IPA

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.

BEER! (Part II)

Welcome back to Part Two. In Part One, I talked about Coors Light and the rest of its ilk, remnants of an older time that somehow persist in a world of much better options.

Today, I’ll talk about one of those better options that I don’t necessarily feel is a better option. Watch out, hipsters.

If you’ll recall what started this retrospective, I was visiting a new person’s house and he offered me a Coors Light. I declined. Except that Coors Light wasn’t the only thing he had available. He also offered me an IPA. Ugh.

And hey, hipsters? The fact that someone would have only two options of beer, one of which is an IPA and the other of which is Coors Light, should tell you all you need to know about how fancy your brillo-pad of a beer really is.

Now here’s where I know I part from true beer snobs. At their best, India Pale Ales are tolerable. At their worst? Pass me the Coors Light. Or better yet, I’ll just take some water.

Fortunately, in this particular case, it was Lagunitas, which is one of the most tolerable IPAs. In fact, their original IPA wouldn’t even be considered an IPA by today’s standards. It would be like Ronald Reagan in the modern GOP, or JFK trying to make it past two primaries in the 2020 Democratic party. It only has an IBU in the mid-40s. Nowadays if your IPA doesn’t have an IBU above 60, you might as well call it a lager.

For those who don’t know, IBU stands for International Bittering Unit. It measures the amount of hops in the flavor. Hops are those things that smell like really nasty marijuana. When they’re put in the beer, they help offset the sweet, caramelly flavor that comes from the malted barley. So a stout, which has the same bitterness as a bold chocolate milk, will have an IBU below 10. Ambers and browns usually range in the 20s, although some of the “nuttier” ones will be as low as ten. Twenty years ago, when Lagunitas was one of the few IPAs out there, a red or a pale ale was in the thirties and above forty was reserved for an India Pale. These days, if you’re not flirting with triple-digits, the millennials will only roll their pierced eyebrow at you.

India Pale Ales are supposed to have more bitterness because, historically, hops were used as a preservative, so the extra hops would keep the beer from spoiling on those long cruises from England to India. Note it was for preservation, not taste. Because, and me out here, hops taste like crap. They do. I know you there in the back, currently scraping a filmy layer of skin off the top of your arid mouth can’t admit it without worrying you’d have to shave your beard as penance, but it is not at all refreshing. It tastes like you’re drinking cotton. It’s dry, it’s scratchy. And last time I checked, you’re not supposed to consume cotton. Especially cotton that smells like dank weed that’s been left in the bong for a fortnight.

Hey, I think that might be the first combination of “bong” and “fortnight” in the same sentence in the history of the English language. Unless you’re talking about the video game.

On the West Coast, Lagunitas was one of the forebears of the IPA craze. As if on a dare, they started proudicing Double and Triple and Imperial IPAs, pushing that IBU up into the triple digits, just waiting for someone to have the balls to say it tasted crappy, but groupthink’s a hell of a drug. Just ask the Nazis. It’s ironic that Labunitas once had the balssiest IPA, and now their IPA is so tame. It barely even registers as a straight Pale these days. For comparison, Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues (a fun Colorado brewery that comes up with names like Old Chub and Mama’s Yellow Pilsner) has an IBU of 65. Their IPA has a bittering factor of 70, almost double that of Lagunitas.

New Belgium’s IPAs range from 50 to 70. They also have Hemp IPAs. Did I mention dank weed?

And IPAs are just the start. Now breweries have Imperial IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and, I don’t know, a-vine-of-hops-shoved-directly-up-your-ass ale. IBUs of 80 or 90, even triple digits, are starting to become the norm. Colorado and California breweries are now coming out with hemp IPAs. Hell, if it’s gonna taste like headache-inspiring weed, they might as well go to the source. I can only imagine that straight-up marijuana IPAs are on the horizon out here.

And I know I’m in the minority here. The reason I know this is because every brewery or taphouse I go to has a shit-ton of IPAs and their ilk. You’ll have maybe one red or one amber, but not both, one pilsner, and then seventeen beers with IBUs ranging from 65 to 120. Hey, this one has notes of citrus and that one has a whiffs of cotton-swabbed asshole. Oh, and Coors Light is tap #20.

Clearly the market has decided something that is not my cup of Indian tea. A friend of a friend started a brewery. He has a similar taste profile to mine, and was tired of seeing the same varietals at every brewery. He wanted to show what could be done with some of the forgotten flavors. A nutty brown versus a hoppy brown. A light or a dark lager.

But the substantial majority of the customers who came in had one request: more varieties of IPA. So now when I go in there, I’m relegated to my one option, but at least I can commiserate with the brewer.

And I cancross my fingers and hope that more brewers are like he and I. We’re all just waiting for this trend to end. Putting a whole bunch of recipes on the shelf, ready for the moment when hipsters and millennials grow enough balls to admit that the IPA trend has gone too far. Every culinary movement has a backlash at the end, right?

But dammit, I’ve been waiting for this particular pendulum to swing back for a decade now. And my liver ain’t getting any younger.

I know, I know. I don’t like mass-produced beers and I don’t like IPAs. What the hell do I like? Check back on Monday to find out.