As any beer judge will tell you, one of the visual indicators of a beer’s quality is its clarity. Brewers take pride in producing bright, clear beers, and for many styles, the presence of haze is considered undesirable.
But a new trend emerging over the past few years has seen the proliferation just the opposite — a hazy, opaque variant of IPA, one that looks like it could be a glass full of orange juice instead of beer. Known variously as New England IPA, Vermont IPA, or even Milkshake IPA, this emerging style originated on the East Coast and is marked by deep cloudiness and an intensely fresh and tropical fruit hop profile.
The origins of the style are a bit murky, but likely can be traced back to a beer named Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist Brewery located in Vermont. Heady Topper is something of a cult beer, cloudy in appearance, potently hoppy, and inspiring long lines of fans on release days hoping to acquire a few cans. According to the brewery, “Heady Topper is brewed only in Waterbury, Vermont and is distributed within a 25-mile radius. Our Waterbury brewery is not open to the public.”
Other New England breweries picked up on the popularity of Heady Topper and began brewing versions of the turbid IPA. Breweries such as Hill Farmstead Brewery of Vermont, and Trillium Brewing Company and Tree House Brewing Company of Massachusetts helped to refine and extend the emerging style. Popularity grew, and breweries outside of New England tried their hand at their own versions, with varying success. As it turns out, making a beer intentionally hazy is harder than it sounds.
This is due, in large part, to the fact that gravity tends to cause yeast and other particles to fall out of suspension. Accordingly, brewers employ a combination of methods and ingredients in order to retain turbidity in these newer IPAs.
High-protein grains such as wheat and oats contribute to haze formation. Dry hopping (adding hops during or after fermentation) in large amounts results in “hop haze,” or hop oils remaining in suspension. Fruit can be another source, as the natural pectin found in fruit can cause cloudiness to develop. There are even rumors of brewers adding flour to the beer.
Here in Oregon, Great Notion Brewing Company in Portland has been leading the charge with signature beers such as Juice Box Double IPA, Juice, Jr., and Ripe IPA. Claim 52 Brewing Company, based in Eugene, brews their Fluffy IPA series to the Vermont style. Corvallis’ Block 15 Brewery has dabbled with murky IPAs with their Dab Lab series.
Locally, Sunriver Brewing Co. has been refining their recipe and techniques for brewing the style, and head brewer Brett Thomas believes he’s hit upon the right combination of ingredients. Thomas seeks haze formation primarily from the grains, and adds malted wheat and flaked oats to the grist for it.
He gave a presentation on the style in early May at the northwest district meeting of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. For the versions appearing locally, he was “not totally sure that we’re emulating (New England’s) work or doing our own thing,” he wrote. “(I’m) pretty confident (our) NE-style IPAs are hoppier and more robust than their East Coast cousins.”
Sunriver’s recent forays into the style include Sunny D, Vermont Vacation, and the latest on tap now, Pineapple Haze. For this latter beer, the brewery incorporated 300 pounds of pineapple puree “for some tropical fruit complexity.”
In drinking this beer, I found aromas of pineapple, melon and citrus along with lightly resin-like hops. It has a restrained bitterness with fresh fruit juice flavors and a pineapple snap at the end.
Riverbend Brewing Co. has also adopted the style, and takes a slightly different approach with its fruited Milkshake IPA series. In addition to fruit, lactose and vanilla are added to boost the overall milkshake theme. Lactose, otherwise known as milk sugar, is unfermentable by brewers yeast, so it adds sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel to the body of a finished beer.
Past beers includes one brewed with peach, and Apricotics Anonymous, brewed with apricots. The current beer in the series, Passion Aggressive Milkshake IPA, incorporates passionfruit for a bright tropical character. That fruit is right up front in flavor, tart and somewhat intense, turning to a hoppy herbal bitterness towards the back. I did not taste any vanilla over the passionfruit, and the lactose adds a slightly viscous, medium-thick feel to the body.
McMenamins Old St. Francis School has its version on tap, Pistol Peach Double IPA. Brewer Mike White admits he’s not totally sold on the style, but said, “(It’s) as close to the style as I wanted to do, and I was talked into doing one by an employee here who is a home brewer and East Coast transplant. He designed most of the recipe and I tweaked it to work here. We added peaches to this beer following the fruit IPA craze, too.”
New England IPAs are provoking debate among craft beer drinkers as to the merits of the style — but there is no denying they are here to stay. Seek out some of the local examples and decide for yourself: haze or hype?
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!