The sheer volume of hazy beers has spread like, well, some kind of virus in 2021. Martin Bridges checks out the state of this hazy nation.
THOSE WHO know me may be a little surprised that I suggested writing this article. After all, I do own a Trump-style “Make IPA Clear Again” t-shirt which I have been known to wear semi-ironically to beer festivals. The truth is that I don’t dislike hazy beers; I enjoy them as part of a “balanced beer diet” alongside lots of other styles. So, inspired by Dish magazine recently doing a tasting of hazy beers (that I was cruelly prevented from judging by the Covid-19 Delta outbreak which saw me confined to Auckland), I thought it would be an interesting idea to review the “state of play” in the hazy market in New Zealand.
The beer that ate New Zealand
Hazy beers have their origins in the north-east of the USA. In the early 2010s New England IPAs such as the legendary Heady Topper started spreading across the USA. New Zealand has always been an early adopter of new styles and it wasn’t long before examples started popping up here, usually “muled” in by keen beer enthusiasts who had picked them up on their travels (remember travel?!).
The first hazy IPA to light up the New Zealand craft beer market was Party & Bullshit from Garage Project which exploded onto the scene at the 2016 Malthouse West Coast IPA challenge. Clearly (pun intended) it didn’t win, but it made a big impression and more examples followed swiftly on its heels.
In the years since then hazy beers have grown at a stratospheric rate. On a recent visit to my local New World in Long Bay I counted 150 unique beers in the craft beer fridge — of these, 40 were hazy. That’s over 25 per cent of the total which, considering the range goes all the way from lagers through pale ales, IPAs, porters, stouts and sours, is clearly indicative of the market demand for haze.
In addition, hazy beers rank highly on Untappd. Of the top 20 scoring beers produced by New Zealand brewers, 13 are some form of hazy. That differs from other regions around the world where big imperial stouts or sours often dominate the charts.
A proliferation of styles
While the early hazy beers fell very much into the New England IPA style with low bitterness, big juicy fruit flavours, thick haze and smooth palate, sitting at around 7 per cent ABV, the hazy diaspora has broadened over time. These days we often see “unfiltered” added to beer styles, and “oat cream” beers seem to have popped up in the last couple of years. Some breweries are producing hazy variants of other styles; usually pale ales, but I have seen hazy red ales and even (unfortunately) a hazy brown ale which I have to say did not look very appetising.
All this is understandable when the market is clamouring for More Haze! Several brewers have said to me that they often hear of drinkers going into bars and asking “What hazies have you got?”, and some have been known to leave if there aren’t any.
State of the Nation
It certainly feels like hazy beers have come of age in the last couple of years. In 2019 Heyday brewpub in Wellington launched the annual Hazy IPA Challenge, a counterpoint to the West Coast IPA Challenge that has been running at the Malthouse since 2008. The New World Beer & Cider Awards created a separate entry category for hazies this year, and at this year’s Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards there was a Juicy/Hazy trophy awarded for the first time, won by Waitoa Beer from Wellington with their Afterglow Hazy IPA. And, as mentioned above, Dish magazine recently ran a tasting of hazy beers with Bach Brewing’s Supajuice coming out on top.
So, I wanted to do a bit of a stocktake of the zeitgeist. I wanted to taste a range of different beers from different breweries and different styles, but I wanted to do it without the pressure of some of those famous breweries and their reputations weighing on my palate. The answer was to arrange a blind tasting. I called upon the knowledgeable and always helpful Susie from the excellent Liquorland Forrest Hill and gave her a simple brief: pick out eight hazy beers that she knew would be fresh and at the top of their game. They should come from breweries well-known for their hazy prowess, as well as from some up-and-coming breweries. They should also represent as many of the sub-styles within the hazy spectrum as possible. She rose to the challenge and my wife went down to pick them up and then serve them to me without me having a clue as to what they were.
The beers I tasted were (in no particular order):
- Baylands Hop Devastator (Hazy Pale Ale)
- McLeods Cove (Unfiltered Pale Ale)
- Duncans Oat Cream v6 (Hazy IPA)
- Urbanaut Cryo Pop (Hazy IPA)
- McLeods Cyclone Swell (Unfiltered IPA)
- Sawmill Aotearoa Series #24 Hazy Riwaka (Hazy IPA)
- Parrotdog Birdseye (Hazy Pale Ale)
- Panhead Surteez Deedz (Oat Cream IPA)
What did I learn? All of the beers were in cracking form — New Zealand brewers have certainly mastered the art of making a good hazy beer. All exhibited the trademarks of the uber-style: big juiciness and subdued bitterness (as compared with a classic IPA).
There is also a definite range on offer for the drinker. The hazy pale ales offered a touch more drinkability as a result of their slightly higher bitterness and lighter body. Certainly, I find that full-on juice bomb hazy IPAs can sometimes be delicious but I can only have one due to the mouth-coating haze and thick body. However, if thick and juicy is what you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with the McLeod’s Cyclone Swell which, despite being tagged as “unfiltered”, ticked all of those classic hazy IPA boxes.
Elsewhere the Sawmill Aotearoa Series #24 was a showcase of the glory of New Zealand hops, with the tropical fruit character of Riwaka singing out over a soft juicy base. But just pipping it at the post (in my personal opinion) was the Urbanaut Cryo Pop which managed to balance a distinctive tropical aroma with rich juicy fruitiness and a zing of sherbert. Some of the purists would no doubt complain that it was too transparent to be a “proper” hazy, but it certainly tasted great.
Hazy beers are clearly (hah!) here to stay. I suspect that we’ve possibly reached “peak haze” and that the levels of dominance seen in the New World beer fridge won’t be sustained for much longer, but the diversification of the original style means that they’ll continue to appeal to a wide range of beer drinkers. And I’m cool with that.