Returning to historic styles and methods, brewers are forgoing filtration. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Try five recommended beers making the case.
By Joshua M. Bernstein
Photo by Meg Baggott
Around five years ago, Sixpoint Brewery Cofounder Shane Welch attended a natural wine festival. There, he sipped through some 20 wines, each one as cloudy as a cataract, their flavors raw and vibrant.
“I’d had murky beer my entire life, but I’d never sat down and drank murky wines,” Welch says. To him, the connection to beer was as clear as day.
Early Sixpoint ales like Sweet Action were foggy affairs that stood in stark contrast to the typical see-through lagers of the time. Over the years, Sixpoint grew and began to filter their beers. It created a clearer, more shelf-stable product, but at what cost?
“There’s always a tradeoff, and that tradeoff is usually at the expense of flavor and aroma,” says Welch.
This spring, Sixpoint reversed course and ceased filtration, and ales like its Resin Imperial IPA gained a hazier hue.
The brewery is one of many that are now foregoing filtration. Many see murk as a way to create differentiation in look, scent and taste. But it could also be considered a return to form.
“This is not a new concept for the brewing industry,” says Damian McConn, chief brewing officer at Summit Brewing Co.
Historic styles like hefeweizens, naturally carbonated cask ales and German kellerbiers are brimming with yeast, as are bottle-conditioned beers. These microbes impart a cloudier complexion before eventually settling, adding a more robust flavor to the resulting brew.
Modern filtration took root in the late 19th century, as beer transformed into a widely distributed commodity.
“Having really clear, bright beer in a pint glass was a sign of a brewer making solid beer,” says Summit’s McConn. “They weren’t being sloppy or lazy.”
Last year, Summit released an unfiltered, German-style Keller Pils. “We retain as much of the character as possible,” he says.
Unfiltered lagers like Urban Chestnut’s Zwickel and Switchback’s Citra-Pils Keller Bier are increasingly commonplace, but fragrant, juicy New England IPAs have become the poster children for the anti-filtration set. They’re marked by massively fruity fragrances, minimal bitterness and appearances that, at some extremes, resemble orange juice.
Ballast Point’s stingingly tropical Sculpin started as North Star IPA, an unfiltered homebrew recipe. Here, the San Diegans return the recipe to its roots, dialing back the bitterness, and cranking up the fruity aromas.
Old school meets new school in this Minnesota brewery’s unfiltered German-style pilsner. The traditional peppery, floral pop of Tettnang hops are balanced by the honeydew hints brought by Huell Melon hops. A touch of honey ties the tasty package together.
To make Puff, the Brooklyn, New York-based brewer takes its Resin double IPA and adds hops like Mosaic and Citra that lend aromas reminiscent of a Pacific Northwest pine forest. Fittingly, unrefined Puff is packaged as cloudy as an Oregon winter.
Good luck seeing daylight through any of these Ohioans’ opaque hop-socked IPAs. The juicy, arcade game-inspired Konkey Dong is swarmed with Australia’s Galaxy hops and America’s pungent Simcoe variety.