On a sunny January morning, shortly after Great Notion Brewing opened the doors to its Portland, Oregon, taproom for the first time, it had a visitor. He was an employee from a brewery a few miles away who had come to sample the newcomer’s wares, and he chose a pint of RIPE, a 7% American IPA. But when Great Notion co-founder and brewer James Dugan set the beer before him, the visitor seemed incredulous. He lifted the glass high in the air, squinting at it. “I just want you to know,” the man told Dugan, “This style of beer is not going to fly in Portland.” He went on to tell Dugan that Great Notion needed to work on its filtration or no one would be willing to buy its ales.
The problem? The IPA Dugan poured for him was cloudy.
Now, cloudiness absolutely can be a sign of a low-quality beer. If there are issues with yeast and its fermentation, certain adjuncts or, yes, filtration, tiny particles remain suspended in a beer, murking it up and contributing off-putting flavors. But, Dugan says, that’s not what had happened here. RIPE, along with most of the IPAs he produces at Great Notion, is an example of a new permutation of the most popular style in the country—one with less bitterness and (gasp!) a hazy glow—that’s poised to become IPA’s new ideal.
There have always been variations in IPAs, of course: Some shine and shimmer in translucent gold while others have a deep, caramel hue; some wallop the nose with citrus and pine needles whereas others caress it with soft melon and mango. But this new breed of IPA differs from its forebears in more meaningful ways.
First, the most obvious: It’s cloudy. Far from the superclear IPAs that you could read a book through, this offshoot sports haze that ranges from early morning fog to extra-pulp Tropicana. This “glow” isn’t a bug, however; it’s a feature. Brewers add massive amounts of hops to beers late in the brewing process—while they’re fermenting, usually—that packs them with haze-causing compounds called polyphenols. When they choose not to filter the beer completely, these compounds remain suspended in the liquid, fogging it up.
But cloudiness isn’t the only departure these IPAs take from the norm. “To me, it’s always been about the yeast,” says Connor Casey, founder of Cellarmaker Brewing Co. in San Francisco. “The yeast sweetens the hops and gives these fruity, peachy notes that work really well with them.” While many examples of classically bright, bitter IPA use an American yeast strain that lends a dry finish and contributes few fruity flavors, this new IPA is most often brewed with a modified British ale strain that’s like the devil-may-care cousin from across the pond: It eats less sugar (leaving the beer sweeter), throws off a ton of fruity flavor and sticks around inside a beer well after the party’s over. In this new breed of IPA, bitterness is of secondary importance (Great Notion’s imperial IPA, Juice Box, clocks in at just 60 IBUs) and grains that can contribute additional haziness and body, like oats and wheat, are welcome. In an effort to avoid any loss of hop aroma and flavor, many brewers are choosing to cut short the several days usually allotted for yeast particles to settle out of a beer, and some are skipping any form of filtration altogether—appearances be damned.
“I don’t really understand the importance of serving a crystal-clear pint of beer,” Dugan says. “What’s more important to me is serving a beer that, when it’s put in front of you, the aromas of mango and papaya and pineapple are just jumping out of the glass at your nose. If you close your eyes and it tastes amazing, why worry about how it looks?”
Why, indeed? As a quick glance at any current list of top-ranked IPAs will show, most beer geeks (save a few staunch holdouts) have embraced IPA’s newfound opacity. Eight of the 10 best-rated India pale ales on RateBeer, as of this writing, are part of this new breed of cloudy, flavorful brew; that number jumps to nine on BeerAdvocate. The Alchemist, Trillium, Tree House and other breweries that specialize in IPAs of this nature can hardly brew them quickly enough to keep up with consumer demand. Which is sort of the point—even the bitterest, brightest, West Coastiest IPAs lose some hop character during the days spent in bright tanks or during filtration; the natural evolution of a style defined by its freshness and hop character requires that brewers skip these steps, crafting their beers to get from kettle to keg in a shorter time than almost any other beer. As a result, they’re often as fresh and flavorful as IPAs get. Which brings us back to Great Notion’s nay-saying RIPE drinker. After listening to his arguments against hazy beer, Dugan refunded the dude’s pint but gave him one directive. “I told him, ‘Go out back, and close your eyes, and sit in the sun and drink that beer.’” The cynic did, and after he finished his pint, he returned inside and apologized. His judgment had been clouded. The IPA had been, too.
Four To Try:
The Alchemist Heady Topper
“I am not reinventing the wheel of IPA,” Alchemist brewer John Kimmich says. “The British wrote the song of IPA; I’m just making a cover song.” Give the man a Grammy; this insanely popular, intensely resinous imperial IPA brewed in Vermont has a hop character that blends liquefied marijuana and grass blades with sugar-dusted orange slices atop a crackery malt base. Consistently ranked among the top beers in the world, it’s considered by many the beer that forecasted the cloudy IPA trend.
Tired Hands PUNGE
Mimosalike in appearance, this Pennsylvania-brewed imperial IPA gains a soft, creamy body from an infusion of oats, while hops from New Zealand provide a garlicky, sesame seed-speckled bouquet. Ginger, scallions and fresh broccoli initiate the sip, fading to soft, herbal bitterness— lemongrass, sweet basil—that lingers long after the sugar cookie finish.
Tree House Julius
The nods to a certain citrus fruit in this IPA from Massachusetts aren’t coincidental; the peel and juice of oranges are everywhere in the aroma, filling out notes of freshly mown grass. A smoothielike flavor leads with more orange andwheatgrass, while soft marmaladeand onion jam slide into pulpy tanginess at the swallow.
Maine Beer II
India Pale Ales and double IPAs aren’t the only hop-forward beers becoming clouded. Beer II is a 4.7% session IPA that swells to the nose with a gorgeous aroma of onion, dried mango slices and honeysuckle. Delicate straw like and sweet tropical hop flavors lead each sip; dried orange peel emerges and relinquishes to a faintly bitter, remarkably even finish.