The outlook is hazy, with little sign of clearing up any time soon. At least that’s the case in the world of IPAs, where cloudy, unfiltered ales have filtered into the lineups of Central Coast breweries.
The latest evidence? Firestone Walker Brewing Co., the Paso Robles brewery that built its reputation on consistently clean, clear beers, recently released Mind Haze, its first-ever wide-market hazy beer.
“We’re finally ready do a hazy IPA the Firestone way,” brewmaster Matt Brynildson said.
The trend is a story of east-meets-west, with West Coast brewers dipping into a style cooked up in the brewhouses of New England. That style involves using wheat or oats to lend some body and adding hops only toward the end of the brewing process.
Hazy IPAs have found an audience with beer drinkers who like their softer, juicy texture and hit of citrusy hop flavor without some of the bitterness typically found in India pale ales.
“They’re more approachable than a lot of West Coast IPAs,” said Brendan Gough, award-winning brewmaster at Central Coast Brewing in San Luis Obispo. “The bitterness is so low and the fruit character is so high.”
Gough, named Brewmaster of the Year by the California Mid-State Fair and Central Coast Brewers Guild in 2018, was among the first San Luis Obispo County brewers to jump on the hazy train a couple years ago, with a beer called Pulp Francis. That taproom favorite was soon followed by Juicebox Hero, Juice Almighty and other iterations.
“It’s been a big part of what helped us gain popularity,” he said, adding that Pulp Francis is set to make a reappearance soon.
But Gough remembers a time not long ago when cloudiness was seen as a flaw. The first New England-style IPA he tasted came with guidance to “enjoy from the can,” which he and other brewers joked was to hide how it looked.
Things changed fast as drinkers took to the softer style. Pulpy-looking ales, featuring such witty names as Make America Juicy Again and Contains No Juice, now fill Instagram feeds and flow from taps across the country.
The style was still new to West Coast drinkers when BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Paso Robles introduced Juicy in late 2016. But it became an overnight sensation in the taproom, BarrelHouse marketing manager Chris Vaughn said, and remains one of the brewery’s top-selling beers.
BarrelHouse doubled down on that success with limited runs of pineapple, grapefruit and imperial-style double hazies, as well as a strawberry milkshake take, brewed with lactose for an even fuller body.
“It’s a delicious style,” Vaughn said. “We’re confident hazy IPAs will remain in our line-up for years to come.”
Other local breweries followed suit. Santa Maria Brewing Co. came out with Cra-Hazy and Julicious, San Luis Obispo’s Bang the Drum brewed up Tropic Thunder, Coastal Cloud flowed from the taps at Atascadero’s Dead Oak Brewing, and Kilokilo Brewing in Paso clouded over with Ruckus and Sofa King Hazy.
SLO Brew’s Hazards Haze is one of the newest on the scene, named after a local surf spot and delivering a wave of hops along with the citrus-spray aromas.
“Patrons were asking for it,” SLO Brew marketing director Brian Kerr said, adding that another, more limited-release hazy is on the horizon. “It was something missing from our portfolio.”
Through this haze craze, Firestone bided its time. Brynildson wasn’t content simply recreating the New England style, so he and his brew team spent more than a year tinkering with how to put a Firestone stamp on the style.
Patrons got a glimpse into the process when the Propagator, Firestone’s research-and-development brewery down in Venice, came out with Patrick Hayze, a limited release ironically named for the brewery’s lead clarification and filter technician —that is, the guy normally charged with keeping the beer clear.
For Mind Haze, Brynildson sought inspiration from the Bavarian hefeweizens he’s long enjoyed for their creamy mouthfeel and tropical-banana aromas.
The wheat and oats that make up nearly half the beer’s grain bill make for a textured backdrop to the bright tropical hops.
“We are drawing from our past experience in making hefeweizens and then aiming to amplify the esters gained from a specially chosen yeast and an array of really fruity hops,” Brynildson said. (For those without a chemistry degree, esters are basically flavors resulting from fermentation.)
Even as the haze trend continues to spread far and wide, Gough sees clear patches ahead – with some beer drinkers coming back to the clean, crisp IPAs the West Coast is known for.
He worries that some breweries are more concerned with how their beers look than how they taste, and that has the potential to turn beer drinkers off the style.
Ultimately, though, Gough takes the view that there’s room for a range of IPA styles — East Coast, West Coast and otherwise — among the tap handles. Rather than one style winning out over the other, Gough sees brewers on both coasts increasingly taking elements from the other and adding their own spin.
“We’ll see more New England influence in new-school West Coast beers” — and vice versa in the East, he predicts.
Brut force: A new take on IPA hits the shelves
To the ever-expanding array of takes on the popular India pale ale, add one more.
Brut IPAs bring a bone-dry, Champagne-style approach to the beer world, offering crisp, light-bodied refreshment that packs a hit of hop flavor.
Both BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Paso Robles and SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo have brewed up some brut, as has Telegraph Brewing Co. in Santa Barbara. And Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. six-packs can be found in many area stores.
So what is a brut brew? Beers typically retain some sugar, but the brut styles employ a special enzyme to bring the residual sugar down to almost zero, keeping the taste light but the alcohol high.
SLO Brew’s brut, produced in Champagne-style bottles for the holidays, clocks in at 7 percent alcohol by volume, but drinks like 5 percent, marketing manager Brian Kerr said.
In many ways, crystal-clear bruts are the antithesis of hazy IPAs, with their creamy, textured mouthfeel. But the styles share one trait in common: less pronounced hop bitterness.
BarrelHouse’s Brut IPA, for example, is rated 20 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), compared to 76 for its IPA and 96 for its Big Sur Double.
Brendan Gough, brewmaster at Central Coast Brewing in San Luis Obispo, isn’t sure if he’ll brew a brut but acknowledges they can be a good option for people following keto and other low-carb eating plans.
“The zero sugar makes them appealing for folks trying to drink lighter or be more health conscious,” he said.