Why All Hazy IPAs Taste the Same (And How to Brew Something Distinct)
by Jessie O'Brien
Hazy IPAs are a crowd-pleasing brew. The fruity, juicy profile is approachable even to non-beer drinkers. Although, not everyone is a fan.
“They all kind of taste the same,” said Kara Taylor, the Head of Operations at White Labs, a yeast and fermentation laboratory and provider.
Taylor says the biggest misconception brewers have with hazy IPAs is the murkiness comes from yeast and yeast alone. And most brewers rely on the same strain to make their hazy brews, contributing to uniformity across the market.
There are ways brewers can play around with alternatives to create a distinct hazy IPA that will stand apart from the rest.
What Creates Haze?
While yes, yeast can accentuate haze, brewers shouldn't rely on it.
“You have to have enough protein and polyphenol content because that will give you haze no matter what yeast strain,” Taylor says.
Grains with higher protein content like wheat or oats in combination with hops leads to more haze.
Leaning on just yeast for haze will compromise the mouthfeel of the beer. And not to mention, from a digestive standpoint, the beer could potentially cause discomfort. Taylor theorizes this is why some people do not like drinking beer.
“That mix of having a lot of yeast in addition to a lot of carbohydrates and carbonation gives people an upset stomach,” she said.
So why are brewers relying on yeast for their hazy IPAs?
Why All Hazy IPAs Taste the Same
Until around five years ago, anything hazy was undesirable. Thus, most instructional materials available today educate brewers on how to eliminate haze, not produce it. So there’s a bit of an education gap.
Taylor suspects most brewers are unaware of the value of the protein and polyphenol content for haze from her own experience.
“When customers buy certain strains, they will report back that their beer wasn't hazy, and it’s like, well, the yeast is contributing to haze and accentuating the haze, but it’s not the main cause,” she said.
Taylor said White Labs has a top seller for hazy IPAs, the London Fog Ale Yeast. It’s popular due to its ester profile, robust performance, and opaque quality. (Taylor predicts other yeast providers mostly sell one strain for hazies as well.) But Taylor said without major adjustments to the recipe, many beers will taste very similar.
“People forget how much yeast impacts flavor,” Taylor said.
A lack of understanding on the value of protein and polyphenol content for haze and the ubiquity of London Fog Ale Yeast is why there is a lack of variety in hazy IPAs today. Taylor says there are other options available to reach sought-after results.
How to Make A Distinct Hazy IPA
To execute a perfect hazy, brewers are looking for the following three characteristics.
• The most obvious is the haze, which comes from protein interactions with hops and flavonoids, and is accentuated by yeast. This combination is responsible for the opaqueness of the beer.
• A fruity, hoppy aroma. The aroma is more tropical than the stone fruits used in West Coast IPAs. The tropical hops contribute to the low bitterness of the brews.
• A fluffy texture and mouthfeel. Most are looking for a smoothie-esque texture in hazies.
Experimenting with different yeast strains can help brewers produce these characteristics. But what makes a yeast strain suitable for hazy IPAs?
• Low to medium flocculation. Flocculation contributes to the mouthfeel and murkiness by keeping the yeast suspended.
• POF- (negative for phenolic off-flavor). POF + is partly responsible for the haziness found in hefeweizen and Belgian beers. However, it also adds a clove and spice flavor that brewers would typically want to avoid in a hazy IPA.
• Medium to high attenuation (how well yeast converts sugar to alcohol). Taylor says the amount of attenuation depends on what brewers are trying to achieve. Some brewers add lactose to beers, so they are juicy and sweet. In that case, medium to high attenuation isn’t necessary. But Taylor says most hazies have some level of dryness. The fruitiness and perceived sweetness come from the aroma, then an actual sweetness in the beer.
• Some biotransformation characteristics. Taylor says many biotransformation interactions occur in beer making that labs haven’t been able to categorize with the current science. Because of this, labs will know what strains work well in certain styles, but not always why. But strains with some biotransformation characteristics can lead to extra fruitiness that many brewers are trying to capture with hazy IPAs.
When choosing yeast strains, brewers must determine what they are trying to accomplish. If you want something with a fluffy mouthfeel, then low flocculation is key. Taylor says to avoid looking at attenuation for flavor and mouthfeel because those two components don’t usually relate. She says most people are looking for a lot of fruitiness, so strains with more biotransformation characteristics can help accomplish that goal.
Experimenting with yeasts with these four components can help brewers achieve a hazy IPA that drinkers haven’t had the opportunity to try. She says experiment with yeast, work on splitting batches, try different fermentation temperatures.
“We have to keep making new hazy beers that are innovative because people like them,” Taylor said.
Most of the information in this article came from a Five Star Chemicals Webinar presented by Kara Taylor. To view the webinar, click here.