Mad Hatter // Bandwagon

Mad Hatter // Bandwagon

Bandwagon. As in jumping on it.

Most beer geeks could tell you there’s a trend happening right now towards a certain style. We first saw it emerge in the Northeast corner of the States; now we’re seeing it across the rest of the States, and here in the UK, as well.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s the Northeast-style IPA (also known as a Vermont-style IPA, getting more specific; or a hazy IPA, getting less specific).

As the name suggests, it originated in the fair state of Vermont with brews from The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s Finest.

Mad Hatter // BandwagonThe style is hazy (meaning you can’t see through the beer), juicy (with really fruit-forward hop aromas and flavors), and grassy (from heavy amounts of dry hopping) with a full, almost creamy, mouthfeel.

Several different factors can contribute to the style’s hazy appearance: some say it’s the malt bill, others the hopping regime, and others the yeast. Or it may be some combination of the three.

The malt bill: The Alchemist says it’s the barley that they use that contributes haze, while for other breweries, it’s the oats or wheat that they add to the grist.

Oats and wheat have a higher protein content than barley malt. These proteins create a structure that helps hold the beer together, giving the finished beer a fuller body and better head retention, but also contribute a hazy appearance (like you’d see in a German or Belgian wheat beer, for example).

The hopping regime: Dry-hopping, adding the hops into the beer during the secondary fermentation or conditioning phase (not during the boil), provides intense hop aroma and some flavor with minimal bitterness. (Why? Hop alpha acids require a rolling boil to rearrange their chemical structure and impart bitterness; hence why most hops are added during the boil.) That’s part of the reason why this style has been found to be more accessible compared to the high levels of bitterness and dank, resiny hop aromas and flavors of West Coast IPAs, which can often take a little warming up to.

Depending on the hops used, dry-hopped beer is often more tropical, fruit-forward, and grassy, with a slightly more oily mouthfeel. But how does this impact a beer’s appearance? Even though the hops are removed prior to bottling, they often leave behind a hop sediment that further hams up the haze.

The yeast: How could a yeast strain contribute to cloudiness? The strain that’s often used to brew this style of beer has low flocculation, meaning that instead of clumping (or flocculating) together and dropping out of the beer after they’ve done their job fermenting, Vermont-strain yeast just hang about, suspended in the finished beer, giving it a hazy, murky, or cloudy appearance.

“Throwing [their] hat into the ring”, Liverpool-based Mad Hatter Brewing Company brewed the aptly-named Bandwagon.

Mad Hatter // BandwagonIt’s got loads of tropical fruit on the nose, a balanced bitterness, and a slightly murky appearance, made even more-so with the dregs from the bottle poured in.

So where did this trend begin and how has it spread to the point that breweries are making their own inside jokes about it?

Vermont’s The Alchemist started brewing Heady Topper, a hazy IPA that’s since become their flagship beer, back in 2003. Knowing many drinkers would be skeptical of a beer they couldn’t see through, founder John Kimmich packaged Heady Topper in a can, complete with instructions to “Drink from the can!”

In an interview with Paste magazine in 2016, Kimmich said “Heady was called ‘ugly’ by so many ‘experts’ that it is extra satisfying now to see the acceptance of something that people just didn’t understand.”

Consumers are taught that beer should be bright and clear, unless the style specifies haze of some sort (like a German Hefeweizen), so it’s no wonder people didn’t take to the hazy IPA style immediately.

Haze can be an indicator of infection from contamination during the brew or a dirty draft line.

But hazy beer is most often seen as an indicator that beer is old or has been mishandled. With age or temperature fluctuations, the proteins that give beer its body and structure start to precipitate out of solution, giving the beer a snowflake like appearance.

So most beers are filtered, because filtration helps remove yeast and other materials that may lessen shelf-stability and shorten a beer’s shelf life.

Mad Hatter // BandwagonHowever, over-filtered beer can be stripped of color, flavor, and proteins that are all-important for body and head retention.

For the sake of the resulting flavor profile, Kimmich said he was taught to “embrace” the haziness, and left his beers unfiltered.

Most of his influence came from brewing for Vermont Pub & Brewery’s Greg Noonan, who “taught [him] how to make the flavors and aromas of hops shine in the glass for the customer.”

If that meant the beer was going to be hazy, so be it. He just encouraged his customers to drink Heady Topper from from the can, and to drink it fresh before the hop aromas and flavors tired.

“We were making amazing hazy IPAs back in the mid ‘90s, it just took a while… to educate the customers as to what we considered to be a great beer.”

And look where we are now.

The style has spread from the Northeast (early entrants include The Alchemist and Lawson’s Finest, while Trillium and Treehouse are rising stars), to the West (check out Great Notion and Monkish), to the UK (from Cloudwater, to Verdant and Deya).

Fruity and juicy with a balanced bitterness, I think this is a style we’ll see stick around for a while. So embrace the haze, and jump on the bandwagon!


Image sources:
Full size by Natalya Watson & Lauren McHenry

John Palmer // How to Brew
Randy Mosher // Tasting Beer
Paste Magazine, “John Kimmich of The Alchemist talks hazy IPAs and guilty pleasure beers” (June 23, 2016)
Men’s Journal, “How Vermont became the new IPA king”
The New School, “Haze Craze: Pacific Northwest breweries take on the New England-style IPA” (Jan 27, 2017)
NPR’s The Salt, “The ‘Haze Craze’: Beer lovers newfound obsession with murky IPAs” (Feb 20, 2017)