The Science Behind Hazy IPAs

A hazy IPA

Even though he co-owns Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse in Sacramento, California, Rob Archie admits he’s not a fan of most West Coast IPAs. In fact, he pretty much avoided them. Like many other beer drinkers who first fell in love with Belgian ales, he felt IPAs came off as unbalanced “bitter bombs.”

Pliny the Elder showed him that a balanced IPA was possible. But it still didn’t prepare him for his first sip of a New England IPA, by Vermont’s Hill Farmstead Brewery in 2012.

“I was like what the heck is this? This is hella soft,” says Archie. “That’s not a regular IPA. It’s soft and buttery. It’s the mouthfeel of lemon juice in Hollandaise sauce.” The brewer simply said it was an unfiltered IPA.

Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery
Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery / Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

That inspired Archie to make his own hazy IPAs, like the citrusy and clean Playground Tactics. Meanwhile, at Beer Lab restaurants in Honolulu, you’ll find Chirashi, an opaque sunshiney brew with notes of pink grapefruit and flowers. Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, just released a colorful spring hazy called Pulp Art. Its colorful can says the IPA is “tropically hoppy.”

If it seems like hazy IPAs are all over, it’s because they are. The 2021 forecast from the Brewers Association says juicy hazies, which have fruity aromas, will be big. They’re easy to like, especially for those who prefer less-bitter beers. Homebrew marts sell hazy IPA kits, and forums are filled with technical questions on how to make one.

Just like other styles, hazies are borne from the interplay between yeast, malted grains and hops. But like pizza and chili, there are endless recipes for hazy IPAs.

Heady Topper, from the Vermont brewery The Alchemist
Heady Topper, from the Vermont brewery The Alchemist / Alamy

Lazy hazy

Once upon a time, every brewer aspired to make a crystal-clear beer, free of cloudiness. So when Vermont brewery The Alchemist released Heady Topper in 2004, it quietly started a revolution.

“It really threw a lot of the brewers for a loop,” says Chris White, co-owner of White Labs, a fermentation yeast supplier and brewer based in San Diego. “It was extremely controversial.”

Textbook beers were filtered to clean up haze. A cloudy beer was considered a mistake. But to skip filtering created a hazy beer that was more aromatic.

Another easy way to create a hazy is to use a yeast that stays floating in the brew. Most brewer’s yeast will clump together, or flocculate. It will fall to the bottom of the tank or rise to the top when fermentation ends, says White. Traditional beer makers avoided yeast that didn’t flocculate, like his WLP008 strain.

“We’ve had that yeast in our bank for 20 years, but it was not that popular because people didn’t want to have a hazy beer,” says White. “And now, it’s one of our better selling yeast strains.”

Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery / Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

Hazy zymurgy

A typical brewer’s recipe combines a little hops and yeast with lots of grain, usually barley sprouted and dried in a process called malting. Besides flavor and sugar for the yeast to eat, the malted grains add protein to the beer.

A higher protein level is crucial to make a hop-forward IPA, says Nick Wong, who cofounded Honolulu’s Beer Lab with his wife, Kailey, and two partners. Volatile compounds called alpha acids carry the hops’ aroma and flavor molecules.

“The way to put more hop flavor into the beer is to give the hops [protein] to stick to,” says Wong. “The byproduct of putting in the protein is the haziness.”

Hannah Turner, director of the barley, malt and brewing quality lab at Montana State University
Hannah Turner, director of the barley, malt and brewing quality lab at Montana State University / Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Brewers intent to make a hazy might add malted or flaked oats, or unmalted wheat to increase protein. These extra grains also lend a silky texture, says Hannah Turner, director of the barley, malt and brewing quality lab at Montana State University’s barley breeding program.

“They would offer some of the hazy aspects and the mouthfeel you expect from the New England IPAs,” she says.

Some beer lovers should be aware that there are brewers that add texture with lactose sugar. It amps up the viscosity, similar to the way lactic acid from malolactic fermentation makes a Chardonnay more creamy, but it might cause a reaction in those who are lactose intolerant would like to avoid.

Once a brewer has created a high-protein solution, it’s time to add the hops. Some hazy brewers add hops late, so the aromatic compounds show up in the final beer. Others add hops early to allow its volatile compounds ample time to bind with the protein, says Wong.

An aerial view of the research plots at Montana State University
An aerial view of the research plots at Montana State University / Photo by Dylan Mangel

Beer Lab adds hops throughout the brew to build in layers of crisp and fruity aromas and flavors. The five-hop blend in its Chirashi includes Galaxy, which throws off passion fruit, peach and citrus; Mandarina, known for citrus and passion fruit notes; and Mosaic, which can emerge as blueberry, bubblegum, roses or pine.

Can an IPA Be Too Fresh?

“Our flavor profile is more easy drinking and refreshing,” says Kailey Wong. “They’re more tropical and juicy. Sometimes people ask, ‘Did you put oranges in here?’ That’s all coming from the hops we put in.”

Every brewery has its own approach to make a hazy, which keeps the category exciting.

“With different techniques, different yeasts and hops, we get this wide range of different hazies,” says White. “They’re not all the same, which is cool.”

Published on March 19, 2021
Topics: Beer