The U.S. brewing scene has long been defined by its love affair with hops. Far and beyond, American pale ales and India pale ales tend to be high in clarity; the BJCP Style Guide stipulates that the appearance of an American IPA “should be clear”, noting that “unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy”. Like many modern American breweries, hop-forward beers make up a large part of The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. repertoire. And if you’ve tried any of our hop-forward beers recently enough to recall its appearance, you’d probably note that the description “a bit hazy” is, more often than not, a vast understatement.
In terms of brewing philosophy, we’ve definitely never gone out of our way to strictly adhere to style guidelines. Aside from clarity, a high level of bitterness is also a defining characteristic of hop-forward American beer styles – to the contrary, we’re all about hop-forward beers with low bitterness. Really hazy ones, at that.
The concept of making juicy, flavorful, highly aromatic pale beers with a distinctly cloudy appearance is certainly not of our own invention. This different approach to pale beers has become the hallmark of several modern American breweries. Larger, more established breweries are beginning to venture into this territory as well, with products such as Samuel Adams’ Rebel Raw and Stone’s upcoming Enjoy By Unfiltered.
But the link between high hop content / low bitterness beers and haziness is more than just an artistic decision. To best utilize the properties that contribute to flavor and aroma, hops must be added towards the end of the brewing process (and also afterwards, in some cases, in the form of dry-hopping). This means that without the use of either a filtration process or clarifying agents, many of the oils, polyphenols, and other compounds that contribute to cloudiness – as well as flavor – are retained in the final product.
It’s worth noting, however, that hop haze should not be confused with murkiness caused by suspended solids. This type of haze should be uniform and homogeneous, not a muddy soup of excess yeast, chunky particulate matter, or sediment.
The topic of haze can at times be a point of contention within the beer community. Google searches related to hop haze largely turn up results about how to best go about reducing it. Its critics condemn its aesthetic qualities and often dismiss it as the product of laziness or corner-cutting. We like to think that it’s the product of squeezing out every last drop of dankness, showcasing the aromas and flavors that are often overpowered by aggressive bitterness.
Bitterness and clarity have come to define the American IPA and pale ale categories, but softer, hazy pales have gained enough traction to establish themselves as more than just a fleeting trend. And especially when served fresh, they glow with a radiance you’ll never get from something that’s crystal clear. We’re on board.