It’s Always Hazy IPA Season, Right?

Many mornings lately have begun with fog, usually giving way to some sunniness later in the day.  Our house on Scott Street is somewhat protected by the eminence of Buena Vista Park, so I’m often unaware of the encroaching shroud until I either go for a run into Golden Gate Park or walk up Waller to Haight and the Magnolia pub.  The funny paradox is that it’s the open spaces of pavement that are dry, where beneath the trees condensation has formed and dripped from above. And up the hill the view to the north may or may not show the piers of the Bridge, orange bases giving way to, well, nothing but white. It’s July as I write this, but August is right around the corner—or, as San Franciscans sometimes sardonically call it, Fogust.  It’s part of the City’s unique charm, you might say, to have a particular and perverse take on summer. I’m also well aware of this kind of meteorological ambivalence, having before lived nearly thirty years in Seattle, where summer pretty generally doesn’t consider showing its face until at least the Fourth of July. It’s somewhat different here, but the resignation is familiar. It’s a bit less surprising here to find peaches in stores when the weather seems somehow incapable of growing them.

But this is not just the season but the age of fog, isn’t it, where pale, hoppy beers are concerned?  Especially IPAs. The word most often used is hazy, and we’ve dipped into all that with Ha-Z-Boy, which should be out by the time you read this, a hazy IPA redolent of Azacca and Ekuanot (the hops formerly known as Equinox), with a wonderful, peachy aroma.  Another turbid offering from us is Cloud Cover, an IPA just strong enough at 8% abv to call double, in which we pioneered our use of Oregon Strata, combined with Citra, another favorite of ours. Some of our other pale beers have a bit of a cast to them as well.  It’s all that hop material, and the fact that we don’t filter anything.

I find it a little amusing—and certainly somewhat mystifying—the controversy that’s sprung up about hazy IPAs.  Quite a few of my old guy brewing friends openly decry them, and on the other side I find the heedless embrace of just about anything turbid to the point of tawny opacity just as surprising.  One of these aforementioned old guys, who runs a long-respected brewery a hundred or so tortuous miles north of here, actually once told his boss he’d quit if forced to brew something in the category.  To this I suggest that what we’re all trying to do is sell beer, right? I mean, I too have my hesitations where brewing certain styles is concerned. Outside of a hoppy porter—which I believe is more to the point anyway—I’ve never brewed a so-called Black IPA.  I generally don’t like them. And of course there are others. After a fifteen-year pumpkin beer joyride, I’ve been heard to say over the past few years that I’d never brew another one. But stay tuned as fall approaches for a small group of them to appear—one from the Magnolia recipe vaults and a few others riffing on styles and flavorings not “traditionally” associated with pumpkin beer.  More on that later, as the appropriate season approaches.

I dissemble just a bit.  The rank and file of hazy IPAs—I mean the really hazy, milky and grapefruit juice-looking ones—often lack the bitterness, in my mind, to engage and beguile the palate.  There are those that are artfully done, with a sequence of flavors which, while possibly unexpected and off the standard IPA rails, one can find interesting and engaging.  But there are others—and these are legion—that crowd nearly all their hop character into the finish, leaving the early flavor span flabby, and which sit on the tongue like an insistently sleeping child. Some of these also bear an unpleasant load of yeast-related phenols, further twisting the tongue.  Plus they’re flat, absolutely headless, thereby further challenging the lively and sprightly nature of beer as we know it—or used to.

But there I go, beginning to sound like my crusty compatriots.  For in truth there are a lot of these beers that I like. I pretty routinely order them in sequence when in a watering hole such as the Toronado, and I buy Crowlers and 16-ounce cans of them to take home, both from stores and when I’ve visited the taprooms of some of the breweries particularly known for such things.  I do have standards—and my favorites—but I’m often disappointed, too. This is why with the hazies we’ve done at Magnolia, we’ve made sure to build in enough bitterness to keep the drinker eager, wanting to take another sip without needing a sip of water for refreshment. For that’s what beer should do, correct? Haze is fine.  Lots of late hops are fine. Fruit-juicy flavors and aromas are fine, absolutely fine. But beer should have bitterness in balance as well as enough carbonation to present, again and again, as it is incrementally, enjoyably consumed.

Would it be appropriate at this point simply to say “Cheers?” I think so.

Check us out on August 2nd at Off the Grid’s second annual Fog Appreciation Night at Fort Mason Center. This is one of their big blowout events of the season and we’re looking forward to an awesome variety of fog-themed specials. Our very own Cloud Cover double IPA will make its Off the Grid debut, so be sure to check out the event’s full lineup and head over to Eventbrite for tickets.