Mass Distro Haze: Big name brewers stake their claim in the haze war
It's 2018, and hazy IPA has reached critical mass. That's nationally distributed, $8/6 pack, readily available type of mass — a far cry from the $20, "own premise", sticker-label 4-packs that got us here. We recently took a Saturday afternoon to sit down and try three of the new mass distributed hazy IPAs.
Hops: Galaxy, Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic, and Cascade
Malt Bill: Two-row pale, white wheat, and golden naked oats
Hops: Citra, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, Nugget
Malt Bill: Pale, Wheat, C-80, Oats
Hops: Citra, Comet, Simcoe, El Dorado, Mosaic, Magnum
Malt Bill: Two-row Pale, Munich, Oats, Acidulated
Let's get into it...
This beer pours a glorious hazy orange with a frothy off white head, leaves some lovely lacing on the glass as well. The aroma is a fairly muted, slight tropical fruit, grapefruit peel, citrus, with a slight grassy, onion undertone. Compared to the New England IPAs that this beer is supposedly modeled after, it definitely lacks that amazing juicy peach, ripe melon, citrus explosion that you'd get from the more "hype" examples of this style. This beer tasted a lot more bitter than we expected, tons of pithy bitterness with some grassy, dank hop flavor. A lot of people have been saying this beer has a very classic Sam Adam's yeast profile to it, and honestly it's the first Sam Adam's beer we've drank in quite some time, but it definitely had a much more pillowy mouthfeel than expected.
Overall, this beer far exceeded expectations but by no means was an amazing example of the New England IPA style. I can see a lot of people complaining that it isn't hazy enough, but I think it more misses the mark on bitterness. The beer certainly lacked the soft hop flavors and low bitterness that exemplify the style. As the hazy IPA trend extends out from the depths of craft beer culture and into the mass market, I think the beers will look and taste a lot more like this Sam Adam's than like Monkish, Treehouse, or Trillium beers.
This is the one we were most excited to try, it's the only beer of the three that came in a glass bottle and you could see how hazy it was through the bottle. In my mind, perception and flavor with this style of beer is so much based on visual appearance than anything else, and this one looked amazing. This beer poured a super murky, golden color and had tons of carbonation, the head dissipated really quickly. This beer smelled extremely soapy, with notes of medicinal orange marmalade, grassy hops, and some orange juice tang. Upon the first few sips this beer is extremely dry, ironically dry for a beer with "juicy" in its name, perhaps due to the fact that it's fermented with American hefeweizen yeast. The hops used in this beer read like a who's who of modern American hops, but unfortunately most of that juicy, tropical hop flavor gets lost in the soapy dryness that carries throughout the beer.
If this beer has anything going for it besides the visuals, it does have this lovely grassy, peachy Citra hop presence as it warms up. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to save this beer from being relatively mundane, and a bit of a miss for the style as a whole. If you want to impress your friends with some turbid supermarket haze, this is your beer, otherwise I'd pass on this one.
Ah yes, Sierra Nevada — perhaps the most reliable and well known brewers of hoppy beer in the world. This beer was by far the palest and least hazy of the three, and the only one with visible "floaties" in the beer. The aroma on this beer is subdued tropical hops, a lovely bready malt, and slightly grassy. The Hazy Little Thing pours a lovely pale gold color with a good amount of floaties, we can't attest to how this beer was treated before it got to us which certainly could attribute to the presence of floaties. After the first few sips, this is the softest and most balanced of the three beers we tried. It's a wonderful example of how to use modern hops in an IPA, but is it a New England style IPA? No. We're not sure that Sierra even needed this beer to be "hazy". It seems to be more of an unfiltered modern American IPA, done really well. Lots of tropical fruit, marmalade, and honey flavors throughout.
Overall, this was the best beer in the bunch, a beer that we agreed we would order on tap over the first two we tried. Hazy Little Thing is packed full of juicy, tropical hop flavors and moderately low bitterness, but if you're looking a proper NE IPA, this won't fit your fancy. This beer didn't need to be hazy to be good, but the word "hazy" got us to buy another lovely beer from the folks at Sierra Nevada.
So that's it?
That's it! This was a really fun way to try three brand new beers, if you have a good bottle shop in your town I'd say make a nice mix-a-six pack with these beers and try them for yourself. I'm glad that bigger national and regional craft brewers are taking note of the lines around the block at Other Half and so many more breweries, realizing that this is what beer drinkers in 2018 are after. I'd much rather see these breweries taking chances and making new styles than take the Garrett Oliver approach.
Thanks for following along! If you've tried any of these beers and thought differently, let us know in the comments, who doesn't love a lively discussion about New England IPA?
Sam + Libby