In the recently released Brewers Association beer-guidelines update, fans of New England–style IPAs and their lighter/stronger pale ale and double IPA cousins had cause for celebration: They made it! BA recognition! GABF medals for NEIPAs!
Meanwhile, those who aren’t dedicated fans of the Haze Craze shook their heads and despaired of ever being able to order an IPA again without worrying that they’re about to be poured a glass of fruity gravy. Careful readers, though, might have noticed a subtle linguistic nuance in the guidelines. They weren’t titled “New England Style Beers” or “Hazy Beers.” They were described in a different way: “Juicy or Hazy Ale Styles.” (My emphasis added.)
Juicy doesn’t have to mean hazy. And therein lies, I believe, the foundation of a compromise with the potential to end the incipient war between the “Hazers” and the “Clears.” If haze is, as many brewers stated in the early days of the NEIPA and its ilk, not really a feature but rather a by-product of the hunt for brighter, juicier fruit flavors, then maybe brewers can develop procedures that produce clear beers that are as juicy as their opaque competitors.
Or, more accurately, this is fundamentally an empirical question: which beer is juicier? Do they need to be hazy or do they not? It takes haze out of the equation as a feature, at least for those who aren’t producing hazy beer for its own sake (and I don’t see any reason why you should). If I can brew a juicy, brightly fruity IPA or pale ale and avoid haze at the same time, wouldn’t that be preferable?
It’s a bit like if we could make intensely roasty stouts at an SRM of 4—would it make sense to load them down with Midnight Wheat just to make them appear dark?
So, let’s get into how you can ramp up the juiciness of your beers without resorting to applesauce and wheat-germ additions designed to send a visual signal of “juicy.”
Clearly, hops selection is a major building block here. It’s not the only building block, as we’ll discuss, but it’s a logical place to start. We have two basic questions to answer. First, which hops varieties are best suited to producing juicy flavors? This could be either by virtue of the content of their oils or the overall amount of oils in the cone, or (preferably) both. Second, what form should the hops take to produce the biggest, brightest flavors?
Between those two considerations, we have a high level of control: the right hops in terms of flavor, with the highest overall level of oil content, in a form that makes those oils most accessible is going to be our winner. After that, it’s how you use them, but we’ll save that for the next section. To start, let’s picture ourselves standing before the hops fridge at the local homebrew shop.
Your eye and hand might go first to the new and/or trendy hops. Varieties such as Citra, Galaxy, and Equinox (or Ekuanot) were developed with tropical-fruit flavors in mind and are obvious go-to choices. Terroir and breeding also make the “Down Under” hops a solid choice, with varieties such as Motueka and Riwaka adding fresh lime notes to the more-conventional passion-fruit and mango flavors. For sure, these are hops that make a statement—but they’re far from your only choices.
Sometimes it pays to think outside the box. Seeing the popularity of fruit-forward varieties and wanting to get in on the action, hops producers and researchers in classic hops-growing regions of Europe are cultivating citrus and tropical fruit–flavored hops such as Polaris and Pilgrim. These are in addition to the older but now more commonly available Hull Melon and Mandarina Bavaria hops that kick in some melon and tangerine flavors. Fruitiness abounds.
It also never hurts to revisit the classic American hops. There’s a reason that Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Ahtanum, and others are still widely available: they’re outstanding hops. Blends such as Zythos, Falconer’s Flight 7C’s, and Falconer’s Flight let you take advantage of the full range of citrus flavors that made American craft beers so popular in the first place.
Total oil content is another variable we might consider. Conventional wisdom and a variety of anecdotes suggest that hops with greater oil content are more likely to produce stronger flavors. This is intuitively plausible, but has not been conclusively demonstrated. A 2016 article in the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists reported on a test of this proposition in dry hopping and found no correlation between total oil content and aroma perceptions. It should be noted that this is only one study, of one variety (Cascade), in one application (dry hopping), but given the counterintuitive findings on hops presentation and the interaction of hops oils in other studies, it cannot be dismissed easily. Still, higher oil content is unlikely to reduce hops aroma, so selecting a higher oil-content variety (Citra, Equinox, Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, among others) might still be preferable.
Finally, you should take into account the form of the hops. Accessibility of the oils in the cone varies based on whether we’re using whole-flower hops, pellets, or powders/extracts. Broadly speaking, it’s easier to develop bigger hops aromas and flavors using pellets over whole-flower hops. There is anecdotal evidence that hops powder and extracts produce greater aromas still, but my own experience with them has yielded uncertain results relative to pellets alone. To give yourself the best chance of bright juicy flavors and aromas, I recommend a combination of pellets and powders. The right hops in the right form should get you off on the right foot to producing a juicy beer even without the haze that we might associate with juicy beers.
Juicing Your Hops
Once you have your hops, it’s time to use them.
The most obvious piece of advice to hang on to those juicy fruity flavors is to push your hops later into the boil (if you boil at all, but more on that in a second). Hops oils are volatile. Most volatilize 50 percent or more within fifteen minutes in the boil: linalool hits that mark in six minutes. If you’re boiling it at all, don’t assume you’ll get much flavor out of it.
Instead, consider moving most of your flavor/aroma hops to a whirlpool. Post-boil (but pre-chill) hops can be added and oils extracted simply by steeping them in the hot-but-not-boiling wort. Wait until the temperature drops below 180°F (82°C), then add several ounces of those juicy hops and leave them to steep for 20–30 minutes. You’ll still pull some IBUs, but mostly you’ll loosen up those flavor-producing oils, and the longer the beer sits at those temperatures (140–170°F/60–77°C), the greater the flavor and aroma you’ll yield.
You should also make extensive use of dry hopping—and not just once but several times, starting mid-fermentation. Consider additions at day five of primary fermentation, then again five days after that, and five days after that. Whether you add multiple charges of the same variety or mix it up with a selection of juicy hops, the multiple additions will produce more complex flavors that persist longer.
Going back to the beginning, if you absolutely must add a bittering hops, choose a high-alpha-acid variety. You’re already adding plenty of hops plant matter to the beer, and the more you add, the greater the risk of developing a polyphenol haze. Take advantage of the smaller addition you can make with a high-alpha hops to cut down on that risk.
Do Your Part: Recipe Considerations
Don’t let your hops do all the hard work here. You can (and should) build the rest of your recipe to help them out.
First, reduce your overall level of bittering. As bitterness reduces, sweetness increases, which means that juicy impression that you want is easier to detect. This can help cover some of the flavor gaps that we might create by “clearing” your beer: haze lovers claim that the proteins in suspension allow hops polyphenols to “mate” with them and stay up off of the bottom of the bottle or glass so you can taste them.
Consider 10–20 IBUs instead of 40–60. This might mean that you don’t actually boil any of your hops and instead derive all of your IBUs from your whirlpool additions. Second, choose a yeast that is a good fruity-ester producer and a high flocculator. Two come to mind immediately—one safe; one, not so much. The safe option is Wyeast London Ale III (1318) and its equivalents.
It’s a quick-fermenting, quick-settling, moderately fruity yeast (especially if you don’t oxygenate at pitching and ride it a little warm). The “unsafe” option is Wyeast Ringwood Ale (1187): it’s almost ridiculously fruity, to the point where a stout I made with it once tasted like I had literally added strawberries and apricots to it. I say go with the Ringwood, but be sure to give it a good long diacetyl rest and start its fermentation a little lower than usual (65°F/18°C). You’ll have fruit for days, which will support your hops and increase the perception of juiciness.
Third, consider your other two ingredients: water and malt. For your brewing water, this is a time to reduce sulfates and increase chloride. We want to de-emphasize bitterness and promote soft, rounded malt flavors, and a sulfate-to-chloride ratio of 1:2 is a good target. Avoid any salts additions, and if you have anything approaching hard water, consider diluting it with distilled water to soften it up. Your malts, likewise, should keep out of the way for the most part: you can certainly still consider the oats or flaked grains that hazier beers use, but don’t go overboard with them! The bulk of your grist should be a nice, lightly flavored, slightly sweet base grain such as Pilsner malt.
Last, think about your fining and packaging. Clarifying agents and filtering are options to reduce haze, but they’re also going to strip out some hops flavor and aroma. My advice is to stick with things that can be added in the boil (Whirlfloc, Irish moss, Super Moss), before most of your hops go in. If you can get to “clear but not bright” in terms of clarity and still produce rocking juicy flavors, you’re doing just fine, and my kettle-fining additions always seem to get me that far (time and gelatin get me to “crystal,” but those aren’t conducive to preserving hops character). And at packaging, break out the kegs and do a rapid force carbonation. Why? Because time is the enemy of fresh, juicy hops flavor, and if you can buy yourself a few days relative to bottle conditioning, then why not take advantage of it?
Oh, and drink it quickly. But that’s true even for the gravy beers.
Haze isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for craft-beer drinkers, obviously, and never has been. We gladly accept it in a variety of styles. No one complains about the cloudiness in German hefeweizen because to get that specific flavor and mouthfeel, one needs to use high-protein grains and leave yeast in suspension. The argument of those who run down “haze-craze” beers is that it gives mediocre brewers an excuse to produce sloppy beer. Sure, some hazy beers are remarkable, but others aren’t and exhibit flaws that may well be the result of incompetent brewing. We argue that beers don’t need to be hazy to be juicy.
Fine. So let’s go out and prove it. Don’t worry about looking juicy. Be juicy. Let’s let our palates decide.