Good Beer Hunting

Simply Insatiable — Brewers Association Further Legitimizes the Hazy IPA

 photo by Matthew Curtis

photo by Matthew Curtis

THE GIST
Almost a year to the day after making an April Fool's joke promoting "Nebraska IPA" as an official beer style under the moniker of "NE-Style IPA," the Brewers Association has finally recognized the actual New England-style India Pale Ale. Hazy IPAs are real and they're spectacular.

In an update to its 2018 beer style guidelines, the BA is including three styles under the Juicy or Hazy Ale category: Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale, Juicy or Hazy IPA, and Juicy or Hazy Double IPA. With India Pale Ale decidedly the leading style in American craft beer, the change now brings the total number of BA-judged IPA categories to six, as well as eight different kinds of Pale Ale. The new styles will take effect for the 2018 Great American Beer Festival competition.

In a release announcing the update, BA founder and past president Charlie Papazian said there is a breadth of beers made under the "juicy" and "hazy" realms, which necessitated multiple judged categories.

“After evaluating appearance, aroma, bitterness, hop characters, mouthfeel and overall balance these beers gave a consistent impression that helped frame the Brewers Association’s inaugural guidelines for three styles of Juicy Hazy ales," said Papazian, chief of the BA Beer Style Guidelines since 1979.

Contemporary American-Style Pilsener, Classic Australian-Style Pale Ale, Australian-Style Pale Ale, Gose, and Contemporary Gose were also added.

Notably, no other changes were made involving sour, wild, or mixed-fermentation styles, which have received considerable interest from brewers around the country in recent years. From small, local breweries to some of the biggest craft players, it's a space gaining so much attention that a group of like-minded brewers even formed their own guild to share insight and expertise.

WHY IT MATTERS
The total number of categories recognized from the Brewers Association has steadily grown thanks to the rise and evolution of “craft” in the marketplace. In the last five years, 20 new styles have been added, bringing the number from 137 in 2014 to 157 this year.

When it comes to New England IPA, the writing was on the wall. While still a niche style in the broad context of the industry, the trend line for the hazy juice bomb has been going upward in recent years. Despite some mocking the style as nothing more than a fad, there is plenty of evidence to indicate it's a sustainable style in terms of presence and sales, even if its shelf life may be questionable.

For some breweries, NE IPA has become a lifeblood, supplying own-premise sales strong enough to alter business plans. For drinkers, it's become a tasty curiosity that went from a beloved beer among enthusiasts to mainstream audiences. In 2018, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, New Belgium, and more have released mass-market versions of the style.

Interest has also shown up on Untappd. New England IPA was added as a standalone sub-category of IPA in summer 2017 and accounted for .9% of check-ins in June 2017. By November, it had risen to 2.5%. It gets better, as we noted recently:

Because so many NE IPAs were previously listed under the "American" sub-category on Untappd, it's hard to get a clear picture of just how much more users prefer the hazy version of IPA. Even still, the collection of beers specifically listed as a New England IPA have the highest average rating of 4, just edging out a 3.97 combined from DIPA and Triple IPAs.

Ninety-five of the top 100 American IPAs could actually be reclassified as New England IPAs, even pushing the hazy sub-style’s average rating up to 4.1. That’s not Instragram culture—it’s a growing culture altogether.

To that end, Google Trend search results for "NE IPA" and "New England IPA" have climbed steadily in the past two years.

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The announcement makes perfect sense for the Brewers Association, having given the “juicy” and “hazy” style time to mature enough to prove its staying power to the point the organization’s largest “small and independent” members have stocked shelves across the country with their own NE-inspired brands. After finding the style at so many booths across the Denver Convention Center floor during the Great American Beer Festival, it's only fitting that brewers would now be able to enter those beers into competition, too.

Indeed, the future's looking just little bit hazier today.

—Bryan Roth