There has been a lot of digital ink spilled on the rise of the Hazy IPA. Whether you love them or hate them, everyone must admit that they have stormed the beer scene like no other IPA variant (Imperial, Black, Red, White, Session, Grapefruit, Milkshake, Glitter, Brut) before or since.
Personally, I tend towards drier beers which rules out a lot of Hazies. I am however, not at all adverse to a good example of the style. I’ll drink a good Hazy IPA over a faulty or unbalanced but otherwise clear IPA any day.
A lot of the commentary around Hazy, particularly on social media has been of the apocalyptic takeover of the Hazy, squashing out all other IPA, nay, any other style of beer! These discussions are often fueled by photos like this one, sent to me by Michael Donaldson author of Beer Nation and editor of Pursuit of Hoppiness.
Now that’s a lot of Hazy IPAs to be sure. Also the other beers seem to be exclusively Imperial Stouts and Sours, which is weird and seems like a bad idea.
In my own bar and pre-COVID-19, we had been running Hazy and non-Hazy IPAs more or less alternately on the same tap. This worked out well overall, but we definitely had customers who wanted one or the other and were disappointed when we didn’t have the style of IPA that they specifically wanted.
Post-lockdown, we decided to try running two IPA taps, one Hazy, one traditional/West Coast/NZIPA. What I noticed when we did this was that a keg of very popular Hazy IPA like Garage Project Fresh or McLeod’s 802 would sell out faster than any other beer, but the same was true of certain non-Hazy IPAs like Liberty Knife Party.
In fact, one recent Friday night, I tapped a keg of McLeod’s Northern Hammer NZIPA and a keg of a new Hazy from a less well-known brewery almost simultaneously. The McLeod’s ran out within 24 hours, whereas the Hazy was still on tap come Monday morning. Some beers just make customers fizz more than others, regardless of their clarity. Over time though, this effect is eventually evened out.
I have a theory: All things being equal, Hazy IPA is not substantially more popular than other IPA styles. The question is, how do we test this hypothesis? How do we make all things equal?
There’s a lot of factors that go into beer choice. Some are quantifiable – price and ABV. Others are less well-defined. Beer quality, both in terms of brewing faults and overall balance matters for sure. Then there’s ‘brand’ in all its nebulous forms. A brewery’s reputation and popularity, the beer’s name, the tap badge art – all these factors matter more to sales than most brewers would like to admit.
Enter the ParrotDog ReinCanation range. These are a range of beers, mostly IPAs, named after people. They have a uniform geometric art style and for the most part, are line-priced, meaning they cost the same per keg.
The ReinCanation range presents the opportunity to level the playing field. ParrotDog makes good beer generally, and particularly excellent IPAs, both Hazy and non-Hazy. The labels and beer names are variations on the same theme. We need two IPAs of equal price and strength, one Hazy, one non-Hazy. Please welcome Adrian and Lindsay.
They are both strong IPAs. Adrian is a 7% Hazy, Lindsay a 6.8% West Coast IPA. They’re close enough in alcohol strength that this wouldn’t play a major role in a customer’s choice. They both cost $13 per 425ml glass (come at me, South Island). They were both very fresh and critically, very delicious. Putting them both on tap at the same time was the closest to a fair fight that we could achieve.
Adrian was tapped at Golding’s Free Dive at 4:30pm, Thursday 30/7/20. Lindsay was tapped at 8:30pm, Thursday 30/7/20.
Now already you’ll notice an issue, in that Adrian got a 4 hour head-start. The brutal reality was that I couldn’t justify pulling off the remainder of the keg preceding Lindsay, which would have entailed a lot of work and wasted beer (come at me, scientific method). Those 4 hours were busy so Adrian got a significant boost. But I believe that the experiment remains valid, for reasons we shall get into.
The race was on. Both beers were on tap all afternoon of Friday 31/7/20. The Adrian keg ran out at 6:30pm that evening, for a total of twenty-six hours on tap. The Lindsay stayed on tap for two more hours, finishing at 8:30pm, for a total of twenty-four hours on tap.
Right there, the results are interesting. Although Adrian the Hazy went on four hours ahead of Lindsay, Lindsay finished two hours faster than Adrian. Looking at the raw numbers, it would seem that the West Coast IPA was actually more popular than the Hazy! We do however need to consider the two periods at the start and finish of the experiment, where only one of the two beers was on tap.
On the one hand, 4:30 to 8:30pm Thursday is a busy period of trade for the bar, but it’s not as busy as 6:30 to 8:30pm Friday, which is often our busiest two-hour period of any given week. On the other hand, Fridays are not twice as busy as Thursdays.
Without getting too bogged down in the details, I’m going to say that it’s more or less a wash between the two kegs. Ergo the conclusion I’m going to reach from this experiment is that side by side, there was no clear or significant preference for either Hazy or Clear IPA among customers.
Obviously this experiment was far from rigorously scientific. It only really gives us insight into a certain bar, at a certain time. If it were replicated elsewhere, results may vary. But what I do think it shows is that demand for Hazy IPA is not all-consuming. Nor has it rendered all other IPA styles obsolete.
While cashing-in on the Haze Craze is potentially lucrative for brewers, there is still value in providing a range of beer styles. I would not recommend anyone turn their brewery into a Haze factory. Likewise, bar managers would be ill advised to turn their tap lineup into something resembling the picture at the start of this article.
Love it or otherwise, the Hazy IPA is not going anywhere. I’m actually thankful for one thing it has achieved: Ending the New Zealand beer drinker’s obsession with crystal clear beer. This is a particularly annoying hangover from ‘craft’ beer’s real ale heritage, and not something I’ve ever viewed as a useful indicator of beer quality.
After all, I’ve spent the better part of a decade wading through pint after pint of greasy, diacetyl laden, green-apple, acetaldehyde flavoured, astringently bitter, over-hopped, vegetal, overly sticky, caramel-malted, poorly packaged and oxidised (but otherwise crystal-clear) beers. I’d trade the lot for a well-made Hazy anyday.