The Session No. 126 – Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

As part of today’s Session, Gail Ann Williams of Beer by BART has asked about very cloudy IPAs of which the milkshake-looking New England type is Big Kahuna today.

Having studied the history of beer closely, especially the tradition of top-fermentation brewing from which pale ale and India Pale Ale emerged, I can say cloudiness is a late bloomer. Most authorities and drinkers until recently who commented on haze in such beers disapproved it, in a tradition stretching back hundreds of years.

It was regarded as a fault both aesthetic and from a taste standpoint. It’s not just something related to the onset of glass vessels either, it goes deeper than that. Typical deprecating terms or phrases were muddy, pigs wrestled in it, pond life – you get the idea.

Lager followed the same requirement, yet more rigorously and for good reason IMO given the funky “green” flavours of much yeasty lager.

In the general brewing tradition, German wheat beer was the main exception, and some other wheat styles, as Wit or Gose. Their particular yeast flavours and/or spicing and wheaty taste were viewed to excuse an otherwise inexcusable fault.

Unfiltered in English practice meant the beers were fined on cask to ensure a clear pint. And they were poured clear from bottles left to stand to settle out the yeast.

True, in practice the ideal sometimes wasn’t attained, or became a non-issue (porter and stout), but visible departures from the norm were never viewed as acceptable.

What changed?

I saw it happen over a 40 year period here. I am convinced that craft brewers misunderstood the meaning of unfiltered in English tradition. And being aware some wheat beer was turbid, they started to roughly filter their beer, in some cases just relying on the cold crash or natural yeast settling which still left noticeable haze. It was viewed as natural, even healthy.

In my view, the practice often results in upsetting the balance desired between malt, hop, and yeast background. However, and the New England type is a good example, the very forward New World hop tastes sometime make the balance issue less important. When you have such big hop flavours to work with, a little yeasty offset is no such bad thing. The Vermont method capitalizes on this perception and it does result in some good beers, as are some non-Vermont IPAs which have a cloudy mien.

When the beers are hopped in an English way, or in an American way but modestly, too much yeast generally hurts them IMO. I know some people feel a lot of that haze is simply protein, but in practice most hazy IPA is full of residual yeast, you can taste it.

In a business where nothing is really new under the sun, the emergence of the cloudy style is something truly new. However, it came about IMO due to the onset of American and other New World hop types, which themselves are mostly new – last 40 years or so. So they kind of go together.

Except on draft in a bar, you can adjust cloudiness to your liking by allowing the bottle or can to rest and settle out, as most will over time. I do this and pour them almost clear, sometimes I’ll add a bit of yeast from the base of the can if I think it can help the taste. I’ve noticed the raw acerbic edge of citric hops is sometimes softened by a dose of yeast, which brings it back to my point above.

Finally, I don’t really think the lower bitterness of the New England style (which in practice varies) or the extra opalescence of the type, makes any difference to this question of cloudy being good, bad or indifferent. It’s just another form of citric/fruity/dank IPA, i.e., the American twist that emerged from beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Bert Grant’s India Pale Ale.