First Draughts: Taste-testing hazy IPAs to see how they stack up
Following my first writeup about the hazy IPA in October 2016, a lot has happened in the beer world. Wicked Weed is now wholly owned by AB InBev, Avery is partially owned by a brewery in Spain, Stone Brewing is suing MillerCoors over Keystone Light, Greenflash is selling its Virginia Beach brewery that it built in 2016 and the rest will be foreclosed upon by its creditors, and three out of the four largest craft breweries in the country now have a hazy IPA as part of their lineup. Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium all jumped on the haze train. Though they are a little tardy, they are in the game. How do these offerings stack up against each other? Well, I drank them all for you to find out.
The first thing about New England IPA is the can design. They are usually 16 ounces with stickers on blank aluminum cans for labels. This is because printed cans are ordered by the truckload, which saves pennies on the can, but is a huge cost upfront for most breweries. Even still, the sticker-on-aluminum has become the sought after aesthetic. This aspect was not missed on Sam Adams for their New England IPA (catchy name, right?). Their 16-ounce can is printed, but they left the bottom and top blank, giving a nod to the sticker-on-aluminum trend. New Belgium gets the 16-ounce can and has an equally unoriginal name, Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA. Sierra Nevada got clever with their name – Hazy Little Thing – but they have a printed 12-ounce can. (I know I’ve seen 16-ounce Sierra Nevada Pale Ale cans, so wtf Sierra Nevada?)
When a legit NEIPA is poured in a glass, you should be able to confuse it with a frothy glass of OJ. This is the appearance of the most sought-after beers in the style, but Heady Topper, the progenitor of the style, has a slight bit of translucence around the edges, so it’s not totally out of spec if it’s not a straight-up glass of Sunny Delight. Colors also vary with the style, but they are usually yellow to orange. Getting into amber is a no-no.
Out of the the three beers, New Belgium scores the highest, with a solid copper hue and dense fog. I feel like Sam Adams gets a little too bronze in color. Sierra Nevada doesn’t look like it’s a traditional NEIPA at all, but it has a light cloudiness, and looks like it was treated with a haze-forming compound like tannic acid, but the color is a beautiful yellow maize.
In the flavor and aroma category, NEIPAs should have a big nose of tropical, citrus, stone and/or orchard fruits and berries, and super fresh floral, herbal, piney, and/or resinous notes that hang out in the background to complement and accentuate the fruit aromas. There may also be a small hint of cracker, bready, or oatmeal aroma. The same goes for the flavors. The beers should taste like carbonated fruit juice with a hint of an herbal bitter sensation and a full, soft body from the dense malt bill.
Sam Adams really hits all the notes with theirs, getting a great body and minty citrus aroma with a hint of expensive hipster soap. The flavor is cheap orange juice with highly-curated herbal succulents to raise the brows to the hairline. The Voodoo Ranger is very light on the hops and fruit, but has a good malt character. It’s more pebbles and less fruity, like someone dropped some orange slices in the malt-o-meal. The body is more on point, but drifts into syrup instead of soft. Hazy Little Thing is an all around great beer. The aroma is a casual tropical fruit and citrus zest with a little bit of fresh Colorado air, like fresh bud with pine needles. The flavor rides a wicked line between J-U-I-C-E and too many herbacious weed snacks. It’s bong water sub OJ. It’s highly refreshing, super clean in the mouth, with just a tiny bit of cling.
Though Hazy Little Thing is my prefered beer out of the three, it does not fit the style with mouth-feel or opacity. I will drink it again though. I feel like Sam Adams has a good start, but they need to dial back the dark malts and refocus the hops to the fruity side a little more. New Belgium just needs about 10 times the amount of hops and they will have a rocking example of the style.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.