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Hazed Out: Is the Clear IPA the Next Hazy IPA?

May 29, 2018

By Joshua Bernstein, May 29, 2018

Jack Hendler thought the beer tasted just delicious, an IPA as aromatic and flavorful as any available IPA. This had the makings of another smash for Springdale Beer, the experimental offshoot of lager juggernaut Jack’s Abby.

Hendler, a co-owner of the Massachusetts brewery, asked employees for opinions. They spat out the liquid. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” he recalls. “They were like, ‘It tastes like pennies.’”

His beer-tasting blind spot is a metallic flavor that this beer had plenty of. “We actually had to dump the first batch,” Hendler says. “We’d never tried to brew a clear beer before, and we didn’t quite hit the mark.”

Springdale and collaborators Against the Grain were trying to create the Crystal Pepsi of hazy IPAs, a beer that nails every aromatic and flavor metric without a milkshake consistency and foggy hue. In other words, they were trying to poke the beer industry’s 900-pound hoppy bear.

In beer today, these cloudy and cultish IPAs reign supreme. Their forthright fruity, tropical aroma and banished bitterness has driven drinkers foaming mad, causing them to line up pre-dawn just to purchase a couple four-packs of double IPA. Since it rose to popularity earlier this decade in the Northeast, the so-called New England–style IPA has spread across America and the globe, a trend that’s now so entrenched that even Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Sam Adams are brewing versions. The style is a supermarket staple and even codified by the Beer Judge Certification Program as a real approach, not just a fast-passing fad... Remember black IPAs? No? Good.

The backlash machine works just as fast. No sooner does a notion bubble up—hello, glitter beer—then folks naysay the newcomer, the sparkle fading. On the flip side, there’s a consumer tendency to hold beer styles aloft, its supremacy unquestioned. Think back to Budweiser and its ilk. They were synonymous with beer, what you expected when you ordered a cold one. That’s no different with today’s IPA scene.  

“You can’t find a regular IPA right now,” Hendler says. “You may go to a bar now, and there are eight different New England–style IPAs. That’s great, but where are all the other styles?”

Hendler had made friend with the Against the Grain crew, a fun-loving brewery that’s not allergic to a prank. At Boston’s Extreme Beer Fest, Hendler saw Louisville-based team take their IPA and throw “all kinds of crap into it to make it as chunky looking as possible,” he says.

This made his mental filaments spark bright. Hendler and Springdale reached out to Against the Grain with a concept right up the boundry-pushing brewery’s alley. “Why don’t we take we take that idea and say, ‘What if the beer is clear? Can it still be good?’”

Sold.

It’s funny how haze has gone from a defect to desire, fodder for Instagram feeds the world over.”

The breweries teamed up to brew an adjunct-laden beer—likely culprits: rice and corn—that, ideally, would look as unblemished as a car-washed windshield. The first stab failed when carbon filtration imparted a metallic tang. Batch two proved to be a big hit, an aroma bomb of the highest order with none of the corresponding opaqueness.

“We used the same amount of hops that we used in our New England–style IPA,” Hendler says.

Enjoyed straight out of the can, you might think Any IPA is one of Springdale’s hazed-up formulations. Poured into a pint, Any IPA has a luminescent transparency, so clear you could read book through the glass.  

“People don’t consider the look of things affecting how they taste things,” Hendler says. “It was pretty clear that people discounted the beer even before they tried it. They were drinking with their eyes even before they smelled or tasted the beer.”

It’s funny how haze has gone from a defect to desire, fodder for Instagram feeds the world over. “Up until three of four years ago, if I saw one of those milkshake beers I probably would’ve sent it back,” says Surly Brewing head brewer Ben Smith. “Now it’s the norm and it’s what people are expecting.”

One day late last year, Smith and his friend Niko Tonks, the head brewer at Minneapolis’ Fair State Brewing Cooperative, were sharing beers at a bar, came across a similar notion as Hendler: Could they make a beer that had a New England–style IPA’s hallmarks but remained murk-free?

The buds decided to turn bar banter into a reality. To decrease the turbidity—the hazy quality in a beer that is caused by suspended late-addition hop particles, the combination of beer byproducts protein and polyphenols, or certain yeast strains—they used British malt free of polyphenols, along with flaked corn. The IPA was conditioned at cold temperatures, dropping proteins out of suspension, and then spun through a centrifuge to eliminate lingering solids.

“It’s crystal clear and has a great juicy hop aroma,” Smith says of Clarity of Purpose. “If you did a blind tasting, I think it would stand up to some of the more well-known hazy IPAs.”

So will clear “hazy” IPAs be the next crazy trend? Doubtful. Both these projects were one-off stabs at sparking conversation, questioning homogeneity and, hopefully, making people think while they drink. “We’re certainly not saying, ‘Don’t drink hazy beer,’” Hendler says, noting Springdale makes plenty. “We’re saying, ‘There’s just not one style of beer that should be popular.’”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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