Story and Photography by Jordana Starr
India pale ale, or IPA, is by far the most popular craft beer style in the United States today. Noted for its hoppy bitterness, the IPA’s growing market share has prompted brewers to experiment with new hops, yeast strains, and processes to improve and differentiate their beers. While traditional pale ales are bitter and brilliantly clear, New England brewers are revolutionizing the pale ale scene with unfiltered, hazy, juicy beers.
But what, exactly, makes these New England pale ales so hazy is a subject of much debate among brewers. Some attribute it to significant dry hopping additions (that is, the hops that are added during or after fermentation), while some believe it may be yeast in suspension. Others point to proteins that are left over by unmalted barley, wheat, and oats. Still others insist that it’s some combination of all three.
Whatever the cause of the haze, New England pale ales tend to have another thing in common: They’re totally crushable. That’s beer geek lingo for easy to drink and quenching. Unlike their West Coast counterparts, New England pale ales generally emphasize hop flavor and aroma over bitterness; often, they taste fruity, almost like sipping a mimosa or shandy.
Several Pioneer Valley breweries have fully embraced the haze. In Turners Falls, Brick & Feather Brewery has perfected the New England pale ale. Positively 11th Street (5% ABV), an American pale ale, or APA, has a slightly sweet body and soft mouthfeel, with a quick, clean finish. In Absentia (7.2% ABV), an American IPA with notes of pineapple, orange, melon, and passion fruit, has a gentle bitterness that balances the flavor. Though his beers are hazy, brewer Lawrence George prioritizes flavor over appearance. “We care if they taste good. If they’re hazy, they’re hazy.” However, he does admit, “my favorite IPAs do tend to be hazy.”
At Honest Weight Artisan Beer in Orange, hazy pale ales abound. Omniverse (6.7% ABV), an IPA, is brewed with Centennial, Amarillo, and Cascade hops and is then dry hopped with Citra and Idaho 7. With a citrusy nose and juicy, tropical flavor, Omniverse is a definitive example of a New England IPA. Everything is Everything (7.5% ABV), an imperial pale ale, smells like orange, tastes like unripe mango and citrus pith, and has a creamy mouthfeel. The hops and malt integrate seamlessly for a well-balanced, Creamsicle-like beer. Blood & Fire (5.5% ABV), an APA, is brewed with Topaz and Mandarina Bavaria hops, fermented with blood orange purée, and is then dry-hopped with Mandarina Bavaria and Simcoe. The resulting beverage is an incredibly juicy beer worthy of its town’s name.
Honest Weight brewer Sean Nolan believes that when it comes to haze, there’s a bell curve. Some of the flavor, he notes, can verge on being too yeasty, while over-filtering can strip the beer of much of its flavor. “You gotta hit the sweet spot,” he asserts. “Maybe too much attention is paid to haze, but it’s complicated, as the consumers love haze."
Down in Hampshire County, Amherst Brewing’s flagship American IPA, Jess (7.3% ABV), is brewed with Mosaic hops and is then dry hopped with Citra and Simcoe. In their tasting room at the Hangar Pub and Grill, variations of this fruity, slightly bitter beer may become available as the brewers tinker with their recipe. Then there is the aptly named Juicebox (4.5% ABV), a superbly crushable APA with red grapefruit, tangelos, clementines, and navel oranges.
Williamsburg-based Brewmaster Jack has a number of hazy beers available both on shelves and on tap throughout the region. Ambrewsia (7% ABV), an American IPA, is bitter-forward, with a dank aroma and notes of pine resin and citrus pith. Though similar to the notoriously bitter West Coast IPAs, Ambrewsia’s haze and fruity hop character are distinctly New England. In June, Brewmaster Jack and Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton released C_LVIN IPA (7% ABV), a special collaborative beer commemorating Western Mass Beer Week. Smooth yet crisp, C_LVIN was fermented with pineapple juice and packed with Mosaic and Galaxy hops, imparting a tropical aroma and taste. Though this was a one-time collaboration, rumor has it that a variation of this wildly popular beer is in the works.
Brewmaster Jack’s brewer Tyler Guilmette is a big fan of haze. “Some of these yeasts that are critical to the profile of New England style IPAs really like to hang around in the beer. There’s no doubt in my mind the suspended yeast adds to the flavor profile. I think even a few years ago, brewers felt pressure to filter those beers to have them look more conventional. Now the consumer expects a hazy IPA, and that’s just great.’
It would be a tragic oversight to discuss hazy pale ales brewed in Western Massachusetts and not mention Tree House Brewing Company. Notorious for hazy beers, long lines, and a cult-like status among some fans, the Monson brewery has already expanded twice and is continuing to grow with a new Charlton brewery to keep up with increasing demand. Though releases are always changing, two particularly succulent and aromatic “juice bombs” have been a runaway hit: Julius (6.8% ABV), an American IPA reminiscent of orange and mango juice, and Haze (8.2% ABV), a double IPA with strong citrus and tropical fruit flavors up front and a lingering bitterness on the finish. For many Tree House fans, these beers set the standard for the New England pale ale.