Our brewer mate is back with his take on the haze craze...where do you stand with hazy beers? I must admit a really well crafted hazy is growing on me..!

Hazy Beers. What are they? What does it really mean? And why?

While the colder months are still in our grips, and the dark beers are experiencing their time to shine, the sun and heat of spring and summer are just around the corner. In the world of modern beer, that generally means two things. Dry, thirst quenching sours are about to start finding their way into aluminium vessels large and small, and one of the most recent of all beer fads will no doubt return, the “hazy”,” juicy” IPA and NEIPA’s.

Go back 5 or 6 years and you’d be a fool to think anyone could win over the majority of beer drinkers with a product that appears thick and muddy in the glass. Yeasty and heavy, this aesthetic just never appealed in the new world of “enlightened” and “discerning” beer drinker. They were a lil uptight and arrogant, to be fair, and they knew an excessively cloudy looking beer was simply not one produced to the highest quality standards. This was no doubt a hangover from generations of conditioning via mass produced beer consumption (as much as the modern craft beer drinker likes to distance themselves from this association). We simply saw excessively cloudy beer as flawed.

Ultimately though, there are countless reasons why a beer will appear cloudy in a glass. Some are absolutely due to poor quality standards. Whether that be poor cellaring performance, rushing the beer from fermentation into package, some sort of bacterial infection, or simply unbalanced and garbage beer. But on the flip side, some beers are actually just designed to show a cloudy hue (wheat beer, anyone?), and in no way indicate any sort of fault when they show up with a little bit of substance in your glass.

In the ultra-competitive, unendingly creative world of “craft” beer, brewers around the world are always trying to create the new, never before thought of, style of beer to flash their genius and hang their name on. A few years ago, a brewery in Vermont, northeast USA did exactly that with their creation of the New England IPA (NEIPA).

What makes a beer cloudy?

Leaving behind the previously mentioned faults that can lead to a cloudy or hazy finished beer, there are a couple of main reasons why beers will turn out with an opaque appearance.

Number 1 to remember here is that in beer scientific theory, haze is a major focus. “Chill haze” forms naturally in beer when proteins carried through from the grain/malt react with tannins from the bittering or flavouring hops to form solids that will come out of dissolution when the liquid is chilled to near freezing (funnily enough, exactly how we like to drink it). A small amount of protein is important in producing beer to allow for good yeast health during fermentation, can help produce certain fruity flavours in the right types of beer, and will also add to the “body” and mouthfeel of the finished liquid. However, a lot of time is spent in the brewing process attempting to remove the bulk of this protein and the ultimate haze it produces before we as the drinker ever get a chance to see it. Generally speaking, this chill haze actually has no effect on the taste of the beer, but it simply looks terrible, so must be eliminated.

Why? Because we drink with our eyes way before we ever get a glass to our face holes. More often than not if we were to spot a muddy or cloudy looking beer in a glass coming at us over a bar, our first instinct will tell us that it’s not something we want to drink. We will probably also assume that there will be some sort of funky smell coming from this cloud water you’re being presented with. Whether or not that is true, it’s just how our brains work. We consume with our eyes and nose before our tastebuds even gets a look in. Generally speaking, we expect our beer to be bright and clean. How else are we going to convince ourselves to drink 12 of them…? (But seriously, no one likes a drunk, drink responsibly)    

So breweries will for the most part force this haze into existence within the confines of the brewery, and then filter or centrifuge it out before sending the beer to the packaging line. But there are exceptions, and when done right, these beers are showing themselves for their uniqueness, their full flavour and their intense drinkability.  

So what are the beers that should be cloudy?

This can absolutely be down to individual preference (who am I to tell you whether your beer should have a yeast cloud or not?), but as always with beer, it comes down to one major factor. Balance. Certain beers, with their grain bill and hopping regimes and the type of yeast they use for fermentation, will carry the right amount of haze to add to the experience.

Take the German wheat beer example I mentioned earlier. These beers contain a significant proportion of wheat (it’d be hard to be a “wheat beer” without it…) and wheat is significantly higher in protein than standard brewers malted barley. This protein not only adds to the body of the wheat beer, which is undoubtedly more full in sensation than a lager or pale ale, but more importantly reacts with the type of yeast used to create the fruity esters that help add to the flavour of these great summer ales. Candied banana and clove, hints of pineapple, they all come from the reaction between protein and yeast.

On the other hand, these beers are incredibly low hopped, so the protein/hop tannin relationship that can lead to haze isn’t as relevant here. But there is another important factor at play. This type of yeast has a far lower tendency to “floc” in the fermentation tank (or as people say in the real world, stick together), as its cell wall binds to carbon dioxide and keeps floating. So what we end up with is a full flavoured beer from the protein in suspension, and a more cloudy appearance as the yeast remains floating about in the finished product, imparting all of those important flavours I mentioned before.

Why is all of this important? Well, when the NEIPA came into existence, essentially what the breweries were doing was taking all of this learning from the effects of wheat and protein on the appearance and ultimate drinking sensation, as well as the selection of the right strains of yeast, and mashing that up with the tried and successful formula that is IPA, to create the ultimate hybrid. IPA’s are known for their intense fruitiness and full flavour, so were a good match for the fruity esters created from carried-through protein, so there was never a reason why the two couldn’t have a happy marriage.

The great NEIPA is a slightly toned down IPA, the bitterness is brought back to more mid-range levels, with the generous dry-hopping continued to give off all of those tropical fruit aromas we’ve come to expect. The beer still finishes dry and clean. The wheat is added to the grain bill to provide the protein building blocks of even more fruit (hence why we think of them as “juicy”, the fruit is through the roof now) as well as adding the sensation of a full mouthfeel and probably most importantly, leaving behind all of that haze that is its trademark.

Is there anything else to know?

Sure. There’s two other things I wanted to mention. There has been the occasional brewery over the last couple years that created a hazy IPA or NEIPA and went for the quick fix. They either just threw a bunch of flour in with the mash and made no attempt to remove it the rest of the way, made a standard IPA, and went “voila. Here’s the hazy you ordered”. I mean, that’ll work, but I could also bring a packet of flour with me to the pub and drop couple of spoonful’s in my glass myself. I’m not giving you $10+ a glass for that.

Or the other approach was for some to add lactose (the sugar found in milk) to the beer to impart sweetness, as it won’t ferment to alcohol, which ultimately adds to the fruity sensation as well as filling out the body of the beer and the complexity of the mouthfeel. In the case of the now refined NEIPA or hazy IPA, this doesn’t really work, it’s too much and messes with that all important balance. But what it did do was open the door for the more creative breweries to wander down the path of “milkshake” IPA’s and the newly fashionable “pastry” stouts. Lactose has its place, just not really in the juicy IPA.

Technically, yes, these are hazy beers and will incorporate a lot of the techniques I’ve just run through. But this article is already long enough and these types of beers are a creation unto themselves.

So I’ll leave this one here. Now that you know how and why they exist, enjoy a hazy this summer.

Or don’t.

Have a standard IPA or lager or pale ale, or whatever it is you like to drink. Do what you want, you’re an adult and I’m not your mum. But always remember, it doesn’t hurt to give something new a try.

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