What’s Up with the Haze Craze?

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By Michelle DeLong

At it’s hop driven core, the haze craze is yet another classic East Coast vs West Coast battle a la Biggie vs Tupac, Death Row vs Bad Boy, the Lakers vs the Celtics. Melvin Brewing is known for heavy hitting West Coast style IPA’s like the 2x4, but in the spirit of world peace they are embracing the haze craze, too. Find out what exactly makes a West Coast vs East Coast style “hazy” IPA, and why you should be drinking one no matter where the heck you’re from.

History lessons are better with a buzz on. The legend of the West Coast IPA, which eventually became synonymous with craft beer itself, began when a San Francisco based brewery called Anchor began using the old British brewing technique known as “dry hopping” (adding hops after primary fermentation) with dank, Pacific Northwest grown hops, namely Cascade hops from Oregon. This delicious new style, characterized by strong hop aromas and a slight bitterness,  infiltrated palates all along the West Coast, including the likes of Melvin Brewing founder Jeremy Tofte, who began to recreate San Diego style beer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

From the 90’s into the early 2000’s, West Coast style IPA’s were a hype machine. Meanwhile, a legendary brewer named John Kimmich of Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, began to produce more of his canned IPA, Heady Topper, out of necessity (Hurricane Irene had wiped out a lot of his production) and the beer began to gain serious street cred. Word of mouth notoriety spread to mainstream popularity, and in 2013 Heady Topper became the #1 craft beer in the world. While the West Coast brewers were slaying heavy metal guitar riffs, Kimmich from Vermont came in with the smooth jazz. Heady Topper is unfiltered and unpasteurized, which resulted in more flavor-adding particulates in the beer. These particulates (kind of like the pulp in an orange juice, or the milkiness in an unfiltered sake) created an opaque “haze,” which actually wasn’t the original intention.

Fast forward to 2019, and beers that are as seemingly thick as milkshakes are gracing the ‘gram on the daily, and the “haze craze” is a full blown beer trend. Hazy IPA’s are characterized by their fruit forward aroma, hazy appearance, soft carbonation and creamy mouthfeel. In non beer-nerd speak, they’re less bitter, more fruity and more instagrammable than their West Coast counterpart. And although critics are quick to characterize hazy beer as a passing fad, the technique has actually been around a long time– think old school brews like Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens– and, they are actually delicious when done right.

So, what exactly creates the haze? Brewers looking to emulate the East Coast style hazy IPA must be ninja masters at balancing yeast selection, water chemistry, hop selection, and the timing of hop additions. Let’s break it down, nerds, you love it.

Yeast Selection: To make hazy IPA’s, brewers use specific yeast strains that stay in suspension within liquid after fermentation has ended, rather than settling to the bottom and getting filtered out. This adds the “haze” look and additional flavor.

Water Chemistry: Any brewer worth his hops knows that beer is actually mostly water, and good water makes good beer. Water that is low in sulfates tends to produce less bitter tasting beer, a characteristic of the hazy IPA and of water found in New England.

Hop Selection: Hop varietals with fruit forward notes, like Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy, produce the tropical fruit notes and drinkability that hazy’s are known for. Although not exactly hazy, Melvin Brewing’s RIIPA Citradamus uses Citra hops to get that same orange peel flavor.

Timing of Hop Additions: Welcome to the wonderful world of dry hopping and double dry hopping. A common practice among both West and East Coast IPA producers, dry hopping refers to adding hop pellets after primary fermentation, which tends to add more hop flavor and aroma with reduced additional bitterness. Recent trends include adding super concentrated hop powder, like lupulin powder and Cryo hops (Melvin Brewing jumped on board with this trend by using lupulin powder to up the Hop Shocker’s flavor profile.) To create haze, extra pellets and/or powder are added in this phase.

So, there you have it: don’t let the snobs and naysayers tell you that hazy is lazy. Though they still claim allegiance to the West Coast of Wyoming, Melvin has added an East Coast haze of their own to the RIIPA series: the Hazy 5000. This brew comes through with delicious mango and passionfruit flavor, low bitterness, and serious drinkability. Also, the Bellingham brewpub location is pouring the 2Ma2H Juicy Pale brewed with Imperial Juice yeast, which is like a softer version of the Cloudy. Take them for a rip, and don’t hate, get hazy.