Hazy Beer Is Not “Normal”
Walk into any beer-centric establishment in Singapore and you’re likely to be met with the sight of patrons quaffing pints of what appears to be orange juice, and a quick scan of the board or beer list will reveal quite a few “NEIPAs”. Before the Geek dives into the more technical bits of this blog entry, he will have to acknowledge that these hazy India pale ales (hazy IPAs) or New England India pale ales (NEIPAs) are trending…that’s what’s moving on taps and what people want at the time of writing. It’s hardly surprising that in muggy tropical Singapore, a tall frosty glass of something juicy is appealing and is moving.
To understand the evolution of the hazy IPA, it is important to understand that strictly speaking, hazy beers, or more specifically a hazy pale ale is not a normal state of affairs. Having said that, there are beers where haziness is a desired trait, like in witbiers and weissbiers. These wheat malt-based beers tend to be hazy because of the higher protein content in wheat malt…heard of gluten in bread? So back to pale ales. Part of what attracted people to the pale ale and the reason for a clear drinking receptacle was the clear pale golden appearance of the beer. Haziness in a pale ale was therefore considered a fault in the brewing process and generally unwelcome.
If you look at traditional IPAs and double IPAs, they tend to be clear with some chill haze, but otherwise, at drinking temperature, they are clear.
The birth of the hazy IPA (the most current industry-accepted term based on the most recent update to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guide), can be traced to what is widely accepted as the first commercial example of a hazy IPA, Heady Topper, a beer brewed by John Kimmich at Alchemist Beer in Waterbury, Vermont.
This apparently worked and the popularity of this new “hazy” IPA soon took root as the local or New England version of the IPA…hence the name and the abbreviation NEIPA. The original intent by all accounts, was for the IPA to capture all the beauty of a wonderful hop crop, both the aroma AND the bitterness.. Hops are beautiful in two main ways…they produce a fresh bitterness to balance all that sweet grainy heft to make quaffing not only possible but enjoyable, and they bring a host of delicious and aromatic volatile compounds to beer…in fact, these volatiles are what you “taste” first, since taste begins in the nose.
Hops are added early in the brewing process where boiling allows the bitterness to develop. This process of developing bitterness happens at the expense of the aromatic attributes, which are “boiled off” because these aroma compounds have a lower boiling point. So to capture both the aromatic and the bitter magic of a hop, a separate process known as “dry hopping” is included in the brewing process.
Dry-hopping is where hops are added to the cool portion of the brewing process, usually during secondary fermentation, to try to get the volatile compounds to dissolve and appear in the finished beer.
Without going into too much technical detail, dry-hopping can potentially cause problems for brewers and drinkers. The beer can continue to change and eventually end up having a higher alcohol content than intended or have a different character altogether. There can also be issues with over-carbonation and of course exploding or foaming packages…the product of something brewers call “hop creep”.
But if like the legions of hazy IPA fans, you don’t want to overthink your beverage and just want to be able to enjoy something at sensory level and live life in the moment as your best self…then there are fewer pints that will be as aromatically arresting or visually pleasing. The hazy IPA totally starts selling the minute it’s tapped, convincing your palate that you’re going to have a tasty, refreshing, mind-blowing time…and you will, courtesy of all that wonderful technical effort to get you enjoy both the bitterness and the fresh hop aroma at the SAME time!