12 May A Hazy Treatise
Given the recent press and discussion surrounding so-called New England Style IPA, we felt that we needed to express our philosophy around these hazy beers that everyone is so up in arms about. We have been mentioned a number of times in relation to these beers but so far, have not had the opportunity to discuss them in full or talk about our thoughts about them.
Just as a quick primer. New England Style IPAs are American IPAs that are built and dry hopped with the focus being on big, juicy hop flavor and aroma with a tendency toward reducing the traditional IPA bitterness that we are accustomed to. These beers all have another specific characteristic: some level of haze. This seems to be the most controversial part of these beers. The acceptable amount and visual characteristics of the beers vary by brewer and often stem from the brewery’s personal palate and aesthetic sensibilities. The controversy surrounding hazy suspension is related to a traditional brewing sensibility where a beer is not complete unless it is clear and haze free. You can find many discussions (and yes, arguments) about this all over the beer-geek corners of the internet.
Sean Buchan, our head brewer, and I both really like these types of beer. A few years ago, Sean was integrating this methodology into his homebrewing and completely knocking me out with the beers he was bringing by. I was amazed by the aromatics. I was smelling candy and fruit flavors like I had never had before. Huge waves of citrus – discernible orange, tangerine, lemon and lime flavors – mixed with mango, pineapple, and peach filled the glass. It was awesome. I have been drinking IPA since the late 90s and thought I had seen everything under the sun. This was something new and interesting and revelatory. I started trying to get commercial examples only to find out that they were really rare and not available through normal methods. Commercial examples are now starting to become much more available but at the time, Heady Topper from The Alchemist, and beers from Hill Farmstead were the gold standard. To this day, they are not easy to get unless your mom lives in Vermont. These types of beers became a focus as we developed the underlying precepts for Cerebral Brewing. We liked the results so much, it just made sense to build our hoppy beers to represent these techniques.
Cerebral Brewing has been making hoppy beers like this since we opened. You will notice that I said “hoppy beers” instead of “IPA.” This distinction is important to us as we generally feel that the criteria that make a “New England Style IPA” are some combination of techniques surrounding the times when hops are added as well as a few other technical steps. We use these techniques in multiple beer styles. While Rare Trait is under the IPA umbrella, Muscle Memory is an American Pale and we use derivations of the techniques in our other offerings.
It seems to be that the techniques that work in conjunction to create the sensory profile of these beers are as follows:
Modifying the brewing water to increase chloride levels. This softens the overall perception of hop bitterness and is said to increase the perception of malt character. We feel that it makes the mouthfeel softer and full.
Adding adjuncts to our grain bill. Things like oats, wheat and spelt add mouthfeel and body to the beer. With regard to the haze, it seems that proteins left in the beer could act as nucleation and aggregation points for any number of other molecules. It bears mentioning that we do use Whirlfloc in our boil, which is intended to flocculate proteins and other haze causing agents. Interesting, no?
Adding the bulk of your hot side hop additions during the whirlpool step. We lower our temp so that we allow less of the conversion (isomerization) of alpha acids to their bitter iso-alpha conformations. Secondarily, reducing temperature at this point reduces the volatilization of terpenoid and isoprenoid compounds. These are molecules with fun names like limonene, linalool, and myrcene that are molecules naturally expressed by the hops plant. They make up characteristic odors of citrus, spice, tropical fruit, flowers, pine and all of the other lovely aromas that we love about hops. We do not want these slipping into the ether by the crude act of boiling them away.
Dry hopping during a period toward the end of active fermentation. Dry hopping is the act of adding hops to a nearly finished beer to boost the intensity of hop presence in a beer. Traditionally, dry hopping is done when the yeast has ceased fermentative activity. In recent years a growing number of anecdotal examples as well as academic papers have suggested that if the dry hopping is done during active fermentation, a process (frustratingly) dubbed biotransformation occurs. One example suggests that terpenes as mentioned above can be freed from other molecular constructs by the activity of yeast. Yeast have also been shown to convert terpenoid alcohols to other conformations. This could get really organic chemistry-ish so I will stop there but the resulting effect is that by breaking some of the traditional rules, we are getting a bolder and more intense palette of hop derived compounds. This leads to a more tasty and aromatic beer, in the end.
Not filtering or cold fining. We don’t have a filter. That is pretty simple. There are beers that we probably would filter if we had the money for one. We also cold-fine some beers. Biofine is a product that is added to a beer to remove haze and particulate material through aggregation and flocculation. We add Biofine to some beers, some we don’t. Specifically, our hoppy beers.
I have been reading a lot since we took a stand on these types of beers. So far, I have not found a great description of what makes these beers hazy. My assumption from the articles I have read, is that there is an aggregation of the molecules derived from all of the above steps that leaves a persistent haze in beers made this way. Yes, there is some amount of yeast cells suspended in these beers. We have never denied that. We have an aesthetic standard with regard to that though too. There is a threshold where a hazy beer becomes a glass of yeast. That is not up to any standard that we hold. The mouthfeel becomes gritty and not particularly pleasurable.
How much yeast is acceptable? I don’t know. You get to pick that for yourself. What I can say is that under the microscope, Rare Trait, our flagship beer produced with these methods has around fifty thousand yeast cells per milliliter straight from the faucet. At the time I wrote this, that was less than double the amount of yeast found in our more clear (brighter) beers. I will also note that we feel these beers are best served fresh and that given time, any particulate haze will fall out of suspension if the beer is left to sit long enough. Gravity!
I guess that I need to state for the record: Haze is not our goal. While Sean and I find a nice hazy beer to be aesthetically pleasing, especially when there is a bit of light refracting through it, giving it a bright glow, flavor and aroma are our primary goals. Honestly, if we could get the same aroma and flavor in a beer and it fell perfectly clear, we would be just as happy with that. What we are seeing is that when the beers we make in this way are fined with something like Biofine, things just get all weird and flavors and aromas get much more muddy and slightly diminished.
This leads me to Shotgun Diplomacy. We used the techniques as we normally do and produced a beer with notes of orange, lemon, and cherry candy flavors. It has an undertone of spice and just a touch of pine resin. It is a bit sweet and there is a touch of alcohol heat. It’s a Double IPA! When you drink it we want you to hold it up and take a look. Its haze is slight, giving it a gentle straw colored glow and to be honest, we like looking at it.