Haze Craze or Haze Daze?

There are many pivotal events that have changed the beer industry and the beer drinking landscape. CAMRA championed and preserved cask and real ale when it was on the brink of extinction, the introduction of Small Brewers Relief (SBR) in 2002 allowed new & exciting breweries to flourish and, arguably of equal importance, was the introduction of the hazy IPA. Or as we have come to know and love it the New England IPA (NEIPA). First brewed in 2011 and then recognised as an official beer style in 2015, it’s fair to say that the NEIPA completely changed the brewing rulebook.

First brewed by The Alchemist in Vermont, Heady Topper was the first beer of its kind; hazy, juicy, hoppy and completely new. Nothing of its kind had come before it with brewer John Kimmich taking a traditional IPA recipe and removing the filtration and pasteurisation process, a bold move considering the IPA’s traditional transparent appearance. A bold move, perhaps, but looking at how the industry has pored over this style and the volume of breweries established to specialise in its production, it’s clear that the juicy IPA isn’t going anywhere.

Now let’s get one thing clear (pardon the pun) early doors, I’m not saying that the NEIPA in its many guiles should suddenly disappear. Heck, it’s what my beer drinking journey has been born from and without it, it’s unlikely I would’ve started drinking craft beer at all. But what I am beginning to notice is that it is becoming harder and harder to get excited about new beer announcements when, from outside in, many of them appear to be very similar if not the same.

I used to get all giddy and excited when I saw the latest juicy number announced from the likes of Verdant, Northern Monk or Cloudwater but as time has gone on, this has just become the expectation. Of course I still get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when that initial sip of the hoppy soup passes my lips, but it has become so normalised now that I find it hard to look at another IPA or NEIPA and think ‘cor blimey, I need that in my life.’

Conversely, saying that these beers are the same or very similar is doing both the breweries and brewers a certain level of disservice which I understand and mean to cause no offence. Looking at the vast variety of hops they have to play with at their disposal, not even taking into consideration the malt base, it’s very unlikely that two beers will ever be the same. Hops can be chopped and changed, added on the cold or hot side of the brewing process or even use the new hop oils and other products that have come to market of late, making the possibilities endless.

But, as part of this whole haze craze, the continuous search for something new and different has also been prevalent with beer tickers across the globe hunting for that new and exciting beer. So despite the variance of hops that can be used within, and maybe adding oats or other ingredients to the base for added smoothness or creaminess, has the NEIPA now become standardised? Are we now at a point where breweries have reached their peak in both quality and consistently which are probably more important than making people weak at the knees with each new beer they release?

If so, where does that leave us? Does that leave us on the cusp of something new and exciting, or is there still room for the NEIPA to wow and excite people? And, for those who may be becoming a little weary of a similar product, where do they head? For me, I always find solace in a classic West Coast style IPA that’s both resinous and bitter, leaving you wanting more. Perhaps heading backwards, is the way forwards…

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