouquet hits you with an intensity rare in old-school IPAs, and a sip reveals only a mild bitterness. Achieving both of these characteristics requires rethinking traditional hop use. “Normal” beer has a portion of hops added at the beginning of the boil to add bitterness, period. More are added at the end of the boil in the whirlpool. Along with aroma, this adds some bitterness. To keep the bitterness low, it isn’t possible to add more than a sprinkling of bittering hops in the boil. These beers drink like they’re about half the bitterness of conventional IPAs, but it’s impractical to measure as the IBU tests don’t count the bitter compounds added from dry hopping. We find that if we hop properly for aroma, the bitter perception ends up just where we want it.
The real magic is in the dry hopping. What began as an effort to cram as much hops aroma as possible into a beer turned into a defining technique of the style: dry hopping during active fermentation. Every little yeast cell is a powerful chemical factory affecting the beer in surprising ways. First, as hop tannins (polyphenols) combine with proteins from the grains, a stable and attractive haze appears. How this works is a bit of a mystery, but dry hop on day four instead of 12 hours in, and you’ll get little or no haze. Second is another yeast trick called biotransformation, in which yeast can chemically transform that floral geraniol to more desirable chemicals: linalool, with an orange-coriander character and then to beta citronellol, more of a lemongrass note. The idea is to move from less to more desirable hops aromas by this process.
A second, larger dry hopping comes at the end of fermentation, with triple IPAs sometimes being dry hopped a third time. The quantities can be huge. For a double, three pounds per barrel is where you start. We have used as many as eight pounds per barrel in our 10 percent ABV triple IPA. Hops are expensive, especially the ones that are desirable for these styles. Loads of hops means a lot of unusable sludge, so it’s no wonder these beers are expensive.
You’ll notice little of the chewy, raisiny caramel malts that were at the heart of IPA 20 years ago. Those raisin flavors tasted amazing in an era when mainstream beers lacked any malt character save a whiff of white bread, but they taste heavy these days. IPAs had been moving away from them years before the hazy phenomenon came on the scene.
And then there’s the haze. A pale turbid beer shines like a sunny day (or is it SunnyD?), but a dark hazy beer looks as if, as 17th century writer Andrew Boorde said of one beer, “pigs had wrestled there in.” So, yuck. We had the brilliant idea to try a red version, which—while tasty—was a visual disaster.
As beer drinkers, we rarely think about the water used to brew, but it has important effects on the beer’s taste and texture. Rather than use the classic IPA mineral, gypsum, with its mineral bite, juicy IPAs tilt toward calcium chloride. It offers a softer taste that enhances the creamy presentation. As a brewer, you always like to get things working synergistically; it doesn’t make sense to wrestle those sticky grains through the lauter only to diminish them with an edgy mineral character.
The final element is yeast, normally an English strain. You won’t find any obvious yeast-generated aromas in these beers; the spicy aromas of weizen or saison strains are incompatible here. Yeast’s production of glycerin has been credited with adding to creamy mouthfeel, but it’s hard to know how much glycerin each yeast strain will produce under what conditions. The haze is not yeast, so there shouldn’t be more than a trace—you don’t want dead creatures in your beer, as a rule. Specific yeast strains are associated with juicy IPAs, most notably the so-called “Conan” strain, purported to be from Boddingtons. But yeast produces different results in different breweries, so other English-strains may also produce great results.
At the bigger end of the range, this style should be exploding with hops aroma and very rich and full on the palate. Balance can sometimes tilt away from drinkability, so it may be helpful to tweak brewing to increase fermentability, drying out the beer slightly, while leaving the creamy aspect intact. But on the other hand, a lot of the fans like their juicy beers as rich and sweet as they can get them. The market is definitely driving this style.
Lactose is a go-to for many breweries, using a little to reinforce the fruity notes or a lot to complete the orange-juice illusion with a heap of sweetness. Lactose, however, is a matter of personal taste. Our team finds it appropriate in small doses to reinforce the fruitiness of our rye IPA, for example, but finds it a little artificial-tasting and/or cloying. But to each his or her own taste—and, of course, some peoples’ digestive systems are incompatible with it.
Drinkers are fanatical about drinking these beers super-fresh. When they are very young, they can display a peppery “hop burn” on the finish, but this goes away after a week or two. Our brewing team prefers to wait until they mellow, but the super-enthusiasts prefer them as fresh as they can get them, no matter what. In my experience, they will stay perfectly lovely for a couple of months or more if they are well-brewed and well-packaged. In fact, they keep better than classic IPAs, as the latter’s mid-colored caramel malt is especially susceptible to oxidation.
If you’re new to this style, by all means, get your hands on one. You will need to set aside all of your expectations and prepare yourself for a sip of something entirely new.
Photos: Matt Graves/www.mgravesphoto.com