Why I Do Not Care What Beer Geeks Think About Hazy IPAs
BY LIZ COOK
I live in a constant, low-grade fear of Beer People.
I’m not talking about brewers, mind you. Brewers have always been kind to me, perhaps because they can sense my ignorance. They know that I will never try to make them taste my home brews. When I say “Beer People,” I mean the most self-serious quartile of craft beer fanatics: the gatekeepers, the language policers. The Walking Untappd.
It has become clear to me recently that Beer People are over hazy IPAs. In 2020, online alcohol retailer Drizly reported a seven hundred and sixty-one percent year-over-year sales growth for hazy beers. That saturation has quickly made them the pop music of the beer world: ubiquitous, commercialized and easy to denigrate.
One common complaint? That hazies aren’t subtle. I suppose this is true. But I have always had a goblin’s appreciation for an unsubtle thing done well. I like that the hazy isn’t coquettish: Its fresh hop and citrus aromas practically lunge at you from the glass. Hazies are hops in surround-sound.
That doesn’t mean they’re bitter. Hazies are a softer, slinkier IPA that swap the pinecone sharpness of a West Coast IPA for bright citrus. I’ve heard some drinkers complain that they taste like orange juice—the cloudy appearance means hazies often look like orange juice, too. To me, this is a selling point—you get a Screwdriver without extra steps.
My main beef with the style is that no one can seem to agree what to call it. Some breweries label them Northeast IPAs, others New England IPAs. Many buck the regional designation entirely and call them “hazy IPAs,” “juicy IPAs,” or “unfiltered IPAs.” Are you confused yet? I am, too.
To try to get a handle on all this, I grabbed a hazy beer recently with BKS Artisan Ales brewers Alex Moss and Brian Rooney. Brian owns the brewery with his wife, Mary. BKS is well known for its hazies—in 2021, their double hazy IPA Clouds won silver in the Great American Beer Festival, beating out almost two hundred other beers. Rooney estimates that about seventy-five percent of BKS’s beers could be considered hazies, from big triples to sessionable pale ales.
When Rooney first started brewing hazies, he labeled them “northeast style” IPAs. But now? “We just call it hazy.” Good enough for me.
Rooney and Moss have their own ideas about what’s driving the hazy-hate: poorly made versions of the style. Just about every brewery has a hazy IPA on tap now; they aren’t all going to be winners. And there are a lot of ways brewers can go wrong. Hazies use more expressive yeasts than other styles, and a bad yeast can make a beer taste like an overripe melon. They’re also more prone to “hop creep,” an accidental secondary fermentation that creates a spike in diacetyl (the “buttered popcorn” flavor).
That makes a good hazy all the more precious. At one point in our conversation, Rooney lowers his voice into a joking, bro-y register. “The statement, like, ‘When I go into a brewery, I order a lager because there’s nowhere to hide.’ The place where there’s nowhere to hide is these.” He gestures toward a glass of Metaphysical Infinity, BKS’s double dry-hopped IPA, on the table in front of him. “Most lagers, even if it’s not perfect, I can tolerate drinking them. I can drink a Busch Light. I can’t drink a Busch Light version of this.”
Moss agrees: “I’m not going to the bowling alley and crushing some turbid mess.”
Moss and Rooney have spent years tinkering with their hazies, paying close attention to water chemistry to make softer and more expressive presentations of each particular hop’s character. Neither of them consider hazies easy to brew.
In my view, they’re worth the investment. The hazy boom might not last forever, but it’s been a great entry point into craft beer for a lot of drinkers. The risk, of course, is that this will eventually create more Beer People. But that’s a risk I’m willing to tolerate.