Last month, a tongue-in-cheek tweet by Cloudwater Brew Co. about a brand new beer it would be serving at its taproom was met with a mix of outrage, confusion, and amusement you only find on Twitter. One commenter raved, “You people deserve Brexit, to be honest.” Why? Because it announced the limited release of Imperial Haison, a hazy saison.
Here’s the thing: the haze craze, or the popularity of New England-style IPAs that are hazy and juicy and not at all like classic IPAs, has divided beer drinkers along the contested border between experimental and traditional. Even a hint of cloud in a glass might set a more conventional beer drinker off on a tirade. On the other hand, the idea of something different and out-of-the-ordinary might be exciting to drinkers who haven’t been impressed with existing styles.
Eventually, we all figured out that Imperial Haison was (mostly) a joke, but those who did drop by the Manchester taproom to order the beer were served a blend of hazy IPA and saison. At least one customer described it as “utterly delicious.”
Joke or not, I have questions: Could there be a hazy saison and how would you brew it? Should you brew it? And will 2020 be the rise of the hazy hybrid—hazy lager, hazy kölsch, hazy hard seltzer?
The origins of the hazy, juicy, fruity styles fall solidly in this century with the arrival of The Alchemist’s Heady Topper in the 2000s, a result of experimentation in IPA with a variety of hops. The style only earned official recognition in 2018, when the Brewers Association added it to its Beer Style Guidelines, meant to serve as a model for brewers and beer judges.
Three styles made their way into the books: “juicy or hazy IPA”; “juicy or hazy strong pale ale”; “juicy or hazy imperial or double IPA.” But I can’t imagine that means juice or haze would—or should—be restricted to those three styles. And Cloudwater Brew Co. co-founder Paul Jones agrees.
Cloudwater, based in Manchester, U.K., brewed its first beers in 2015 and has since earned a reputation for experimentation. In fact, its New England-style IPA recipe came about after several attempts to recreate the qualities in a combination of different styles.
“Our journey to New England IPAs started off really with Hopfenweisse,” Jones says. According to him, the hoppy wheat beer, a collaboration brew by Brooklyn Brewery and G. Schneider & Sohn, eventually inspired the brewers to craft what looked and tasted like a New England-style IPA.
“It really didn’t take us long to put together various experiences we’d had in different styles in a way that we felt could amplify all the qualities that we cared about,” Jones explains. “It came from other beer styles we’d had and really just kind of coming back to basics on what happens when you’re tasting tropical fruits. What is that texture? What is that mouthfeel? How can we somehow achieve that in beer?”
Jones’ brewery came out of the gate with the aim of delivering a wide variety of beers to its customers, but rather than brewing to style, the team found itself brewing for certain qualities. Perhaps that process could lead to modifications with other beers, like saison.
“As throw away as that [Imperial Haison] blend was in our taproom, this is sometimes how you stumble upon something that you just haven’t considered before,” Jones says.
Customers and fellow brewers alike have hurled complaints at Cloudwater in response to its exploration of hazier styles. “[They said] if the beer wasn’t translucent, clearly it was flawed… that any beer we made that was hazy was evidence of the fact that we were skipping a process and that we were packing beer with a ton of yeast in it,” Jones notes.
But Jones took pride in explaining the finer points of the brewing process and the genuine intention behind their brews. The criticism hasn’t stopped his inventive pursuits either.
You don’t learn and grow by simply dismissing something that seems weird.”
While hazy saison is an interesting concept for Jones, he points out there are brewing challenges that would need to be overcome. For instance, most saison yeasts would not be ideal for producing the sweetness and haze found in New England-styles.
On the other hand, Lucky Envelope Brewing Brewmaster Barry Chan suggests that there are ways to achieve at least the appearance of haze in saison. “One can throw in a variety of grains on hand into the beer and some—such as wheat, triticale, rye—can cause a great deal of haze,” he suggests. “If one adds extra hops into the saison that could intensify the permanent haze character to appear similar to modern hazy IPAs.”
The Seattle, Washington-based Lucky Envelope had a very different introduction to the haze. “We brewed [our hazy IPA] out of demand from our tasting room and our draft accounts,” Chan admits. While Chan wasn’t necessarily inspired to brew hazy beer, he concedes, “You don’t learn and grow by simply dismissing something that seems weird.”
So should brewers explore hazy saison or injecting haze or juiciness into other styles? Why not? At the core of the concept of a hazy saison is the idea of continuous innovation and increasing beer options for beer drinkers.
“Creating beers to have different flavor profiles than traditional ‘beer-flavored beer’ do a great deal to attract non-beer drinkers,” says Chan.
“I think behind the sort of interest in haze, there’s a more fundamental interest that some brewers have for bringing new experiences into the lives of their drinkers,” says Jones. He points to brewers who are experimenting with new ingredients, like yeast strains traditionally used in wine and bespoke malts.
Whether there ever is a true hazy saison is yet to be seen. But the real hope is that innovation has the ability to diversify the taproom clientele beyond the typical beer drinker. Diversifying the taproom may mean more people from different backgrounds making beer and taking the industry in directions that haven’t already been considered.