the haze craze
The emerging beer style of New England India Pale Ale is mirroring the techniques and cloudy results of natural winemaking, with the same polarising responses too.
THE RISE OF CRAFT BEER has overturned many preconceptions, not least in terms of how a beer can or should look. Where once it was expected that a beer should be golden, with exquisite clarity (the odd Guinness or Coopers apart), we’ve seen growing acceptance of beers of differing hues, heads and haziness. A trend that’s swept the local beer industry since 2016 – accelerating at light speed over the past year – is variants on IPAs (India pale ale). Commonly tagged New England or Vermont IPAs, the name acknowledges the region whose brewers brought them to prominence, such as The Alchemist and Treehouse. Like standard IPAs, they’re higher in alcohol than pale ales, but with the emphasis on hop aroma and flavour above all, and bitterness reduced to a bit player.
The biggest distinction, however, is appearance. The techniques – such as the interplay between certain yeast strains and hops – and ingredients (flaked oats, for example) used to create these extravagant juice bombs can lead to beers variously described as hazy, cloudy or murky. If you’ve seen someone with a glass of what’s seemingly been dredged from the Yarra River, chances are it’s a New England-style IPA (or NEIPA).
It’s a trend that’s spread from a tiny number of local breweries; seven NEIPAs made this year’s biggest annual people’s choice poll, the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers. It’s also one that’s drawn scorn from some of the best brewers in the business; Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver famously described it as a fad based around Instagram culture.
With tales of some brewers adding flour and other adjuncts for no other purpose than to create a deeper murk, it’s easy to understand the criticisms. What’s more, the beers are inherently unstable, designed to keep as many volatile hop compounds in the finished beer as possible. Yet their appeal shows no sign of waning.
One of the first Australian breweries to embrace the haze was Hop Nation in Melbourne’s Footscray, launched by former winemakers Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson. They’ve now released a number of NEIPA variants, with Jedi Juice helping bring the style to national attention. “I think the controversy is based around [these beers] being everything we’ve learned not to do,” says Sam. “You’re making an unstable beer. It’s parallel to the shift towards natural winemaking. Some traditional winemakers say it’s faulty, and it can be if badly done, but it can also bring out flavours and aromas you can’t get if you pasteurise and filter to complete clarity.”
Their short shelf-life poses challenges. NEIPAs aren’t suitable for distribution through retail chains as they’d take too long to hit stores; even independent stores that might have the beer on sale within 48 hours of packaging need to sell them quickly to ensure happy customers and brewers.
On the flipside, it helps highlight some of the charms associated with local, small-scale brewing, particularly the importance of consuming most beer styles as fresh as possible. “They’re cool because it’s about capturing the beer in the moment,” says Dennis de Boer of Modus Operandi in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They have released a series of hazy IPAs over the past 12 months and plan to keep experimenting.
From a brewing perspective, Dennis says such beers bring excitement as well as education. “In a world in which everything has been done before, this is new. You’re creating something unique compared to what we’re used to,” he says. Their series of beers has taught the brewers how different hops and yeasts interact together – and not always as expected, citing one trial batch in which the beer exhibited menthol characters.
It remains to be seen whether they’ll prove to be a fad or have staying power. “There’s always going to be trends and the beer industry seems to love trends,” says Hop Nation’s Sam. “But every trend that comes through leaves a trail and history. How many brewers out there have learned new techniques because a beer style is popular?”
Dennis agrees, saying their approach to water chemistry, and how and when they add hops, has changed as they’ve explored the style. “Just from making these beers, our core range has improved considerably,” he says. This is quite the claim, considering Modus Operandi is a regular trophy winner, and a decent legacy too, should NEIPAs ultimately prove a temporary