20 May The Haze Craze of Houston
The Haze Craze of Houston
The Houston area is seeing a steady increase of hazy beers from a variety of breweries. The popularity, demand, and quality are also increasing…
One of my top two favorite styles of beer is the NEIPA, which is short for New England IPA, (or as some call it, “juicy IPA” or “hazy IPA”), is dominating the craft beer industry.
The soft, pillowy mouthfeel, combined with fruity, citrus flavors that arise from the hops used (not usually actual fruit), create an approachable and quaffable ale that is attracting even non-diehard beer lovers. They are even surprisingly a good introductory beer for non-craft lovers despite the huge amount of hops. Some of the top breweries in the country, like Treehouse, Foam Brewers, and Tired Hands, are cashing in on the style. This same style found another interpretation, and home away from home, in Houston just a few years ago.
The “Haze Craze” is centered around a version of the India Pale Ale, a hoppy and bitter brew that has been around since the mid-1800s. NEIPAs differ from their fellow pale ales in that they are not transparent. This physical difference can be achieved in several ways. Brewers can opt for a less flocculant yeast strain that tends to suspend itself in the liquid, like Conan, or not filter out the remained bits of hops, or even add oats for a creamier finish. These days, a combination of these methods is relatively common. Hops can vary but the most popular are Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic for their fruit-forward tastes and these are often double or triple dry-hopped for enhanced flavor but still minimal bitterness. Add in creative and off-the-wall can designs, and it’s easy to see why this type of beer is so popular.
The Houston area is seeing a steady increase of hazy beers from a variety of breweries. The popularity, demand, and quality are also increasing as Houston joins the nation’s wildly popular juice bomb community.
Arguably, the most popular brew (and trendsetter) is Houston Haze from SpindleTap, which hit the scene in March of 2017. Coming in at 7%, with a mouthful of Galaxy and Citra, this NEIPA ties the city’s everyday smog to the cloudiness of the beer and delivers a fruity, smooth treat.
Another staple of the area is Wheez the Juice from B52 Brewing in Conroe which launched the same month as Haze. B52 did a play on the scene from Encino Man and released a super tropical hop bomb that had led to numerous variants and “shake” versions since its inception. You can almost always find a version of Wheez on tap at the brewery every week.
Great Heights Brewing debuted Fruity Pellets later in 2017 right near their grand opening. This smooth and obviously fruity IPA is slightly sweet and akin to the breakfast cereal to which you might relate it. It’s still around these days and has a bigger brother, Fruitier Pellets.
When Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston in 2017, I was fortunate enough only to experience a flooded front yard. While that sucked, many others went through much, much worse. As part of the relief, many local breweries brewed beers to help drive donations. Baa Baa Brewhouse in Brookshire was one such brewery and put out their F.U. Harvey hazy duo. Category 3 was a NEIPA, and Category 4 was a double NEIPA. Baa Baa has a more dry approach to this style with less sweetness and more dankness.
Whole Foods, that fancy grocery store that you think you can’t afford to shop at, is pumping out some killer New England IPAs near downtown Houston. DL Double and Hop Explorer are among some of their most popular juicy IPAs with bold hop flavor and opaque bodies.
The city of Houston came in at a population of around 2.3 million in 2017 and currently has over 50 breweries in operation in the area. Also in 2017, Houston was ranked the 4th largest city in the United States. When compared to Portland, Oregon, the 26th largest city in the country at roughly 650,000 people and 84 breweries in their metro area, H-Town has enormous room for growth for new breweries.
We have a lot of top talent in the area and a lot of excellent beer being brewed. However, Houston is still a relatively new market. There is plenty of capacity for new breweries to contribute as well as improvement on popular styles and those that aren’t produced as often such as farmhouse ales. Plus, only a handful of existing breweries have product into retail distribution, leaving room for others to get their beers out to a broader audience and grow the Houston name in the craft beer community.
From a hazy IPA standpoint, there is tremendous potential as well. Around the country, “milkshake” versions of hazies are coming out in conjunction with the base beer. Milkshakes are brewed with lactose, or milk sugar, which adds sweetness and body while also smoothing out the texture even more.
Brewers can always substitute different hop varieties, malt bills, and even add in fruits for new variations. Passion fruit and blood orange are two of the most popular choices for fruits. At a larger scale, we are seeing local breweries coming together to collaborate.
Recently, Triquetrilization was debuted by B-52, Spindletap, and Baa Baa Brewhouse. It was wildly popular and sold out almost immediately on its release day. Even breweries from out-of-state, like Urban South in Louisiana, are becoming best friends with local breweries to brew some beers together as well.
According to a recent reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), the founder of Modern Times Beer, Jacob McKean, touched on the future of the New England IPA in the national market. He stated, “I don’t see it slowing down soon. I do think there are a lot of breweries trying their hand at it that aren’t exactly hitting it out of the park. That could weaken the category overall, but I think the highly sought-after examples are going to be in demand for a long time to come.”
His viewpoint makes sense, especially in our area. While not every brewery in Houston will be up for making a hazy, there is no shortage of demand for those who do. Add in the variant possibilities and breweries could produce an NEIPA unique to them.
As a city, we have the resources to execute at a national level. Beers from places like Spindletap, Sigma, B-52, and Ingenious are trading hot in the beermail market, which is a statement towards the quality of our juice bombs.
Even homebrewed hazies are being requested around the country. When people are willing to trade beers from Hill Farmstead for cans made just down the road from your house, that’s saying something.
Houston knows how to suspend that yeast and tweak those hops to create genuinely good IPAs. We also understand marketing and can create art to attract customers and grow brands.
In terms of improvement, consistency needs to be a focus. Some hazies are different from batch to batch, and it’s a topic that comes up on social media often.
Price point is another area to review. NEIPAs typically run in the higher range, especially in their popular 4-pack configurations, but once you move above $22, Houston beers are being priced the same as those from brewing in cities where it’s more expensive to produce beer. Unless you need cans, it makes more sense to chase it down on draft.
When The Alchemist began canning Heady Topper in 2011 to get that top-shelf beer outside of their taproom, some might say that’s when the haze craze officially began. 8 years later, the mania has hit a fever pitch, and almost every brewery is looking to get into the business of producing these hazy juice bombs.
The pillowy mouthfeel and orange juice-like flavor of this style are causing beer connoisseurs to chase down as many of the 16 oz. cans as they can find. In the Houston area, the frenzy is just as high.
Almost every NEIPA release sells out same-day, and as soon as it does, everyone is already asking when the next one will take place. Bottle shares occur daily around the city, and when you look at the “graveyard” pictures, they’re usually cans of hop bombs.
It’s safe to assume that we will continue to see the momentum geared towards these cloudy, pale orange beers filling up cans and taps grow around the city. Even if you’re not an “IPA guy,” a little New England just might be your thing. As long as you drink them fresh.
Speaking of which, have you ever aged your hazy IPA for a year? Let us know in the comments below. Beers to you, Houston!
Brent is originally from Ohio but has been in Houston for over 10 years. As an Aggie, musician, animal advocate, and Lego collector, he always has something going on. If you have an imperial stout, come find him. He’ll want to add it to his insatiable beer spreadsheet.