Haze Craze: Pacific Northwest Breweries Take on the New England-style IPA
The hottest trend in craft beer is the juicy New England-style IPA. Whether you think the hazy, viscous style of tropical/citrus flavor and aroma with low bitterness is here to stay or just having its 15 minutes, it’s still what everyone is buzzing about. Though originating in Vermont, the haze craze is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest, with all kinds of breweries taking their shot at the style. With a trend so young, it’s still open for interpretation.
One of the main and legitimate concerns for brewers is the shelf stability of this trend. With hops added primarily to the back-end of the brewing process, where their flavors and aromas are far more likely to fade, freshness is a huge factor. “These beers are intended to be consumed fresh with quick turnover. That model is very much appropriate for small brewpubs that can play the scarcity model,” said Craft Brew Alliance’s head innovation brewer Tom Bleigh, who counts himself as a fan of the trend.
Another close follower of the hazy/tropical IPAs is Kevin Davey, award-winning brewer from Firestone Walker, Chuckanut and Gordon-Biersch who is currently the head brewer at Wayfinder Beer in Portland. Echoing Bleigh’s concerns, Davey notes, “It would be horrendous to see six packs and cans of this sit warm for a few months at the end of the beer aisle. The hop aroma would fall off a cliff. The mouthfeel would be muddled. It would be a tragedy.”
Ruse Brewing: “Astral Frequency” and “Vernacular IPA”
Shaun Kalis has been brewing his farmhouse, fruit, and hoppy ales out of Culmination Brewing under his own Ruse Brewing line, and has developed a healthy buzz for them since day one. Lately he has been experimenting with NE IPAs, and this weekend releases “Astral Frequency,” his collaboration with Hopworks for Saturday’s #Collabofest. Next week he’ll roll out another beer called “Vernacular IPA.”
Shaun says, “I really like these beers and really think that is it nice to see people (consumers) open to new ideas and flavor profiles. Don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely love a bright dry IPA–Ruse’s flagship Translator IPA is more of a west coast variety.”
Shaun loads up these beers with adjuncts like wheat and oats. The Hopworks collab “Astral Frequency” is unique in that it uses the new “Kernza” grain developed for use in HUB’s Patagonia collaboration. This grain has its own unique flavor, adding a twist to the New England inspired beer. It’s 7.5% ABV, and HUB made another sesson-strength version with the same malt bill.
Shaun also believes these beers call for hopping “a very late addition in the kettle to achieve projected IBUs is the way to go, but these beers are all about the dry hop. A massive dryhop!” “Astral Frequency” is loaded up with El Dorado, Mosaic, and Topaz hops. The other beer, “Vernacular IPA,” will be released next week and takes an Aussie approach, using all hops from Australia. Look for it at Bailey’s, Roscoe’s, Loyal Legion, Prospect Bottleshop, Lombard House, Belmont Station, Imperial Bottleshop, and other better beer bars.
Widmer: “It’s a Thing: Thing#1″ and “Thing#2.”
Widmer Brothers might not be the first brewery you think of when you think of who is brewing the cutting edge trends in craft beer. You would be wrong. With the new tricked out 10 bbl pub system and head innovation brewer Tom Bleigh given room to play, he has already turned out a few interpretations of the New England-style IPA. Yesterday, they tapped two new NE IPAs called “Thing#1” and “Thing#2” at the Widmer Gasthaus pub in Portland.
Innovation Brewer Tom Bleigh explains, “We trialed two versions, the only difference being the yeast used. The two strains commonly used for New England style IPA are 1318 and barbarian. The beers we produced explore 1318 and 1056.”
Using beer salts and oats to generate the necessary haze, the yeasts soften the IPA and adds an ascorbic acid flavor that Tom compares to Flintstones Vitamin C. Hopped heavily on the backend with Azacca, Mosaic, and Citra, Thing# 1 is 6.5% and 50 IBUs, and Thing# 2 is 5.5% and 50 IBUs.
On whether the hazy IPA trend has legs or is a passing fad, Tom thinks it’s too early to say, but notes, “I personally feel the beer has a legitimate following and people will engage in new beer styles as long as the beer is qualitative. It has to taste good. The style is undoubtedly creating a lot of pro/con chatter, but I’m personally of the belief that the beer style is approachable, drinkable, and super fruity.”
Can we look forward to a scaled up, perhaps draft seasonal or bottled New England-style IPA from Widmer in the future? Who knows, but a few challenges will have to be overcome, says Bleigh. “There are inherent challenges with shelf stability in this beer produced at scale, but we’re confident that with our experience with Hefe that we can apply some of those lessons learned towards creating a great unfiltered and hazy IPA.”
Great Notion Brewing: “Pure Guava” and “Paperback Pale”
Portland’s first and most prominent brewer of New England/Vermont-style IPAs is constantly trying out new hop varieties and techniques, including adding lactose to boost the creaminess in a beer, while relying on light German Pils malt and adding fruit to layer and complement the hops.
“For example,” says co-owner Andy Miller when speaking about the new fruit- and adjunct-heavy beers, “with our recent pink guava IPA, Pure Guava, we balanced the guava character with hops that really accentuated those flavors: Motueka and Azzaca. Neither were dominant like Simcoe or Mosaic would have been, so our hops played well with the guava; they contributed to the flavor profile without overwhelming it.”
Mosaic (Juice Jr. and Juice Box) and Citra hops (Ripe) are essential in Great Notion’s flagship NE style IPAs, but the brewers are playing with more varieties from the Southern Hemisphere like Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy. Yeast varieties for the style call for London Ale or Conan strains.
Late next week Great Notion is releasing the new Paperpack Pale Ale. Co-brewer/owner James Dugan calls it a “first stab at a beer loaded with Amarillo hops from Crosby, and also has some Simcoe in it as well. Like most of our beers, we go really heavy on the dry hop.”
Claim 52 Brewing: “Fluffy” and “Private Eyes”
This Eugene nanobrewery recently upgraded to a 10 bbl system, but has for a few years now been an early adopter of the New England-style of IPA, though head brewer Bryce Fisher says, “I’m not all that fond of the term.” While acknowledging the west coast interpretations from Great Notion in Portland and Monkish in Torrance, CA, Fisher calls them much different. “My take on it is this, we do everything we can to highlight hop flavor and aroma. Filtering/fining tends to change the flavor of hops and high IBUs tend to mask some of the more delicate hops characteristics. The use of adjuncts like wheat and oats combined with higher hopping rates and not filtering or fining leads to hops being expressed differently. I think that’s where the craze has come from, IPAs are being exposed to people who didn’t care for the bitterness of traditional IPAs.” He seems to be hitting the specifics of the style right on the nose and identifying the takeaways that most PNW brewers are getting from the trend.
Claim 52’s flagship hazy IPA is called “Fluffy” and it’s brewed with flaked and malted wheat and hopped with citrusy and funky Mosaic and Citras. They also recently released a Citra single-hop IPA called “Private Eyes” with a malt bill of Pale 2-Row, flaked wheat and oat malt. Portland-area availability should be at Baileys, Belmont Station, Bridgetown Beerhouse, Growler Guys, NWIPA, Imperial Bottle Shop, NW Growlers and Iron Tap Station.
10 Barrel: Maine Squeeze
The rare New England-inspired hazy IPA that is not hazy at all, Whitney Burnside’s “Maine Squeeze” has a fresh batch on tap at the 10 Barrel Brewing pub in NW Portland. The clarity is unintentional.
“I would like to see the ECIPA trend gain some more traction (heck, maybe even added as an official beer style), but I’m afraid there are too many haters out there for that to be possible,” says Whitney Burnside. Maine Squeeze is brewed with pale malt, wheat, and a touch of acidulated malt. Mashed high at 154°F for an hour and bittered with uncharacteristic magnum hops. The late hopping is the key with this style, though, and Whitney adds copious amounts of tropical Galaxy, Mandarina Bavaria, and orangy Simcoes. Many PNW brewers are using our locally sourced east coast yeast, a London Ale strain, fermented here at 67°. Then it gets dry-hopped again with El Dorado, Mosaic, and Citras and is dry-hopped a second time after the beer reaches terminal gravity.
“Surprisingly, without any fining agents added, Maine Squeeze drops “bar bright”, and drinks like a deliciously refreshing fruit juice without having to chew,” says Whitney. Though it does not have the haze, Maine Squeeze does have the soft tropical mouthfeel and flavor profile that are hallmarks of the trend. She adds, “This trend is it’s own unique style and is downright tasty if done right. One thing is for sure, I will continue to brew Maine Squeeze at the Portland brewery and soon have it brewed in Bend.”
Reuben’s Brews: Crush Series Azacca IPA
Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews initially became known for its very small batch rye beer experiments, from rye IPAs to rye porters and saisons. Since expanded, Reuben’s has become one of Washington’s most innovative hoppy brewers, turning out all sorts of experimental and new hop varieties in a variety of styles at the taproom. Some of the more popular brews include Reuben’s new Crush series of hazy New England inspired IPAs. These are so popular that the brewery releases a Double Crush batch in crowlers and Crush IPA in 12oz cans once a month, with the last two runs selling out in 3 hours!
Co-owner Adam Robbings got into Vermont-style beers in March of 2015, but didn’t have the capacity in the brewery’s old space to make any. “With the new taproom build and growth, we didn’t get to start trying this until October last year – which was a massive shame.” Adam says, “I think NE style IPAs are a natural progression of where we’ve been going with our IPAs over time.”
The brewers at Reuben’s are playing with the Vermont yeast strain made famous by The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and the yeast most often associated with the hazy New England/Vermont-style. Like the NE IPAs, Reuben’s has been moving more towards later hop additions, reducing the IBUs, using less caramel malts, and switching to oats for more balance. The brewery first trialed this technique in the popular “Hop Tropic” IPA released two years ago.
“NE style IPAs are taking this a step further, more extreme, and using a yeast strain that gives off an awesome fruity ester that plays into the dry hop marvelously,” says Robbings.
Wayfinder Beer: Stay Fluft
“Stay Fluft” is Davey’s 2nd collaboration with Zoiglhaus Brewery and the 3rd attempt at a New England-style IPA after “Definitely Not” with Breakside and “Fluffy” with Zoiglhaus.