No, IPA Isn’t Played Out Yet, Even Though That Guy Who Just Learned About Beer Won’t Shut Up About It
Why it’s a good time to sink into the haze, and tips on how to do it right.
September 6, 2018 ● 4 min read
By Jesse Friedman | Image iStock, art by ChefsFeed
Hazy IPA is the greatest, most delicious beer style in the world right now. Why? It’s a style entirely driven by the pursuit of full-throated flavor.
The result of new dry hopping techniques and hop varietals combined with flavor-focused fermentation, these opaque juice bombs loaded with tropical aromas are currently flooding tap lists and the shelves of your local bottle shop. Each bright 16 oz can promises more haze, more juice, and more terps—those aromatic oil compounds that make hops smell so good.
The irony of IPA is that while its apocryphal history is all about hops being used as a preservative in beer to keep it fresh for the long, hot journey to India, today’s IPAs are some of the most delicate, temperamental beers the world has ever known. And as the market gets more and more crowded, and more beers are released, it gets harder and harder to know what to drink, what’s fresh, and where to get it.
Okay, so what is it? Hazy IPAs come to us from the North East, and tend to vary from West Coast IPA (the King is dead, long live the King) in a few important ways: first, the grist (the cereal grains that provide the sugar for yeast to convert into alcohol) are pilsner or pale malt, with a hearty dose of wheat, oats and other high-protein grains. This is what gives hazy IPAs their namesake opacity, and creamy, rich mouthfeel. At the end of the brewing process, the beer is left unfiltered, heavy with grain proteins and yeast.
Speaking of yeast, the fermentation process has been updated too. Clean, dry yeasts are replaced by more expressive ones with fruity esters and more sweetness.
Finally, there are the hops: IPAs used to be characterized by a balanced bitterness and with hops added throughout the brewing process for flavor, aroma, and structure. Now, all the hops are added at the end of the brewing process and even more after fermentation, tilting the balance wildly towards big fruity aromas and ultra-low bitterness. New, trendy hops are in, and old standbys like Cascade, Centennial and other West Coast classics are out. Those classic IPA aromas of pine and spice are replaced by white grape, mango and ripe fruit salad from trendy hops like Citra, Mosaic and New Zealand’s Nelson.
Great IPAs start life in a perfectly clean, temperature controlled stainless steel tank. Every step they go through after that—transportation, bottling or canning, kegging, or distribution—sucks away a little of its life force. A few things to keep in mind for the ultimate entry into the haze:
If you can, buy at a brewery. Belly up to the bar and ask what’s fresh and delicious, then have a pint and make sure you love it before you fill up a growler (or its aluminum half brother, a crowler) to take home. A great growler is filled allllll the way to the top and capped on cascading foam, ensuring that as much oxygen (the enemy of fresh beer) is kept out as possible. Drink within a few days.
Only buy beer that is stored cold. Anything warm on the floor can be ignored, no matter what the discount sale signs say. Warmth dramatically speeds up the aging process of beers. We’re looking for beer that’s never seen the sun, let alone room temperature. Once you find something cold that looks good, check the dates on the bottom of the cans. No date? No sale. For Hazy IPA, we’re looking for something less than two weeks old, tops. If it’s a good store, ask what’s fresh: any beer buyer worth talking to will know what’s good. Once you’ve made your purchase, keep it cold!
If you want the most out of it…get that beer out of the can and into a glass. Yes, I’m really going to tell you how to drink your beer, but also: feel free to ignore all of this and drink the beer straight from the can. Beer is meant to be delicious, fun, casual and communal. Getting the most out of it is always second to enjoying the context, company, and surroundings.
And not just any glass, if you can. Shaker pints are for mixing cocktails and responsible glasses of water—keep your delicious IPA out of them. Instead, try a large tulip glass, or even a big red wine glass. A big bowl shape will collect these delicious terpy aromas and show off what the brewer has worked so hard to create.
The choice on how to pour is yours: it can be carefully and gently poured into a glass, leaving a small amount of unfiltered trub behind in the can. For a more rustic experience, give the beer a gentle roll to mix anything that has settled onto the bottom a gentle rouse. Pour the beer to create some head! An inch or two of frothy white head on a beer releases the aromas from the juice below, showing off the delicious hop aromas we’ve worked so hard to maintain. Beer’s carbonation is designed to be released when poured—a few fingers of foam means you’re doing it right.
Then, stick your nose in there. Inhale deeply, cracking your mouth open just a bit to pull the aromas onto your tongue. You’re looking for bright, fruity aromas of citrus, stone fruit, grape, and more tropical shades of mango, papaya, and melon.
And finally, drink the beer! This is, of course, the most important part. A note for wine lovers: while you can swish some wine around in your mouth and spit it out, beer can’t be tasted this way. Beer’s bitter component – an essential contribution from hops beyond flavor—can’t be tasted without swallowing.
Armed with these tips, you should be ready to brave the cold, unforgiving world of ultra-fresh aromatic IPA. Here are a few of my favorites across the country to get you started: in Los Angeles, CA, look up Monkish Brewing Co., and Highland Park Brewery. In San Francisco? Cellarmaker Brewing Co. Reno, Nevada's got Revision, Charlton, Massachusetts has Tree House. Hill Farmstead can be found in fair Greensboro, Vermont. Find American Solera out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Other Half in Brooklyn, New York.