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Cloudy with a Chance of Hops: Discussing the "Haze Craze"

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Not too long ago the discussion was East coast IPAs versus West coast IPAs, and apart from Heady Topper, the West coast had it in the bag. However, New England has risen up and defined a new way to IPA. The premise is all about extra hoppy IPAs with strong fruity characteristics that are cloudy instead of clear. While technically a flaw, the idea has caught on in New England, and some of the amazing cloudy IPAs coming out the of the region have caught homebrewers' attentions. Let's look at the why and how coming out of the haze craze created by these New England IPAs.

The Haze Craze Debate

There is an extensive debate on the subject of cloudy New England style hoppy beers. For a long time, commercial and homebrewers alike have seen cloudy beers as a flaw, or a sign that their beer needs more conditioning time in most styles of beer. Wheat beers however, are one well-noted exception to this rule. The big distinction between a good New England IPA, and a beer that needs better brewing practices implemented or longer conditioning, is in the texture and flavor of the beer. The fear here is that with this style's rise in popularity, brewers will use it as an excuse to not produce the best beer they could be. This is certainly a possibility, and despite striving for a cloudy appearance, there should be no drop in flavor, aroma, or mouth feel in your beer. If you have chunks of yeast and hop matter floating around your beer, that's not indicative of a New England IPA; It's indicative of a truly flawed beer. If you've had the pleasure of drinking one of these cloudy masterpieces, they still taste amazing, smell like a basket of ripe tropical fruit, and have a smooth and clean mouth feel despite not being clear. I do think the New England IPAs are finally breaking through the doubt, and becoming an accepted alternate style of IPA. {{block type="hbs_hbs/wordpress_articleFirstSliderBlock"}}

New England Style IPAs and Pale Ales: Basics

So what drives the opaque appearance of these beers, and how does it help drive hop flavor and aroma? Yeast: The yeast used in New England style hoppy beers serves several purposes. The style calls for a low flocculant yeast strain which helps drive some of the cloudiness. Typically you want to use an English style of yeast as well, which will not attenuate as fully as what's used in West coast IPAs. As a bonus, English strains also carry with them a healthy dose of fruity esters, which pile onto the fruitiness added by the hops. Another great yeast option is straight from New England, Vermont Ale Yeast. Here is a full list of recommended yeast strains for NEIPAs:

  • Wyeast, 1318 London Ale III: It is a true top cropping strain with a fruity, very light and softly balanced palate. This strain will finish slightly sweet.
  • White Labs, WLP095 Burlington Ale Yeast: The esters are higher than WLP001, and this yeast has been known to result in more diacetyl, so we suggest increasing the temperature at the end of fermentation.
  • Yeast Bay, Vermont Ale: Accentuates and enhances the fruity flavors and aromas from hops, this ale yeast provides light citrus and balanced estery peach flavors that will perfectly round out your Northeastern IPA.
  • Imperial Organic, Vermont Ale: Imperial's Barbarian strain produces stone fruit esters and works excellent along side citrusy hops varietals.
  • Imperial Organic, Juice Ale: An excellent choice for East Coast IPA's because the ester profile really complements the newer and experimental hops that are commonly use for these ales.
  • Omega, DIPA (Vermont Ale): Most commonly used for hop forward beers and produces a unique ester profile with notes of peach and other fruits. It was originally cultivated from a famous DIPA brewed in Vermont
  • Omega, British Ale: A classic British ale strain that allows your hop and malt characteristics shine. It's highly attenuative and flocculant with fermentation temperatures down to 64°F.

There is a theory that hop oils and resins are able to bind to the residual sugars in the beer which help drive the flavor and aroma to a degree. This last part is another one of the key drivers of the debate I mentioned above. Does residual sugar bind to hop oils to strengthen their presence to the consumer? The jury is out on that one, and we'd love to know your thoughts and experiences on it. The Grain Bill: Brewer's making these foggy hop bombs are looking to remind the drinker of fruit juice. Having a higher final gravity and some residual sweetness helps in that department, but still more should be done to drive a thicker lingering mouth feel. This is where the brewer turns to the grain bill for assistance, and more particularly, wheat. Some brewers use wheat in their IPA grain bills to boost the mouth feel, which again, adds to the cloudiness of the beer. If the part about hop oils and residual sugar is true, that boost in body provided by wheat will keep those hop oils on your taste buds longer won't they? Another option at your disposal to create cloudy beers is adding a small amount of wheat flour to the grain. In addition to creating a dense haze, it will also boost head retention quite a bit. Just a little bit will do (1/8 - 1/4 pound per 5 gallons), with the latter increasing the lauter time required. It won't boost your gravity unless you do a cereal mash on it, so keep that in mind  when deciding how much you want to add. Creating a New England IPA Grain Bill: For your base malt, consider using something like maris otter that adds a bit of extra sweetness and complexity over traditional pale malt. This can be 75-80% of the bill. Don't use more than 5% crystal malt if you do decide to mix some in. Then the final component (up to 20%) is commonly made up of wheat, flaked wheat, flaked oats, or some combination of. Hop Selection: To be clear, there isn't a hop that will make your beer particularly cloudy, but since we are discussing New England IPAs as a style, hop selection needs to be addressed. Brewer's looking to make a beer reminiscent of hoppy juice should avoid the hops with the strong and piney bitterness, and instead stick to the ones that deliver maximum juiciness. Hops like Amarillo, Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, El Dorado, Azacca, and Equinox are all great places to start when selecting hops for these beers. In regards to a hopping schedule, the newest standard practice seems to be the only bittering addition being in the form of a first wort hop, with all other hops going into a whirlpool (make sure your wort is below 170F), and dry hops of course. Time: Time also plays a big role in these cloudy beers' appearances. Speaking to all IPAs here, they are made quickly to be consumed quickly. There's no little message on a Heady Topper or Pliny that says "Ages up to 5 years" like there is on my bourbon county stout. No, these beers push the limits of the time it takes to brew, to get these beers sold and consumed ASAP. This is because hoppy beers fade with time and won't be the same beer. However, the reason this is mentioned is that even a few weeks time in the fridge can turn Heady Topper from a cloudy beer, to a clear one. The beer will also be noticeably different than one that is fresh. This fact brings up two points. One, that New England style IPAs can be cleared with a bit of cold conditioning time, and more importantly the cloudy beer has a different hop profile than the clear one. While a week or two will affect the hop profile of a beer, it won't be so much so that a major difference is noticed. For example, you may have made 5 or more gallons of IPA in your day, and it may have taken 30 or more days to drink it. There was likely some changes in hop profile, but nothing that makes you perceive it as a different beer. So the question that needs to be asked is this. If there's a significant noticeable difference between a fresh Heady Topper, and one that is a few weeks old, just how much flavor and aroma is locked in the cloudiness?

Technical Processes Applied to New England IPAs

Cloudiness Through Bio-transformation: Brewers can also harness the power of hops to drive cloudiness without altering a standard IPA grain bill, or adding wheat flour. Scott Janish did a write-up on how hop compounds can bind with yeast proteins during early fermentation, creating an irreversible haze in New England IPAs. To unlock this property in your next batch, try splitting your dry hops. Add the first half just two days into fermentation. Add the second half later on in the process. Water Considerations: To drive almost any beer to the next level, the water profile should be considered. Shoot for a high chloride to sulfate ratio using gypsum and calcium chloride to achieve a balance of 150-200 chloride to 75-100 sulfate. Both will help lower the mash pH in your beer, and gypsum is prominently used to boost hop presence. Lactose and Vanilla? As you know, this style of beer blew up and it blew up quickly. Some recipes even include lactose additions for extra body and sweetness to help the beer more "juice-like" and less like a beer. The vanilla bean also adds some complexity and sweetness. Think orange creamsicle. If you do go this route, it is a bit out there, so don't say I didn't warn you. 

Closing Thoughts

Whether it was a happy accident, or a well thought out hop invasion, New England style IPAs are big at the moment. But the more I think about it, I feel there has to have been a well planned out method to create the "juciest" IPAs on the planet. Think about it. First we have our classic, clear IPA, that uses the same bold juicy hops that some of these New England IPAs are using. Well to someone, that wasn't fruity or juicy enough of an IPA. So what they did was employ the use of English yeast. This added some more fruity esters and residual sweetness. However, that wasn't good enough either, the beer needed more body (and let's face it, more hops too), so they used wheat to boost the body and mouth feel. Somewhere along the line something clicked, and the New England Style IPA was born. Whoever it was that challenged peoples perceptions that good IPAs must be clear, thank you very much. Lastly, I'd like to drive home the fact that you aren't looking to create a cloudy beer that is chunky or lumpy with hop or yeast bits floating around. You want the cloudiness with a smooth "clean" beer.