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I challenge you to find a topic more contentious than haze in beer. Minus the odd, typically wheat-based style, the general mandate for clarity is the clearer the better–crystal is best. Well, for one reason or another our friends over in New England have decided to buck the trend: instead of crisp, dry, crystal clear megadank hop bombs the New Englanders have opted to follow a whatever-it-takes mentality to squeeze maximum “juiciness” out of their hops and yeast. As the result of their methods, the beers have a distinct haze/turbidity to them (“hazy af“) proponents claim enhances mouthfeel and the fruity-juicy character of the high ester yeast and New World hops.
While I am personally a fan of clear beer–you drink with your eyes, etc–I do not have a problem, per se, with folks developing/enjoying their own regional interpretations of a style. By and large I wager most folks feel the same and us West Coast folks were content to enjoy our thing and let the folks in New England do their thing… until homebrewer king Jamil Zainasheff fired off the “Tweet Heard ‘Round the World” and everyone lost their friggin’ minds.
I'm sorry, you who think this is acceptable beer have lost your minds. This overly yeasty crap is offensive. pic.twitter.com/TTTrT3nbhi
— Jamil Zainasheff (@mrmalty) March 2, 2016
If you follow the thread further it turns out he was merely upset about paying $9 for a beer that has poor fermentation character, but it was already too late: the New Englanders had already grabbed their pitchforks to defend their precious haze and the West Coasters had lined up to join in on the dump-fest. Now you have to have an opinion and the other side is wrong! Oi! (Also, Jamil needs to learn to properly orient his photos)
Here is the sad truth of the matter: many West Coast folks likely have not sampled a good representation of the NE style, it simply does not get made/distributed out here; my own experience was limited to a handful of sips from smuggled cans at bottle shares. Meanwhile, New Englanders have been living under West Coast beer imperialism for the last decade or so, maybe they do know better. Not one to get too tangled up in brewing dogma, I decided to see what the hubbub was all about and brew a New England Pale Ale myself. At the urging of noted oat enthusiast Scott Janish I decided this would also be a good time to experiment with his recommendation of > 18% oats in the grist. It’s so juicy!
On New England Style
I know what you are thinking: what does this filthy West Coast clear beer casual know about the nuance of New England style ales!? A fair assessment, but I assure you I have been doing my homework! I was fortunate to spend a bit of time talking with fellow East Coast homebrewers about their process at Homebrew Con in Baltimore. In particular, fellow bloggers Ed Coffey and Mike Tonsmeire have some excellent posts capturing the nuance of the style.
So then what is New England style? Haze is one part of it, but I assert haze is just a side effect of the whatever-it-takes attitude toward enhancing hop character. The New England style values these particular elements:
- “Juicy.” Full and fresh fruit character from both yeast esters and hops. Typically this means citrusy or tropical hops, not the piney/resinous/dank hops of West Coast IPAs.
- Hop flavor/aroma over bitterness. Sharp hop bitterness should be avoided and the flavor/aroma character that should be maximized.
- Biotransformation. That is, adding dry hops while yeast is still active so they can transform hop compounds into new flavors as well as scrub out any added oxygen.
- Soft mouthfeel. Water profile, lack of filtration, and high protein content should lend a velvety soft character that is like drinking full pulp juice.
- Unfiltered. Appearance is not important so filtering only serves to remove hop character.
- Mega fresh. These beers are not meant to be enjoyed even a month or two after bottling. If you hold on to a bottle for longer than a week what are you even doing with your life?
- Haze? This is a red herring. Intentional haze is a reaction from some breweries to haters calling their beer cloudy like a milkshake. Still, some folks intentionally add adjuncts like wheat flour to promote megahaze.
The techniques to achieve those elements are not so unusual. Namely, they consist of:
- High chloride water, at least 1:1 with sulfate and > ~100 ppm. This will enhance malty character and mellow any harsh hop bitterness, producing an all around gentle softness.
- ~20% high protein adjunct, frequently flaked wheat or flaked oats. This will add a full, velvety mouthfeel, head retention, and the infamous haze.
- High ester, low floccing yeast. WY1318 London Ale III or a variant of The Alchemist’s Conan is most common.
(Though am not convinced that unfloc’d yeast is really a component)
- Citrus/Tropical hops added late. IMO, if you are adding hops > 15 minutes before the end of the boil for this style you are doing it wrong. Optimally, you should add the hops all within the last 10 minutes of the boil to optimize hop character and minimize edgy bitterness. Whirlpool/hopstand hops are a good idea too, though the jury is out on whether they are better than additional late additions.
- Dry hop before the beer has finished fermenting. I shoot for when I see the krausen has mostly fallen, but the airlock is still burping every few seconds. You can also add a second dry hop post-fermentation or in the keg if you want raw hop freshness.
The base of this beer is pretty similar to some of the other pale ales I have done in the past, I am a big fan of 10% Weyermann Munich II and 5% each of Victory and Crystal to give a firm malt backbone I believe is mandatory for pale ales. Though in this case I used some Honey Malt from Gambrinus instead of my usual C60 because I was worried about getting too dark with all the haze. Otherwise, I swapped out 20% of the 2-Row for an equal amount of oats for that primo NE haze. You could easily turn this recipe into a full-blooded NEIPA by removing the specialty malts and increasing the OG by another 10 points or so.
I chose Vermont IPA (a Conan strain) for this batch because 1) I already had some on-hand, as it is my go-to hop-forward yeast of late and 2) it is almost literally impossible to find any yeast but White Labs in San Diego. I pitched at 65ºF then ramped up to 68ºF the following morning, where left it for the rest of fermentation.
I should note I fined this beer with gelatin in a vain attempt to see how clear I could get this beer–is it really yeast or hops in suspension making it hazy (which would get pull out by the gelatin) or something else? Turns out it did not make too much of a dent on the haze, so I feel pretty confident about the haze just being protein from the oats a la hefeweizen or wit.
How to win at beer:
1) Make a beer.
2) Use Mosaic and Galaxy hops.
3) Sit back and collect your medals.
— Five Blades Brewing (@FiveBlades) June 22, 2016
Though to be honest, this beer was destined to be a winner from the very start: using a heavy hand with “cheater” hops like Mosaic and Galaxy practically guarantees whatever I make will taste awesome. Seriously, if you have not checked these varieties out yet, do yourself a favor and brew a batch with one or both.
Follow along with the BJCP guide for American Pale Ale [PDF].
This beer smells awesome! Juicy is a terrible descriptor if you have not experienced it, but this beer nails it 100%. I always know a beer hit the jackpot when I am content to just smell the beer forever and do not feel compelled to immediately take a sip.
Light doughy/oaty malt with a dash of honey sweetness and biscuit in the background. Intense juicy tropical fruit salad hops with notes of papaya, passionfruit, mango, and a dash of tangerine and rose blossoms. Moderate peachy esters blend into and complement the fruit salad hops. Super clean, super fresh. Perfection.
I am not going to pull any punches: this beer looks like garbage. I am convinced folks only say they prefer the haze due to some kind of knee-jerk response to haters saying the style as a whole is garbage. Listen: the style has plenty of attributes that more than make up for poor appearance, it is okay to admit it does not look awesome; on a BJCP scoresheet appearance is a whopping three out of a total fifty points.
That said, I think it is important to keep the color as light as possible for a New England style ale. This beer at SRM ~7 is almost too dark for the style, as the haze will, as Mike Tonsmeire puts it, “turn grey” as the beer gets darker. Next time I would limit myself to ~5% speciality malts of even the lightest color to ensure I do not get too dark.
About a finger and a half of dense, fluffy white head that has moderate retention. The head does not stay thick for long, but at worst fades to a low covering that sticks around for the entire duration. Beautiful, sticky lacing.
Again, light doughy/oaty malt with a dash of honey and biscuit. Intense tropical fruit salad (papaya, passionfruit, mango) from the hops, but this time I notice more notes of bitter orange than tangerine. The hops are luscious and vibrant and definitely lend a fresh squeezed juice with pulp character. The bitterness is very smooth and only does just enough to balance the malt then get out of the way of the fruity character. Moderate peachy yeast esters hide mid-palate and blend nicely with the hops.
I should note that the bitterness seems much lower than the IBU calculations suggest. As someone who has never been too into piny/dank/edgy hop character I am really digging this expression of the hops. I am sold on this style!
I am struck with how luscious the mouthfeel is, velvety soft and full without being overwhelming or cloying. Very low relative bitterness and no astringency leave a very clean finish while still being assertive enough to know there are plenty of hops in here. Thankfully there is no grittiness in this batch like I experienced in a handful of commercial styles I sampled, likely due to the fact I fined the beer and pulled out any yeast or hops in suspension.
This beer is maybe one of the best I have ever brewed: smooth, luscious, and jam-packed with juicy hop character–this style is legit! Fellow West Coasters: I challenge you to look beyond the haze and embrace the juice. New England friends: stop fooling yourselves into thinking the haze looks good–it really does not–just embrace the fact style has more than enough to offer outside of appearance. The New England style is not a classic (India) Pale Ale, it is its own beautiful, delicious creature–just like White, Black, or Red IPA before it.
I personally still do not buy the idea that the haze is hop oils clinging to yeast, proteins, or whatever, nor have I seen any hard evidence to support that claim. I have had plenty of crystal clear megahopped beers (Pliny the Elder anyone?) that I know a similar hop character can be achieved without the haze. I would like to experiment how close I can get to the luscious, juicy character of this style while maintaining my precious West Coast clarity.
NEPA: A+++ flavor. F- appearance. pic.twitter.com/JadhAYq48I
— Five Blades Brewing (@FiveBlades) June 24, 2016
Check out the rest of my recipes in the index.