I swear this isn’t another piece about “Haze Craze” or its attendant controversy.
Haze is part of it, but it’s really more about our reaction(s) to it.
A Question of Definition (I Know - Ironic, Right?)
I have a healthy skepticism of hazy beers, but before you navigate away let me elaborate a little on my specific "hazy" objection. It isn't because I object to new directions in beer, and it isn't because I don't think good hazy beers exist. I frequently order them when I'm out, because I want to see what's out there.
I have two concerns, neither of which is postmodern "don't want to like what's popular" fluff: one is philosophical and one is pragmatic. I'd like to start with pragmatic.
The pragmatic objection I have is that we don't know what NEIPA and other haze-identifiable styles really are yet. They're new and developing, and as such you get lots of beers that say they are X, Y, or Z by nomenclature but it's hard-to-impossible to draw a through-line that connects them because the market and brewers and beer drinkers and the intrepid beer style guides haven't yet coalesced around a commonly-held set of descriptions. That's fine - it's why we should keep drinking, brewing, and discussing them. The Brewers Association added “Haze/Juicy” beers to their guidelines, but they don’t meaningfully differ from the descriptions of hoppy beers we’ve had all along. That doesn’t preclude them from being a distinct style (lots of beers overlap, sometimes to the point of towering redundancy), but it certainly should give us a moment of pause in so “young” a style.
Here’s where I get prickly, though: it’s when people also try to tell me what a "perfect" or "great" example of the "style" a certain beer is - how is that possible when there's no common language or parameters for them yet? You might really like that one beer, but, well, if what that style represents is (forgive the wordplay) kinda…HAZY, then how can you call Generico-Juicy IPA a great example of the style? It seems like a practical impossibility to both claim that there's no style definition for something and claim that something is a perfect example of it. Hence, I find that people end up overpraising the "style" or particular proto-exemplars of it, which just creates a mis-fit in my ear. Let’s wait and see before we break out the “classic example” or “great style” language, eh?
A Distinction With a Difference?
To pivot to objection #2, the philosophical objection I have is that "haze" as a market-popular term and/or feature seems oddly chosen, like when one local brewery described a particular porter as having "tons of pale malt." OK, so what? Don’t most beers have a ton of pale malt? What’s next? “Now made with water?”
Haze being present makes a beer distinct - I’m just not sure it makes a beer different. Haze isn't a flavor or an aroma. It's just an appearance attribute, and I don't know why it should be a particularly desirable one. It might or might not indicate certain beneficial/desirable flavor or mouthfeel properties like high hopping and young age and softness, but it could also indicate incomplete fermentation or bad water or contamination. So rather than celebrating it as an end in itself, why don't we at least highlight what's good about it? That's where I think the BA guidelines, imperfect and over-broad as they are, made a decent point by calling the categories "Hazy or Juicy." If I make a Crystal NEIPA that’s juicy as hell and soft on the palate, would it really be problematic that it’s clear? Does the distinction make a difference? What even is the key distinction?
Celebrating haze - whether as a brewery acknowledging it's chasing people who value the term/appearance (as a different local brewery did recently, per their own explanation, when promoting their “Hazy Lager”), or as a drinker that throws it out as a defining attribute in the absence of any other context - makes about as much sense to me as celebrating "medium-rare" as a food preparation outcome. Yes, it's great on a ribeye. But what about on hash browns? Pork? Ice cream? Can you imagine if we treated mid-rare the way some treat "hazy?" You'd have restaurants posting an ad for "35% COOKED MEAT!" If I saw that, absent any context, I'd react the same way as I did to the aforementioned brewery’s "Try Our HAZY LAGER!" ad. Maybe it’ll be a great beer, and maybe it won’t (update: I wasn’t a fan), but I can’t get to a point where I think how it looks is what really makes it so (or not).
Don’t Wish Your Beer Life Away
If your objection to NEIPA or any new/different beer is just that you want to be able to look down on newbs who will buy any new-ass thing, then that's your prerogative, I guess. That’s not my position, though. I just want to be able to have productive discussions about beer.
A discussion isn’t as productive if you argue something is the gold standard of something for which there’s no particular standard.
A discussion isn’t as productive if you lionize a term that is only tangentially related to the aggregate sensory experience that a beer is.
We can drop it here. But I just wanted to make it clear (gotta love all the accidental puns here), from this beer drinker’s perspective, that the problem isn’t with “new.” I love new. And jumping to the end of the page on what’s great and what thing makes it great means you’re doing the beer equivalent of wishing your life away, and frittering some of what’s really fun about new beers, new styles, and beer experimentation in the first place.
Don’t get off my lawn. Stay on it. And let’s discuss this new breed of grass for a while rather than rushing to declare who grows the classic examples of it and then moving on to that next new breed of grass.
Keep it Simple.
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