For many craft beer drinkers, the Great IBU War of the Early 2010s has started to fade into a distant memory.
And not a moment too soon.
Drinkers’ tastes in IPAs have started to evolve from the bitter, palate-wrecking hop bombs toward a gentler, juicier flavor. And where they once demanded a “clean” beer, many drinkers have started to embrace — if not seek out — the haziest offerings.
You can blame/credit that shift to the cult-like popularity of New England IPAs like Heady Topper from The Alchemist, Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and King Julius from Tree House Brewing.
Not ones to cede a niche market, craft brewers in Michigan have turned their attention to making juicy, hazy IPAs, too.
In a nutshell, that means using fewer hops in the boil and instead focusing on really aggressive dry-hopping during and after fermentation to lock in the signature juicy flavor. The choice of hops also typically focuses on the varieties that have “fruit-forward” tropical characteristics.
In our experience at Revue, the better New England-style IPAs have a certain “softness” to them. They’re not harshly bitter like a traditional IPA because of their “juicy” nature, and most typically feature a creamy or “pillowy” texture — often related to the addition of various calcium salts and oats to thicken the body and create that signature haze. Juicy IPAs can vary in appearance from looking like orange juice or pineapple juice, to more along the lines of a hazy/unfiltered IPA.
The style has been gaining in popularity recently, but has really ramped up among Michigan producers since late last year.
In the case of Old Nation Brewing Co. in Williamston, east of Lansing, the brewers decided to investigate New England-style IPAs after a bit of a rocky start for the company.
Co-owner Travis Fritts and head brewer Nate Rykse opened the brewery in 2015 with a mission to move away from IPAs to more traditional style beers.
“We had been making so much for so long and we were so bored with it,” Fritts said of IPAs. “We weren’t anti-IPA. We both like to drink them, but it just felt like it was played out.”
While the traditional styles won the praise of awards judging panels, they didn’t resonate with consumers — at all.
“If you look on Untappd, we got kicked in the teeth for making those beers,” Fritts said.
Both Fritts and Rykse, technical brewers by training, were familiar with the New England style, initially passing it off as “lazy beer.” But the more they read into it, the more nuanced they realized it was, especially in terms of the brewing techniques needed to make them, Fritts said.
That research set the stage for the sought-after M-43, a 6.8-percent ABV New England IPA, which is made with three different kinds of malt and four different hop varieties. Drinking the beer is a multi-sensory experience, according to Fritts.
“It looks different, it smells different, it drinks different,” he said. “It was just an aligning of the stars. It was the right beer for people to get turned onto. IPA had been fading anyway, not because people didn’t like the flavor of hops, just because they were looking for a beer they didn’t have to deal with. They could just drink it.
“I think people are responding to the fact that this is a drinking beer, as opposed to a beer you have to confront.”
Revue tasted six examples of New England-style or juicy IPAs, with Old Nation’s M-43 leading the pack along with two beers from Bridgman-based Transient Artisan Ales: Flightless, a double dry-hopped American Pale Ale, and The Juice Is Loose, a double IPA. (Thanks to Brandon Finnie for the hook-up on all three!)
M-43 New England India Pale Ale — Old Nation Brewing Co., Williamston, 6.8% ABV
This beer pours hazy AF — like OJ with no pulp added. The aroma and flavors are dominated by juicy citrus, with a smooth body. Perfectly balanced and easy to drink.
Flightless — Transient Artisan Ales, Bridgman, 5.5% ABV
Hazy, yellow and juicy, with a load of citrus that lingers well into the slightly dry finish. It’s on the lighter side, but incredibly flavorful and drinkable.
The Juice Is Loose — Transient Artisan Ales, Bridgman, 8% ABV
Total citrus bomb, and the alcohol comes through with a slight sweetness. This wasn’t quite as hazy as the others (a batch-to-batch variation?), but its flavor was spot-on.
Dirty Dank Juice — Odd Side Ales, Grand Haven, 6.5% ABV
Wheezin’ The Juice — Grand Armory Brewing Co., Grand Haven, 6.5% ABV
Maine Squeeze — Cellar Brewing Co., Sparta, 8% ABV
Other Michigan Examples
We couldn’t get our eager mitts on these beers for this report, but you can try them for your damn self and let us know what you think.
• Oatside Lookin’ In, Pike 51 Brewing Co., Hudsonville
• Stormy Oat IPA, North Peak Brewing Co., Dexter
• Jus, Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids (a New England-style IPA made with Galaxy, Nelson, Mosaic and El Dorado hops launching March 30)
• This Guy, Witch’s Hat, South Lyon