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.

Halliday - - Gamay - by James Smith

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

In­sta­gram fad.

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