Having recently kicked a gallon and a half mini-keg of a deliciously unfiltered NE type IPA (kegged with an ounce of whole cone Simcoe because I’m not a monster) with the visual clarity of a pureed peach, I got to thinking. What is it about beer haze, specifically in IPAs, that has turned it from the sign of a beer gone wrong to the look of some of the most desired IPAs the world over (or at least in these occasionally unified states and as long as your last name isn’t Alstrom)? To best answer this, we need to look at the good, the bad, and the why of hazy beer.
Although the causes vary, the basics of beer haze remain the same. Haze is the reflection of light off particles floating in the beer. Done. But, before getting into the malts and hops of brewing, I want to address a misconception I had about beer haze. Most of it came from my first trip to Tired Hands, where I encountered purposefully clouded IPAs that had a body rivaling pancake batter. At the time, I assumed it was entirely protein based, coming from a beyond heavy dosage of oat, wheat, and other protein rich grains. While grain is a major factor, beer haze comes in many forms, so let’s break them down, both the desirable and reviled.
The Kind of Haze You Do
Grain/Protein Haze – Wheat, oat, spelt all add body to your beer due to high protein content. It also adds a murky haze that can have the clarity of chowder at higher doses due to those proteins. Pretty much as simple as that. You can probably mitigate some haze through protein rests during your mash, but when most brewers add protein rich grains, they are doing so with the understanding or intention of producing some level of murk. This look of creamy fog can also be cheated by adding flour to the beer to achieve a uniform haze. You know who you are (TH).
Also see: Yeast Haze as grain and yeast work in conjunction to produce those cloudy, protein rich beers (i.e. Wits/Hefeweizens).
Dry-Hopping – This is done during the end of or after fermentation to soak in plenty of hop oils that contribute to delicate flavors and hop stanky aromatics. This is usually done at room temperate or a little lower, far from the 170 degree minimum needed to extract bittering alpha acids. A copious charge of dry-hopping will saturate the beer with hop oils, creating temporary bonds with the yeast. Cold crashing will strip out some of oils when the yeast drops out, but the hop haze will persist.
There is some evidence that active yeast’s interaction with hop compounds (known as biotransformation) is believed to produce chemically altered hop terpenoids that contribute to hazier beer. Technically, it is a conversion of monoterpene alcohols that adds the desirable hoppy beer qualities by producing more sciencey sounding stuff like linalool, geraniol, and citronelleol among others. Those interested in a deep dive can read more of the truly sciency articles here and here.
To what degree the yeast/hop interaction contributes these complicated compounds and what effect they have on the overall beer aromatics and flavor is somewhat open to debate. Brulosophy took this on directly, relying on senses for the results: linky. Draft Magazine wrote about a similar experiment done by Cloud Water Brew Co. that just about directly contradicts the Brulosophy results: linky. I can say from personal experience that dry hopping as fermentation slows versus well after seems to produce an aromatically different beer (danky stank type difference) with a mild effect on flavor, but the specific yeast strain used seems to be a big factor.
This really is a rabbit hole of a topic that I’m still exploring. For this post’s purpose, just know that massive dry-hopping equals major haze (and a perfect name for your beer rapping alter-ego if someone beats you to Danky Stank). Your enjoyment or hatred of dry hopped beer bombs will vary depending how important your eyes are to your nasal and tongual experiences, but as a homebrewer, I’ll take dry hop haze every time.
The Kind of Haze You Might
Pectin Haze – This occurs when fruit, especially citrus fruit, is used to flavor beer during or post fermentation. Pectin is a gelatinous polysaccharide that mixes with liquids to create a gooey gel and sciencey blah, blah, blah. We’ve already dealt with that enough.
What matters is that pectin makes beer cloudy. There are ways to mitigate its effects via additives like pectin enyzmes or fining agents before bottling should a brewer want to avoid it (many do).
Some brewers like to leave the haze in, allowing it to keep the added body and flavor in tact. Other brewers may have concerns with filtration due to the gel-ing effect and/or want a beer that visually appeals to the average beer drinker, causing them to take steps to remove or reduce it. Interestingly, Tired Hands reportedly uses green apple puree, a fruit very high in pectin content, in some of their milkshake beers to help achieve the complete mud effect.
Yeast Haze – The sheer multitude of available yeasts makes it difficult to talk in absolutes. For the purpose of haze, it comes down to a yeast strain’s flocculation. This refers to how readily the yeast will drop out of suspension once it’s done nibbling up the sugars in the wort and pooping out alcohol (figuratively).
To stay alive, yeast will start binding with anything and everything it can, creating large clumps that fall to the bottom of the fermenter. That’s why creating a chilly environment, known as cold crashing, is a great way for homebrewers to clean up their beers. Most production breweries have more options, ranging from centrifuges to heavy filtration. Regardless, most yeast haze will clear given enough time and refrigeration.
Some believe that filtering beer will provide immediate clarification at the cost of taste. To a degree this is true. But how much is difficult to determine and whether this loss can be mitigated by just adding a little more to compensate for these losses is an interesting experiment worth doing.
As I will only keg my hop-centric beers, I am in a situation that allows me to filter. With this in mind, I plan on experimenting with the filtering process and its effect on dry hopping and yeast extraction. This will involve dry hopping during fermentation and doing various combinations of filtering, non-filtering, and adjusting the micron size.
The Kind of Haze You Don’t
Chill Haze – This type of haze is merely a bane to brewer’s pride. Having no effect on taste, it’s simply the leftover proteins from the post-boil cold break (rapid chilling of wort to shock these proteins out of suspension). If these proteins remain, the beer will take on a uniform look of blurry haze when chilled (they skedaddle when the beer warms as shown in Stone’s illustration of this very point to the right). The addition of these proteins will also cause problems with extended stability, so best to get them out if you plan on keeping the beer around for awhile and care how it looks.
There are a number of ways to prevent and remove chill haze proteins through fining agents like Irish Moss or Whirlfloc (two sides of the same thing) or gelatin. Out of any negative haze effect, this has the least impact.
Infection – You could argue that infection could occur from picking up a wild yeast strain early in the brewing process, but it primarily comes in the form of bacteria. Typically, it is the same bacteria that produces those delicious sours many of us love, but may have no business in that smoked porter or bourbon-aged county beer.
Evidence of these infections comes in many forms (smell is usually a great indicator) and typically crops up during the brewing process, rarely making it out as a finished beer. Things get more complicated when extended storage, barrel-aging, and transporting is factored in.
Out of the thousands I’ve tried, I can think of maybe four or five that picked up a bug. All were of the dark beer variety, showing little visual evidence, which allowed it to slip by quality control I presume. Most likely you won’t notice an infection from haze, instead smelling/tasting the levels of rampant bacteria growth. If you care to try one for yourself, check out the 2015 line of a highly regarded barrel-aged beer released from a brewery taken over by a high profile buyout from AB-eer empire. If only I could remember the name of the brewery…
Love it, hate it, hazy beer doesn’t care. Less a fad and more a style unto itself that seems to be getting some official respect now with the recent classification of the New England IPA style.
To me, the hazy combination of proteins and hops (and the occasional fruit puree) saturates the tongue with all the intense flavors and full, silky body I love without the huge ABV. Win, win and win. It’s not the laziness of un-filtering or fining that detractors claim and more the dedication to creating the tastiest, fullest beers out there. I get that you eat with your eyes and drinking is no different, but my eyes shut the hell up once I get a taste of turbid hop juice. Long live the haze!