Trends can be separated into two camps: fads and new norms. The trickiest thing about trends is identifying whether or not they are a fad – something that will come and go faster than hammer pants – or if they will become the new norm of your industry. A great debate going on in the beer business right now is whether or not the New England or Hazy IPA trend is a quickly fading fad or something that will become a new norm for breweries outside of the northeast.
These unfiltered, cloudy IPAs are characterized by their look and flavor. They are typically lower in bitterness and higher in citrusy, juicy flavor. Many of them drink like a mimosa or greyhound, with huge flavors of orange, grapefruit, passion fruit, guava and tangerine. The alcohol varies from brand to brand, but many breweries are exploring these flavors utilizing lower ABV’s and maximizing the juicy notes while providing a beer that can be quaffed sessionably.
As a sales professional and a craft beer drinker, I can only weigh in on what I have seen in this and other markets. In Boise, for instance, the Hazy IPAs aren’t just doing well but are crushing the market. For an IPA drinker and sales professional, these beers present a ton of opportunity because they aren’t just delicious, but, much like fresh lobster at a fancy seafood restaurant, they are market-priced. People are happily paying up to $15 for a four-pack of 16oz cans and are thirsty for more. The local breweries have so far done a poor job of supplying the market with these beers (with exceptions), so customers are getting their fix from outside breweries. Before the large craft breweries – Sierra Nevada and New Belgium chief among them – entered the market with their own versions, many regional breweries put out incredible Hazy IPAs, priced at a premium and sold as quickly as they could be put onto shelves.
The question inevitably becomes if this Hazy IPA trend is a fad or a new norm. Many professionals in the beer industry believe this is another fad. They believe customers will soon come back to their favorite “traditional IPA,” and will grow tired of paying a premium for beer that is technically inferior to other chosen brands. Furthermore, many breweries believe they have missed their opportunity to cash in on this trend and are just moving on to what they believe will be the next trend. This debate is going on while the smart breweries are producing, and selling, their Hazy IPAs as fast as they can make them. One brewery, Revision Brewing Company in Sparks Nevada, has put out so many Hazy IPAs – all in differently branded 16oz cans – into the Boise market that it has become difficult to keep track of how many they have released! Other breweries, like Sierra Nevada, have decided to apply their old (and very successful) way of thinking to this new trend and have released a single Hazy IPA to the general market. Fremont Brewing, based in Seattle, has hedged its hazy bet by packaging a variety of Hazy IPA beers into a single brand. Woodland Empire Ale Craft, in Boise, has gone to a series of 16oz canned IPAs that are sometimes hazy and other times semi-traditional. It’s a perfect storm of trends!
Ultimately the customer will decide how this hazy trend will end. But, doesn’t it seem like this brand of IPA could become a new norm? Brewers have never shied away from cloudy beers or beers filled with sediment. Homebrewers aren’t afraid of a little suspended yeast. If lasting trends or norms are formed from the top down, or from the beer experts on down to the customer, then isn’t the Hazy IPA just the next step for IPA drinkers? Has market-priced lobster ever gone out of style? As long as people are willing to pay a premium for these beers, it seems to me that they will become a new lasting norm in our industry.
The one caveat is what big yellow beer will do with Hazy IPA. Budweiser could single-handedly kill the Hazy IPA by simply releasing a terrible version of the beer under one of its many hydra heads and destroy market credibility with the masses. They tried doing it to the Amber Ale back in the last decade (as did Miller) and just might see a chance to do that again. What’s to stop them from putting out $9 six-pack 16oz cans of Goose Island Hazy NE Chi-Town IPA (Unfiltered! So nothing gets between your taste buds and the flavor of NE Chicago!)? They have been doing it with the IPA ($38 sixth-barrel kegs of Goose IPA flood the market while the average price of craft sixth barrels hovers around $65), what’s to stop them from entering the hazy market under that brand? As much market share as craft has taken from big yellow, they can still dictate what 65% of beer buyers drink through marketing and unfair pricing practices. It would not surprise me one bit to see this play out in 2018.
Until that unhappy day, we as craft beer producers should take this opportunity to show off exactly what we can do with an unfiltered Hazy IPA. Delicious hops are plentiful and most of them reasonably priced enough to do some really fun and amazing combinations within this style of beer. Not to end this article on a commercial, but the brewers at Edge were able to put together a beautiful Hazy Double IPA for our anniversary this weekend. It’s called “Haze 4 the Memories” and celebrates our 4th year as a brewery and pub. I’m hoping we can turn this small victory in to a lasting brand that will not only help our business grow, but help people understand that hoppy beers don’t have to be super bitter or even super boozy (though this beer is 8.7% abv!) to be an IPA. The only thing more cloudy than these wonderful IPA’s is their future in the beer business.