The Haze-Craze is Not All-Encompassing

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.

The Observation

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.

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Originally from PorchDrinking Chicago

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.

The Hypothesis

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.

The Experiment

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.

Further Discussion

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.

 

Beervana Media Brew: Flag Burning and Other Anarchy

Hallelujah, I’ve hit the big time! Yes, at last I’ve been recognised as a legit-grownup-journalist. No, I’m not finally getting paid to write this. Official recognition has come in another form: a Beervana Media Brew.

This is an annual competition in which journalists and breweries collaborate on a beers, which are then served at Wellington’s biggest beer festival, Beervana (which I’ve written at length about here, here, here, here, and here). The journos then drum up publicity by talking about the beers on their respective platforms. This year I am to join the illustrious company of journos from Stuff, Dish, the Manawatu Standard, and Fishhead Magazine to create a unique beer you can try at this year’s Beervana.

Alright, I’ll be fair. I’m also going head to head with Ben Irwin and Patrick Gower; which is a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing on this blog…

“I’ve got an idea… It’s a bit weird though.”

Which brewery was I to be collaborating with? Turns out, I’d been paired with Wild & Woolly. Wild & Woolly is a new player in the brewery scene and run by Llew Bardecki, one of the most talented off-the-wall brewers in the country. He also happens to be one of my closest friends in the beer scene. Perfect.

In fact we’d already (sort of) collaborated together once before, when a satirical post of mine inspired him to make one of the rarest and highest-rated beers in New Zealand.

The collaboration process for us was a lot of fun and mainly involved me wandering into the brewery where Llew was working, and the both of us throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick. And we had a lot of very strange ideas. The theme this year is “Can the Flag Debate”, which isn’t bad as themes go, because it’s broad enough that you can basically do anything you feel like and then retcon a justification for it.

So here’s our pitch:

Changing the flag? Barely seems worth it. But since we seem to be committed, I guess we may as well make a go of it. I actually wouldn’t mind changing to something a little more culturally relevant. I mean the current one is a bit of an old colonial rag, isn’t it? I would quite happily leave behind the trappings of Britishness and start again with something that reflects the multiculturalism of New Zealand.

And let’s finally admit that our ancestors nicked this country off some people that had one hell of a better claim to it. Then perhaps we can do a proper job of making amends for that fact. And let’s change the name from ‘New Zealand’ to ‘Aotearoa’…

Oh, sorry, getting off topic.

Our beer starts as a strong Scotch Ale. Then, as a symbol of protest and rejection of colonialism, we took Britain’s favourite beverage, tea, and set fire to it.

A portion of the beer’s malt bill was hot-smoked using Dilmah’s finest Ceylon.

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Do try it.

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On this day, I felt more Yeastie Boys than Yeastie Boys.

The normal process for smoking malt is to cold-smoke it, but time and equipment were limited in this instance.

I’ve done a fair amount of hot-smoking, usually with meat and wood smoke. Smoking with tea is a whole new experience for me. The aroma coming out of the smoker when I turned the burner on was amazing. At first it smelt like someone brewing a cuppa, then, as the moist tea began to smoke, it smelt like I was sitting by a campfire, brewing a pot of tea after a long tramping expedition. Delicious.

The tea-smoked malt was mashed into the beer with the rest of the grain and everything continued as usual. That is until we reach the boil. Instead of hops (another import from the UK, we wanted to use a New Zealand native equivalent. Specifically a New Zealand equivalent to the tea that we had just burnt – Tea Tree, better know to us as Manuka.

We threw 300 grams of fresh Manuka tips into the boil, at about the time hops would normally be added to the beer (and in direct violation of Patent no. 519778).

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Again, the aromas that come out of the kettle at this stage were fabulous. I remember saying to Llew that if we capture half that aroma and flavour in the finished beer, it’ll be fantastic.

After chilling, we tried a little of the wort (unfermented beer) while running it into the fermenter. Whilst I don’t want to blow too hard on our own trumpet, but that wort was the most delicious I’ve ever made, possibly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. Sweet, herbal, medicinal, with just a hint of smoke.

At time of writing, the beer is finished fermenting and is just about to go into the keg. It tastes excellent. I am really, really proud of this beer. The smoke has come forward a fair bit, and is completely unlike any other smoke character I’ve tasted in a beer. The beer is a little sweet, with a wonderful manuka flavour following (somewhere between banana and rose, with just a hint of menthol).

We’re calling the beer ‘Flag Burner’. It will be available at Beervana at the Media Brew Stand. There’s only 50 lites and no guarantee you’ll ever see this beer again, so if you’re going, seek it out.Flag Burner PosterFun fact: this taste of New Zealand was brought to you by a 1st gen Canadian and 2nd gen Swiss immigrant.

The Brothers Banks

The hangovers from Choice Beer Week should be well and truly forgotten by now and we can look back fondly on a week of excess and celebration. Myself, between avoiding Beervana like the plague (as either a worker or a punter) and closing Goldings at midnight I had one of the easiest Beervana weeks since I started working in the beer industry.1

Which isn’t to say I didn’t live it up and have a bloody good time. And my highlight of the week would have to be the Annual BrewNZ Awards dinner, where every yeah they dole-out trophies and medals to the brewing industry like candy at a kids birthday party.2 This year’s lolly-scramble was particularly gratifying, as I got to watch several friends and acquaintances receive awards, including our chums at Renaissance Brewing, who took out Champion Brewery (which I had actually predicted a few days earlier). Good stuff.

There was however, one rather odd moment in the evening, when they announced the winners of the Morton Coutts Award for Innovation. Now this is a hotly contested, but rather vaguely defined award. The previous winners are Stu McKinlay, for inventing a new, never-before style of smokey-death-beer and Jim Pollitt, for erm, well… I’m not actually sure. Near as I can tell, he actually spent most of his time undoing (de-innovating?) the damage done by Morton Coutts and his Continuous Fermentation.

So we were all on tenterhooks to hear who would take out this most prestigious award. And the winner is: Doug and Jim Banks. Um, who? Everyone looked around confused as as a pair of mature twin brothers got up from the DB Breweries table and wandered onstage looking for all the world like Tweedledee and Tweedledum in suits and ties. Ok, so who are these guys we asked? There was a brief thank you speech, which consisted of pretty much only the words “thank you,” and they left.3 No further explanation. We were just left to speculate.

So the evening continues and the ceremony takes a break. I slip out into the foyer to visit the bathrooms and who should be having their photo taken with their shiny new trophy? It’s Tweedledee and Tweedledum!

Doug Banks, Te Radar (MC) and Jim Banks.

Doug Banks, Te Radar (the award’s MC) and Jim Banks.

I spotted my chance and when the photos and interviews were over and they turned to go back into the hall, I slid between them and the doorway.

“Hi,” I said. “I just wanted to say congardulations on the award. I was wondering if you could tell me what you innovated?”

I got blank looks. And then they told me.

Now a warning: a lot of what they said was about brewing science. I’m neither a brewer nor a scientist, so I may get a few details wrong here. I tried doing a little research on the brothers and got in touch with the Brewers Guild if they could give me anymore details. They linked me to this article on the brothers, which gives the basic facts, but no extra details. I also got in touch with DB to see if they could give me more info. They linked me to the Brewers Guild. Thanks DB.

I’m not a journalist, and I didn’t take notes, so I’m working from memory here, and I should point out I was a little drunk at the time. So apologies for any factual errors I make. Here goes:

Mr Banks and Mr Banks have been working for DB for decades in technical and scientific capacities. They worked with Morton Coutts developing Continuous Fermentation. Coutts had invented this process, they said, and it fell them and their team to figure out how it worked and how it might be improved (there was more on this subject to come). Now I’ll be honest: I’m not keen on CF. I’ve never had a CF beer that I thought tasted any good. But hey, it’s pretty neat science, even if it makes bland beer.

So what else had they worked on? Micro filtration. Ah! Now we’re on firmer footing, beer wise. They apparently helped develop a process that made sterile micro-filtration possible, which is now used in breweries around the world. Now again I’m not a huge fan of filtering beer, but it can be a useful tool for brewers trying to clarify and increase the shelf life of their beer. Certainly it’s nowhere near as bad as pasteurizing it. Neato.

At this point the conversation was jumping all over the place: low alcohol beer. They helped develop a process that makes it easier to brew low alcohol beers. Again not particularly something I’m interested in, but the science as they explained it to me was pretty sweet. Something about a permeable membrane.

Then we got on to what seemed to be their favourite subject: yeast. It seems a lot of their work has been centered on isolating yeast strains in the CF system. As I understand it, because CF breweries don’t have the same turnover of yeast cultures and entire-system clean-outs that comes with batch brewing, if an undesirable yeast strain gets into a CF system, it can cause a lot of problems. Now isolating yeast strains is something I’m very interested in. Afterall, this is what gives us all the different strains of yeast you find in your local homebrew shop. And er, Beard Beer.

Something I found very refreshing out the brothers is they made no bones about the fact that they worked for a corporate giant, but they did hasten to point out that they weren’t just about the mega-beer. They also help out the little guys when they need scientific assistance. Apparently they helped sort out yeast issues at the Shakespeare, back in the day.

So I chatted about yeast-strains and brewing processes with the Banks brothers for a while. At this stage however, I REALLY needed to pee, so I made my excuses, congratulated them again and went about my business. And back at the tables I told everyone about the two nice gentlemen scientists I met, the ceremony resumed, and that was that. Or so I thought.

The ceremony wrapped up in due-course, and I was chatting to Dave the Beer Guy, when out of nowhere popped Mr. Banks (I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you which one). There was something else, he said, that he forgot to mention. And then he started talking about, and really couldn’t make this stuff up: bioluminescent rabbits. It was something to do with yeast isolation again: giving rabbits different samples and using luminescent indicator when certain strains were present. Assuming no rabbits were harmed in the process, that’s a pretty cool piece of science.

And so the conversation rambled on again. Mr. Banks told us about a design of theirs that’s used in one of the largest breweries in Europe and about a brewery he’d worked on in Africa that wastes very little water. We both agreed that that’s the way New Zealand breweries should be working towards, both for environmental and economic reasons.

In fact if there was a consistent theme to our discussions it would be making brewing more efficient. And I’ll be honest: the motivation for this is mostly financial. People like the Banks brothers work for DB because they save DB money. They mean DB can more efficiently churn out their bland, homogenous products. But I still salute Mr. Banks and Mr. Banks for their work because it has a roll-on benefit for all sectors of the industry. Efficiency (whilst maintaining quality) should be a goal of all breweries, no matter what scale.

Our pleasant chat with Mr. Banks finally ended when we were ambushed by the video camera and we had do our darndest to look sober for an interview. Still, I thank the Brother banks both for their work and for taking the time to explain it to me. I get the impression not many people ever ask them what they do or are very interested in the answer.

To Mr. Banks and Mr. Banks: Gentlemen Scientists of the Brewing Industry.


1. In fact I kind of feel like I got off too easy this year. Previous years I’ve been an absolute wreck after working too many 14+ hour days straight.
2. Although some years they’re stingier with medals thank others and the goody-bag you take home after the party is a bit light.
3. Thre were some other things said, but we couldn’t hear them because of the PA system, which was bloody awful.

Saluting the Major

So it’s been a big week for me.  The so-called ‘soft’ opening of Golding’s on Monday was a smash-hit, with the place packing out.  Since then it’s been busy every night and I’ve worked quite a few long days in a row.  The next big hurdle is the Grand, or what I like to call ‘hard’ opening tomorrow.  It’s looking to be another sell-out night, with half of Wellington inviting themselves along.  Feel free to pop along yourself, all are welcome.  Just don’t expect much in the way of elbow room.

An just to entice you down, we’ll be sticking a couple of treats on tap.  First of all, another keg of the Funk Estate/Baylands Brewery Big Red Ryeding Hood.  This was the darling beer of Monday’s opening: a big, malty, hoppy, rye-y IPA.  Very fresh and a little angry, but all the better for it.

The other beer, is something a bit different.  You see, I was at the Garage the other day (well, two months ago) and told Pete the Brewer about my new job at Golding’s.

Pete: “Congrats Dude.  Hey, we should make a beer for the opening,” said Pete.

Me: “You read my mind, Old Bean,” (or something like that).

Anyway, we got to talking and collaborating and so on.  Pete wanted to make something with lots of Golding hops (for obvious reasons).  I wasn’t so keen.  East Kent Golding is all well and fine as hop varieties go, but it’s not much fun in my opinion.  I wanted to do hoppy wheat ale.  As readers will know, I had a summer-romance with one a little while back.  Suddenly I had an idea.

Me: “What if we made an English Wheat Beer?”

Pete: “A what?”

Me: “What if the England had a traditional, native wheat ale?1  What would that be like?  Kind of like a bitter or a golden ale, but with a fair dose of wheat-malt and a clean British ale yeast”.

Pete: “I see.  Sounds interesting.”

Me: “We could hop it with lots of Goldings.  It’ll be like a English/German hybrid: British hops and yeast, but with German wheat malt.”

And so it was settled.  We booked in a brew date (no mean feat, considering how busy they are at the Garage) and off we went.

I turned up on brew-day at some ungodly hour (9am. That’s ungodly by my standards).  Pete was in the middle of brewing a batch of ANZAC on the big kit.

Pete: “Hey Dude, I’ve been thinking.  I like this English/German hybrid idea.  Lets expand on that and use a combination of English and German hop varieties.”

Sounds good to me.  We got down to arguing the malt bill.  I was keen to do a split malt bill 30-40% wheat with the rest Golden Promise, but Pete disagreed.  He reckons too much wheat can be a bit ‘yucky’.  I’m only a causal home brewer, and he’s the experienced professional, so I bowed to knowledge and experience on that one.  We went with a Golden Promise base, and 15% wheat.  Pete also wanted to drop in a bit of Caramel and Aroma malts, to make it a little more Englishy.  That fitted in with the concept, so I was down with it.

We milled, we mashed, we re-circulated.  All very standard stuff:

Mashing

I had my best brewing-face on.

Brewing faces may or may not contain beards.

Brewing faces may or may not contain beards.

I was a little concerned about the mash sticking, this being my first time using wheat.  I was there for the first Summer Sommer brew, which had an awful stuck-mash, that time from rye.  I could just envision a 10-hour brew day, but my fears were unfounded.  Everything went smoothly.

Like silk.

Like silk.

After running off, we got a healthy boil going, and started adding hops.  The same triple combo was used throughout the whole process: East Kent Goldings, Challenger and Hallertau Tradition.  A small  bittering addition was followed by generous late editions of all three hops.  I was measuring the hops, so I made damn sure they were properly generous additions.

As before, all went smoothly.  We boiled, we chilled, we pitched.  Yeast-wise we went with Wyeast Yorkshire Ale, a fairly clean and attenuative strain.  Soon the beer was tucked up cozily in a fermentor, bubbling away.  Easy as.

What wasn’t easy was coming up with a name.  Naming beers is tricky and often done poorly (I swear one day I will write that naming guide).  We kicked around a few names like “Free Diver” and “Dive-Bomber” but nothing quite seemed to fit.  Finally we settled on a suggestion of mine: Major Goldings.  This is both a tribute to Golding’s Free Dive, Golding hops, of which there are major amounts in the beer, and the British/German style mashup (because you know, wars and shit).

I haven’t had a chance to taste it post dry-hop, but early indications are that it’s refreshing and slightly bitter golden-ish ale.  4.3% ABV, light but full.  Now a word of warning.  There is only 30 litres or so, this being a pilot-kit brew.  It’ll be going on at Goldings on Friday, mid afternoon.  It will not last the night, so get in quick if you want to try some.

See you on Friday.  And remember  Beer is Love, ya’ll.

Sean and Pete

Pete and Sean, a pair of beardy-beer chaps.


  1. I’m ignoring the fact that they actually did and still do, sort of.