While the majority of beer drinkers look for a clear, clean tasting liquid, the growth in popularity of the so-called "New England-style IPA" has raised the question, does a hazy beer mean a bad beer? While there are some traditional styles, such as Hefeweizen, that are unfiltered (therefore hazy), India Pale Ales are not traditionally known for being murky.
What can cause haziness in beer?
Turbidity, or the cloudiness caused by individual particles visible to the naked eye in a liquid, can be caused by a variety of things in beer. Most brewers us fining agents, such as Irish Moss or isinglass, as well as filtration, which helps yeast, proteins and hop particles from the brewing process to coagulate and drop out before packaging. If no fining agent or filtration is used, some of those particles will remain suspended in the liquid.
Another form of haziness occurs when proteins from the malt bond with the polyphenols from hops. This phenomenon is known as "chill haze" because it occurs at lower temperatures. As the liquid begins to warm up, the haziness will begin to dissipate.
Probably the most common cause of haze in NE-style IPAs comes from the aggressive dry-hopping that they style has become so well known for. Hops will naturally give a haze to the liquid when it is introduced, and if there is no centrifuge or filtration of the liquid after dry hop additions, this haze will remain in the packaged beer. This form of haze is known as "hop haze."
Ye or Nay to Haze?
While haze may not necessarily be a bad thing, it is important to distinguish between what is and is not acceptable with turbid beers. Turbidity due to lack of filtration can increase the risk of souring a beer that is not meant to be soured due to contamination. It can also make a beer pick up the off flavors of being run through beer lines that are not properly cleaned.
Hop haze, particularly in the juicy NE IPAs of the world, is a welcome addition to the beer. While a crystal clear beer may be more appealing to look at, the "glass of orange juice" IPAs pack some serious hop aromas that make the drinking experience worth the off-putting appearance.
While it can be a sign of some major issues in the brewing process, haziness should not always be viewed as a bad thing, particularly in styles that do not use filtration. The clarity of a beer, as long is it is what the brewer intended, should be more of a matter of personal preference.
As with all tasting experiences, it is important to test the waters to see what your preference is. So next time your friend pours you a murky glass of beer, give it a shot and see what all the haze is about!
Matt Zaloga (aka Bow Tie Matt or Matty) is a man who is after the epitome of sensory experiences. Whether it be tasting the latest and greatest beer, testing out a new culinary experience or checking out a new band, his search for anything to excite and mystify his senses is never ending. Matt is as comfortable at home in the kitchen as he is out on the street, ensuring the public is well stocked with finely brewed liquid. You can find him wherever there is good food, tunes, and of course, great beer! Just look for the bow tie!