Lately I’ve seen a lot of haze hate.
What characterizes haze hate? On the surface it feels like a rebellion against a popular beer trend – the rise of hazy IPA – by purists.
But digging a little a deeper I’ve identified four core channels of anti-haze:
1. People who think hazy is a fault
2. People who think the addition of lactose and other adjuncts is wrong
3. People who have identified an actual problem with hop burn
4. People who like to run counter to any booming trend.
The haze as a fault argument is interesting. I’ve spoke to a number of brewers who find it hard to make a hazy beer – it goes against their training and instincts. Some say, ‘yeah OK, I can understand why you’d make a beer like that to serve from a keg in a brew bar’, but balk at putting such an unstable, must-be-drunk-fresh product into a package.
Both have valid points and on the former point – brewing a hazy beer without leaving in a lot of hop material or yeast – actually requires a lot of skill. I brewed a lot of them at home last year because I felt it was an “easy” style to make; you didn’t need to worry about fining and filtering – in essence, you could be a little more laissez-faire about the process. But not all those beers turned out so well – they deteriorated quickly thanks to the high level of organic matter. So I applaud those brewers who have finessed the process and make high-quality hazy beers.
The packaging aspect is another story. One of the country’s pre-eminent haze creators, McLeod’s, took their time putting their 802 series beers into a can. Roughly the first 20 of them were keg-only. Others, such as Epic, have gone there reluctantly (and typically cheekily) with Epic’s second hazy beer cleverly (cynically) named Tank Sample.
But the fact Epic is making hazy beer at all is an indication of how popular the style has become. Brewers now cannot afford not to have one (or many) in their portfolio.
In terms of the drink-now aspect of these beers, two of the leading producers are doing their best to educate customers around that fact, with Behemoth named one of their beers Drink Yesterday to make the point that this style doesn’t gain any benefits from hanging around unconsumed.
Garage Project went a step further by introducing a three-month best-before date on their “Fresh” series, which came on top of their monthly releases. Garage Project’s monthly release series – like McLeod’s 802 series – is all about educating punters on the drink-now element.
The subject of adding lactose and other adjuncts (the original hazy pale ales didn’t have these) and the increased sweetness of the beers, is a divisive element. Originally, I liked them, but since I cut sugar out of my diet my palate has changed and I now find many of these beers too sweet for my liking – but I can understand why so many people do love them.
I guess the problem comes here with the lack of clear labelling requirements; lactose is not something everyone wants to consume for health and/or ethical reasons. I would like to see these beers more clearly identified as having lactose. Either way, it’s not a reason to necessarily hate on hazy beers – if people like them so be it – but those who don’t like them, or can’t drink them – should get fair and open warning.
The flipside to too sweet is the “hop burn” – that super acidity caused by a truckload of late and dry-hopping and the fact that a lot of this material remains in the beer. In short, hops – despite all their great sweet and dank aromas – can be overdone. And this is where the haze race can result in some examples veering off track.
In a sad reminder of the days when breweries boasted about IBUs in their IPAs, I’ve been seeing brewers boast about how many grams per litre (g/l) of hops they are adding to the fermenter. This arms race has created a misguided belief that more hops means a “juicier” and more flavoursome beer, when in fact there’s a tipping point where too much hop matter in the finished beer is a distasteful disaster.
Hops are plants – leafy, acidic plants – and if you put too many of them into a beer, you’re not giving people a tropical juicy experience; you’re literally burning their throats. It’s an experience I had recently and it was entirely unpleasant.
Some brewers mistakenly double-down on the burn with a high-level of yeast in suspension adding a lashing of astringency to the slap of vegetal. Which, in some ways, brings us full circle back to point one – that to make a good hazy IPA takes some skill, knowledge and a palate that understands how different ingredients work together.
But also, it’s about balance. As always, if something is too sweet, too acidic, too bitter, too sedimenty, too yeasty or too estery it might please some of the people some of the time but it won’t last. The good news is that brewers are getting better at this style and I’ve had a few recently that incredibly balanced and finished dry without losing the beauty of the haze halo. But I’ve also suffered too much hop burn and too much heavy sweetness.
But wait, I hear you say, what about point four – the haters who hate for the sake of hating? The irony is that disliking something just because it’s popular is kind of the reason we got to where we are in beer – if the original craft pioneers hadn’t rebelled against the mainstream blandness we wouldn’t have got the revolution that brought us to milkshake IPA and pastry stout.
In saying that, though, negativity needs to be justified. I’ve seen a lot of British and American beer writers whining about hazy pale ale and its widespread popularity. The overwhelming vibe is that there’s so much haze that choice is evaporating, and they’re all hankering for a return to the good old days of a crisp, clean West Coast IPA. New Zealand hasn’t gone that way yet but what’s certain is that hazy pale ales and IPAs are hugely appealing to beer lovers who previously stood on the edge of craft. They are definitely bringing new people to the market.
The irony there is that a few years ago, the same critiques were made about WCIPA – that there was too much of it and where was the choice? I used to laugh at people who criticised Epic, for example, for being so focused on hoppy beers – if you don’t like them, don’t drink them! No one’s tying you down and waterboarding you with IPA. (On that note, if you don’t like something, don’t go on Untappd and give it one star with the comment: I don’t like this style).
Ditto hazy beer – if you don’t like it, don’t drink it – but don’t complain there’s too much of it. Brewers are only responding to the market. And if the market is a little lost in the fog, such is life. For now.