craft beer

Stop Calling Hazy Beers IPAs

That’s it. That’s all I have to say. Thanks for reading my blog.

Okay, okay. I’ll expound a little.

The latest beer craze has been Hazy IPAs. They’re, as you might guess, hazy in color. Opaque. Like Metamucil on a cloudy day. So the name of it totally fits.

Except for the fact that it’s not an IPA.

IPA, for those who don’t know, stands for India Pale Ale. It originally got this designation because it was the beer English sailors took on the long trek to India. In order to avoid spoilage, they put a shit-ton of hops in it. Medieval preservatives. Hence the hop-forward flavor profile of your typical IPA. Except not hazies.

When you remember that the I stands for India, the extra classifications sound silly. An IIPA is an Imperial India Pale Ale. Kinda redundant. When else were the Brits going to India? By the time India gained it’s independence, the Suez Canal existed, making the extra hops unnecessary. To say nothing of refrigeration.

A Double IPA? Triple? Is there more than one India? The British were known for fomenting differences between the various religions and ethnicities on the subcontinent, so maybe you could have a Triple India, but they wouldn’t all be drinking the same beer. And at least one of the three wouldn’t drink beer.

Maybe the Double and the Triple IPAs were extra hopped for multiple trips to and from? But couldn’t they refill their keg in between trips? In reality, the double and triple just refers to the extra level of douchiness of the hipsters who drink that swill. Maybe the D doesn’t really stand for Double, after all. You can go to a barbecue with a Triple Douchbag IPA, even if there isn’t a beer in sight.

In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not a huge fan of IPAs. Unfortunately, this means the selection of beers I could buy over the past decade was sparse. In a typical liquor store, the IPA section took up about seventy percent. Twenty percent went to the piss-water, your Budweisers and Pabsts, remnants of my father’s and grandfather’s era when they didn’t know beer was supposed to have flavor, leaving maybe ten percent of the shelf space for the Pales and the Browns and the Reds and the Stouts and the Pilsners and the Wheats.

Actually, fuck the Wheats. If I have to add fruit, it ain’t a beer.

By the time I was of legal drinking age, my grandpa was dead and my dad was an alcoholic. So I never really got a chance to sit and have a brewski with them. I wonder how they would have reacted if I busted out a Sierra Nevada Pale, or even a Newcastle Brown. Would they have oohed and aahed at the brave new world  I’d opened for them? Or would they have wondered why my generation had to go fuck something up as simple and wonderful as beer? Kinda like I do when a Millennial waxes lyrical about his 100 IBU IPA.

IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit. The bitterness comes from the hops and the closer it gets to triple-digits, the more it tastes and feels like cotton. Budweiser and its ilk have IBUs in the single digits. Creamy ales and brown ales are in the low double-digits. The major microbrews, like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada, are in the thirties range, which I also call the happy range.

Hazies, on the other hand, have IBUs in the twenties or the teens. I’ve seen some as low as ten, maybe eight. That’s porter territory, no residual bitterness whatsoever. Calling a Hazy an IPA is like calling yourself an international coffee company but basing yourself on froo-froo caramel Frappuccinos and having baristas who look at the customer funny when they just want some fucking coffee, is that too fucking hard to do?

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Hazy IPA is more or less on the opposite end of the beer spectrum from a standard IPA. Opposite side of the Earth, even, since they were once called New England IPA and nothing says India like Boston.

The hazy people claim that it’s still an IPA because of the amount of hops they put in it. But they put the hops in at the end of the process, after the boil, so (and they’ll admit this), the hoppiness doesn’t become infused into the flavor. A genuine IPA is like percolated coffee or a French Press, whereas a Hazy IPA is instant coffee being stirred into hot water. 

It’s the equivalent of sprinkling a little garlic powder over your store-bought pasta sauce instead of cooking up chopped garlic in the oil before adding the sauce. You can call both of them garlic sauce, but they’re not going to taste the same. The Hazy IPAs end up more citrusy and, with tasting notes similar to a sauvignon blanc. “Hints of pineapple,” “Mango forward.” Who would have guessed hops had nuance when you don’t boil the shit out of them? Maybe that cottony bitterness is a defense mechanism, like when a lobster thrown into already boiling water ends up tasting like shit. Maybe nobody outside of 18th-century sailors and douchebag hipsters was ever supposed to pretend to like overly hoppy beer. The first because they were out at sea for six months straight and any port’ll do. The latter because, ugh, you’re so bourgeois if he has to explain it to you.

Restaurants are even worse than liquor stores. Twenty taps? Ten IPAs, two DIPAs, a triple, and an Imperial. Plus maybe a Double Imperial. It’s maybe gotten a little bit better, with porters coming back into vogue recently. Plus hazies which, I hope I’m establishing, aren’t IPAs. But it’s still rough. I was recently at two different eateries in Yosemite. Each had three taps, two of which were IPAs, but different IPAs. The third tap was either Coors Light or Michelob Ultra. I guess I’ll have a Sprite.

Disneyland was the same. California Adventure, really, because Disney has somehow decided to only offer alcohol at one of its parks. One of their stands had a wheat, a pilsner, an IPA, a double IPA, and a hazy IPA.

Good thing I’ve learned that hazies aren’t IPAs, because I wasn’t in the mood for a pilsner.

I think hazies took on the IPA moniker because of this very oversaturation. If you wanted your beer to hit the market in 2015, it must have the word “India” in the flavor. Like how in 2010, if you wanted to make a new movie or TV show, it had to feature zombies.

I assume a handful of hipsters realized belatedly that they didn’t like the taste, but didn’t know they could order . Here’s how I imagine the conversation went:

“Hey bartender, do you have any beers that don’t taste like ass?”

“I’ve got plenty. What flavor?”

“Anything that doesn’t taste like someone swiped a cotton-flavored brillo pad across my tonsils.”

“Not a hops fan, huh? Maybe you’d like a malty amber ale?”

“An Amber IPA?”

“It’s not an IPA.”

“I must have an IPA or I’ll be laughed out of the bar.”

“Let me get this straight. You want an IPA, but you don’t like hop flavors?”

“It’s not that I dislike hops. It’s just certain kinds. Like Galaxy and Cascade and Mosaic. Oh, and I’ve also ruled out Saaz and Sterling and Simcoe. Better avoid all the “s” hops. Do you have a type of hop that doesn’t taste like ass?”

Bartender, fiddling with the new beer that he can’t seem to move, “Here, try this. It’s an IPA, but it’s hazy.”

The classification hurts in both directions, though. Mythical dude-bro aside, most IPA fans don’t really like hazies. I took a flight with an IPA fan who ordered a hazy because the menu said IPA. He thought it was terrible. He almost sent it back, but I took it from him and, although it wouldn’t have been my top choice, I’d take it over a shitty-ass IPA any day.

I can’t be the only person who avoided hazies for a long while due to their designation. I know I was in the minority in my IPA-aversion, but I can’t be the only person. Furthermore, I should’ve been the target audience for a beer that tastes nothing like an IPA. You were never going to win over my airplane friend, you’re only going to make him distrust real IPAs from said brand. 

The glut of IPAs in all their forms seems to be hurting the beer industry in general. The Total Wine by my house used to be roughly 40% beer. Now it’s closer to 25%. Some of that space has been taken up by the new kids on the block, those ciders and seltzers, but even including all of those drinks on the beer shelves, they’ve still lost market share. 

My guess is we’re losing out on the next generation of beer drinkers. It’s not exactly “entry level,” and if it’s the only beer you can find, you’re not going to enter. Let’s say I decided I wanted my first beer at Yosemite, and my only three options were two IPAs and a Michelob Ultra. Let’s say, to give it that old college try, I sample all three. Two taste like cotton and the third like water. Guess I’ll stick to whiskey.

Here’s a thought: Call them Hazy Ales. Seems easy enough, distinct and descriptive. Nary an India in sight.

You’re welcome, Beer Industry. You know where to send my residuals.