One of the most fascinating parts of the Australian craft beer scene is the speed at which it innovates, and how we can create our own styles and not just follow other countries. Three years ago, the word hazy (NEIPA aside) would be used to describe a beer we assumed had a few issues in the brewing process, or was a keg or can that was from the ‘End of the Run’. Today, the word Hazy has taken centre stage in Australia. It’s proving to be a great style to debate with your beer mates and it’s going gangbusters.
Like the XPA, there is a lot of ambiguity as to what the exact definition of a Hazy is, and rightly so. Loosely speaking, the Hazy beer is a New England style IPA (NEIPA). The NEIPA is a relatively new beer style, first produced in the early 2000’s, becoming popular in the 2010’s, and finally becoming an officially recognised beer style in 2015 by the BJCP. It is characterised by a strong hop forward aroma, low bitterness, and a hazy appearance. Some would say that a good NEIPA should almost look, smell and taste like fruit juice.
A NEIPA predominantly gets its haze from oats and yeast. Oats impart haze in a beer due to a high beta glucan content, a gum produced during malting. Certain yeast strains also produce byproducts that contribute to the haziness, as well as the fruity aromas. Another characteristic of the NEIPA is its hop forward aroma and flavour that contributes to its juicy characteristics. Part of the reason the hop flavours are so strong is it’s unique salt composition. The water in the New England region of America is naturally higher in certain salts and minerals and, like adding salt to your meal, this exaggerates the hops notes, helping to contribute to the big flavour.
On our travels through the New England region of America a few years ago, this style was all the rage. When checking out Other Half Brewing, they had 20 beers on tap, and only 4 of those beers were NOT NEIPA’s! Everywhere else we went, usually at least half the beers on tap were a NEIPA.
While the term NEIPA is well used in Australia, it is the phrase Hazy that has really captured our attention. Why? While there are many causes, we think there are a couple of major reasons the term Hazy has been more popular than NEIPA in Australia - our government regulations and our climate and culture.
IPA style beers, while a crowd favourite amongst Aussie craft beer drinkers, have a higher alcohol content, and so suffer the wrath of the government. Unlike the US and many other countries with a vibrant craft beer scene, we have steep alcohol excises that are based on the amount of alcohol in the beer. In countries with no excise, or a smaller excise, these beers are not much more expensive to produce than a pale ale (just a higher ingredients bill). Whereas in Australia, the excise difference between a case of pale ale and a case of IPA can easily cost an extra $10-$15, and gets worse as the alcohol content increases. To add to this dilemma, excise money has to be paid before the beer is even brewed, requiring a substantially higher working capital balance that quickly eats into an independent brewery's cash flow (and we all know cash is king!). As such, it is difficult for a brewery in Australia to make sustainable profits if it focuses purely on stronger beers. We believe this is one reason why Australian breweries tend to balance their portfolio of a few ‘heavies’ with a smorgasbord of standard strength beers. But this is not a bad thing, as it leads to our other reasoning - climate and culture.
When it comes to drinking beer in Australia, we believe our craft beer scene is quite different to the US and many other northern hemisphere countries. With such an outdoor, social, and sporting culture here, we tend to enjoy drinking a few beers in the afternoon, and still be able to function like an adult or a parent in the evening. That is not to say Australians don’t enjoy strong beers, we do, we just tend to balance our drinking to our occasions. We factor in our enjoyment, our health and the price into our drinking, and this lends towards drinking more standard strength beers to stronger beers. We, for example, are more likely to drink a pale ale at a BBQ on a Saturday afternoon, and an IPA at the pub on a Friday evening.
This is where the term Hazy has started to take on a meaning of its own in Australia. While originating as a NEIPA under a different name, this has transitioned to other beer styles. There are now several Hazy Pale Ales on the market, we tried a Hazy Sour recently and we believe the Hazy revolution will expand, and be here to stay.
Our Head Brewer, Grace, has been experimenting away on our pilot system, and this week we brewed our newest beer, and guess what? It’s a HAZY! Stay tuned as we go into more detail on our contribution to this exciting new phenomenon closer to its release date.