Here’s this week’s On Tap column for The Advocate originally published here.
A decade ago, just about the only cloudy looking beer you could find was a classic German hefeweizen. My how times have changed.
Beers once thought of as flawed if they were the least bit cloudy are now purposely unfiltered, hazy and downright opaque. Why the change? Well, it’s a long story.
Crystal clear beer has long been a goal for many beer styles. Sure, it doesn’t matter in darker beers like brown ales, porters and stouts. But that pilsner you’re drinking will be crystal clear. Until recently, pale ales and IPAs were also expected to be seen through in the glass and lambasted if they were cloudy.
In the past, pale ales and IPAs were brewed using grains that didn’t leave proteins in the finished product. West Coast-style IPAs are famous for their clarity, with breweries like Sierra Nevada and Stone leading the charge years ago. East Coast breweries, such as Dogfish Head, also made clear IPAs that were somewhat darker than their West Coast counterparts.
Roughly a dozen years ago, Vermont brewery The Alchemist released an IPA called Heady Topper. This beer was an unfiltered IPA that was cloudy in appearance yet widely praised for its hop aroma and flavor. More breweries in that region, like Hill Farmstead, Trillium and Treehouse, also began brewing similarly hazy hoppy beers. Thus, the New England IPA, also known as NEIPA, was born.
What makes a NEIPA? It’s not just the haze. NEIPAs are characterized by big hoppy aroma, juicy tropical flavors, and soft mouthfeel. There’s very little bitterness on the finish, a stark contrast to the West Coast IPAs of yesteryear. However, all this comes at a cost. These hoppy and hazy creations have a much shorter shelf life and must be consumed fresh.
These beers became cult favorites among the beer trading circuit (yes, beer trading is a big deal). Hopheads across the country were seeking out these beers from smaller breweries. Now, breweries nationwide have jumped on the haze craze, and there’s no looking back.
In Louisiana, Parish Brewing was one of the first to brew a hazy IPA. The brewery’s Ghost in the Machine double IPA debuted four years ago. After several recipe and process tweaks, Ghost in the Machine is now one of the most sought-after hazy IPAs in the nation. To that end, all of Parish’s portfolio of hoppy beers are hazy, from Envie pale ale to IPAs such as Nova Vert and Bloom.
Other breweries around the state have taken note, producing their own versions of a NEIPA, or at least a hazy hoppy beer.
Gnarly Barley introduced Jucifer, a juicy and hazy IPA, in May 2017 as a new flagship beer. It became so popular in a short amount of time that the brewery couldn’t keep up with demand until recently.
Tin Roof retired Voodoo Bengal, one of its initial offerings, re-branding and re-packaging the beer as Voodoo, a cloudy and well-hopped pale ale. Since its debut last May, Voodoo has become a best seller.
Other local breweries have their own iterations of the style, including Great Raft’s Grace and Grit double IPA; Urban South’s Holy Roller IPA; and NOLA Brewing Company’s recently introduced double IPA, Hoppyright Infringement.
National breweries have also jumped on board. Sierra Nevada, which used to be squarely in the West Coast IPA camp, recently released Hazy Little Thing IPA.
The popularity of the style is showing no signs of fading and is bringing new beer drinkers into the fold. People who previously swore off IPAs altogether have now found hoppy beers they enjoy. If you fall into this category of beer drinkers, it’s time to embrace the haze and try out this new school of IPAs.