Hazed and Confused: Seeking Clarity in IPAs

Zymology by | Aug 2015 | Issue #103

What’s wrong with unfiltered beer? Nothing, traditionally speaking. Grains like oats and wheat, which brewers have used for hundreds of years, are known for rendering cloudy beer. Just look at Weihenstephaner. Practices like kräusening, or adding yeast to unfinished beer, can contribute cloudiness, too.

But when it’s a hazy American IPA, people start arguing. Even the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines have been careful to employ unsettled (dare I say opaque?) language, stating that American IPAs “should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy.”

Jamil Zainasheff, author of Yeast: The Pracical Guide to Beer Fermentation, is a little more unambiguous. “Hazy IPA is OK. What is unacceptable is murky, cloudy beer that is no clearer than a glass of milk. It seems that recently people have taken hazy to mean opaque. I am not sure if this is a lack of knowledge or laziness on the part of some brewers, but this level of cloudiness can negatively impact beer flavor.”

Like Zainasheff, the public has been vocal about their opinions. Why has their crystal clear West Coast IPA been upstaged by its murky cousin? And what makes an IPA hazy, anyway? Scientifically speaking, “haze is a combination of polyphenol and protein molecules that associate via hydrogen bonding and become visible,” explains John Palmer, author of How to Brew. Suspended yeast, which is different than protein-polyphenol haze, also causes cloudiness.

In clear beers, the haze-active protein that comes from malt and the haze-active polyphenol that comes from hops attract each other. “Under the right conditions,” Palmer says, “these hazes will attract each other and settle out after fermentation, and therefore predominately clear beer is the norm.”

According to Palmer, “turbidity in IPAs comes from the high polyphenol load due to late hopping and dry hopping.” In a typical brew, “most of the hop polyphenol is precipitated out during the boil with the hot and cold break, leaving a higher proportion of haze-active protein from the malt without anything to bind to and therefore less haze,” he says. “With dry hopping however, a lot more polyphenol [is] introduced after the boil and therefore able to bind with the protein and therefore more haze.”

For Palmer, it’s an issue that can be diagnosed and remedied. “It is a common problem, but a problem that is readily treated, like spinach on your teeth.”

Ultimately though, treatments like filtering or using finings such as Irish moss to help settle out particulates, change the chemistry—and flavor—of the final product. And according to some brewers, haze isn’t the result of laziness or an ignorance of tradition, it’s deciding not to filter and deliberately choosing to use wheat, or a particular yeast strain, or in some cases to dry-hop heavily.

“Filtering absolutely strips flavor from beer,” says Sam Richardson from Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn, N.Y. He and co-founder Matt Monahan are known for their juicy—and hazy—IPAs like Hop Showers IPA and Green Diamonds Double IPA. “Fining or filtering is almost always a personal choice, not a matter of laziness,” declares Richardson adamantly.

Ben Howe, head brewer of Idle Hands Craft Ales and founder of Enlightenment Ales in Massachusetts, agrees. When designing heavily dry-hopped IPAs, Howe strongly believes “that the softness and full-bodied mouthfeel comes from yeast in suspension.” Were those hazy IPAs to be filtered, he says, “ their mouthfeel, intensity and delicateness all drop off.” Howe has tried to reign in the haziness by changing his dry-hopping schedule, to no avail. Just like finings, highly flocculent yeast that quickly drop out will strip particulates out, too. “But this could be taking some of these hop flavors with it,” argues Howe.

The other problem with hazy IPAs is their limited shelf life. They may taste great at the brewery, but distribution timeframes and practices tend to change them—sometimes drastically. “Yeast, proteins and resins all reduce long-term stability,” says Chris Sellers, head brewer at The People’s Pint in Greenfield, Mass. “If the goal is to create a beer that is to be consumed within days of packaging and is kept under hyper-controlled conditions, then haze is fine.” If you can’t guarantee those conditions, he says, it defeats the purpose of a hazy IPA.

“Not all beer is created equal,” Sellers says. “You have to understand where it comes from and what the brewer’s goal was. The beauty of brewing is that beers are alive.”