Saturated, Juicy and Hoppy AF: The case for Hoppy Ale, a new category of Hazy beers

Not all Hazy DIPAs are created equal

Starting with “Go Northeast, Young Man: The Regional Juicification of America’s Most Popular Craft Beer Style” back in September 2016; followed by “Who Will Be Houston’s Tree House or Trillium;” Hop Culture’s “The Story of How Houston became ‘Juiceton’;” and the occasional “Favorite Beers of the Year” post, I’ve probably written/been involved with more words about NEIPAs/Juicy/Hazy IPA/DIPA/TIPAs than maybe anyone else, and so clearly it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

As I’ve previously established, these days I pretty much exclusively drink Hazy beers, and as myopic as that sounds, I’ve increasingly found that there’s an even more specific subset of Hazy beers that pleases my palate, and for the most part it’s really only these beers that truly bring me joy. 

And so in recent conversations with my beer friends I’ve found myself frequently having to make a distinction with regards to the specific type of Hazy beer that I prefer, and trying to figure out how best to describe the flavor profile I seek out. 

It’s a flavor profile that I first remember thinking about as being something very different from “regular” Hazy IPAs all the way back in 2016, when I had my first taste of DDH Fort Point, followed shortly thereafter by the first-ever canning of Headroom.

Those beers had a spiciness/zippiness on the finish I don’t recall previously experiencing: what we’d probably refer to as hop burn today (and detractors would call “too green”). Generally speaking I know no professional brewery intentionally sets out to release beer that some might think of as unfinished, but ever since that day that little something extra on the finish is something I’ve found ultra-appealing, and it seems to be the result of a certain tier of hop poundage in the dry-hop (more on this later).

I subsequently discovered Parish Brewing’s 4XDH Envie in April 2017—which featured an inconceivable level of hop saturation and a zip on the finish for a 5% pale ale—and then later that year SpindleTap released what to this day remains one of the most saturated, overhopped hazies in Houston history: its collaboration with Parish, Operation Juice Drop.

Truly, the fall of 2017 was a remarkable time for this paler yellow hyper-aggressively hopped style of hazy, as it was also the first time I ever had DDH Ghost in the Machine, which of course is considered by many a juice lover to be the GOAT Hazy DIPA. Funny how much Parish figured in the equation back then; they of course still brew DDH Ghost today and it remains as great as ever, but much to this haze fiend’s chagrin, there really isn’t anything else in  their portfolio that tickles the flavor receptors in quite the same way.

Anyway, fast forwarding back to the present day, Troon and Monkish are always my starting point for being the best in the world at this super-specific level of hop saturation. And so I wanted to get my thoughts down on this topic to determine the common characteristics displayed my absolute favorite hazy brewers and how we might go about canonizing their work.

Also, because we’re now at a point where the production of hazy beer is so prevalent and there are way more mediocre takes than good these days — plus the fact that I am super anal / OCD — I think “Hazy Double IPA” as a category is way too broad and doesn’t accurately capture what the aforementioned elite breweries are doing.

I don’t mean to pick on Obercreek here — who I do think does a nice job with a more restrained approach on the modern IPA! — but it’s almost hard to believe that these two beers could be categorized together. It’s also not really fair from an evaluation standpoint — the appearance, mouthfeel, and flavor are all so strikingly different.

So what are the hallmarks of this “new” categorization? For me, the best of the best always check all of the following boxes:

✅ Tongue tickles
✅ Saturation
✅ Palate-coating greatness
✅ Brilliant milky-yellow color
✅ Thick, creamy body without being cloying and reminding you with that bite at the end that you’re still drinking a beer

Helpfully our friends at Troon have already given us the designation and blueprint for what this style of beer should be called: the all-encompassing Hoppy Ale. Every Hoppy Ale Troon brews is labeled as simply that, regardless of ABV: no “Double IPA” or “Triple IPA.” It’s a brilliant move, considering how arbitrary the ABV ranges are for the various IPA subcategories. “Single” is ~7%, “Double” is ~8%, and “Triple” is ~10%? None of this has ever made any sense.

In addition to the sensory descriptors listed above, here are what I believe to be the essential characteristics for a given hazy beer to be classified as a Hoppy Ale:

  1. 8-plus pounds per barrel of hops during dry-hopping. This seems to be the line of demarcation for extreme saturation, though it absolutely depends on the brewery. Following Houston’s Hoppy Ale heyday in 2017-2018, when SpindleTap was releasing multiple DIPAs every few weeks at 8+ pounds (there was a time when the OG Heavy Hands was just as good as if not even more overwhelmingly flavorful than DDH Ghost!), this level of hopping became standard across town, and it was glorious. Sadly, almost every brewery in Houston (though not all of them! More on that below) has significantly scaled back on hop utilization in their hazies, and while most consumers may not mind, doing so has been to the beers’ detriment to this haze obsessive. And so generally speaking 8 lbs of hops per barrel is an essential characteristic of the Hoppy Ale (watch, now that I’ve made that declaration someone will inform me that Troon manages to coax that level of flavor with fewer than 8 lbs per😂). If a brewery does not reveal what a given beer’s hop poundage is, a secondary acceptable appellation is whether a given hazy is Triple Dry-Hopped. Double Dry-Hopped doesn’t carry the same punch that it once did, and so for the purposes of this updated categorization exercise, a beer must be TDH at a minimum for inclusion as a Hoppy Ale.
  2. Over-the-top saturated layers of hop flavor and palate-coating greatness. Hoppy Ales must boast extraordinary levels of saturation and an overabundance of layered hop flavor coming in waves. The best of the best utterly coat your palate in hops—nearly to the point of not being able to taste anything else—and absolutely beg you to lift your glass and immediately take that next sip. I’m not sure there’s anyone in the world better at delivering this electrifying sensation than Troon.
  3. The milky yellow appearance made famous by Troon is also a critical component of these beers. Bright yellow, thick, creamy, and opaque AF. In fairness, I’m not sure even Troon’s fellow style elites achieve Troon’s ultra-distinctive pale color, but they are most certainly in the ballpark. There is some wiggle room here — Tree House pours ever-so-slightly less brilliantly yellow than these three, though their SRM is lovely in its own right and they’ve certainly released enough beers pushing the 8 lbs limit that I wouldn’t hesitate to include several of their beers in the Hoppy Ale category. They themselves would likely bristle — as the brewery that created the New England-Style IPA they have actively avoided any Hazy / NEIPA nomenclature in the names of their beers and have always utilized “American Double IPA.” But I’ll be damed if Project Find the Limit #4 and beyond aren’t Hoppy Ales, even with Tree’s patented expressive yeast playing a starring role in its overall flavor profile.
  4. While only Troon currently does this, calling one’s beers Hoppy Ales across the board, regardless of ABV, is naturally also a core trait.
  5. A pleasant bite on the end reminding the drinker that they are still drinking a beer. For me, I greatly enjoy it when that bite is overwhelming — what I tend to refer to as zippy/spicy — but again, I’d feel ridiculous saying hop burn is a crucial characteristic. But a bite of some kind is necessary — it can’t taste like literal juice.
  6. If a beer contains even a mere suggestion of sweetness it is disqualified from being categorized as a Hoppy Ale. I’m willing to allow the perception of some sweetness as a result of a given hop or hop blend, but anything that tastes even remotely like it has lactose or sweetness from the malt bill cannot be considered a Hoppy Ale.

Who else might be brewing beers that meet this criteria for the new Hoppy Ale classification? I’m so glad you asked!

At the risk of beating a dead horse, once again I believe Troon and Monkish to be the leading purveyors of Hoppy Ales. Although Monkish comes with a caveat — as delicious as I find their hazy beers across the board regardless of poundage / rounds of dry-hopping, they do make a clear distinction as to whether a given beer of theirs has been DDHed or TDHed, and so for these purposes only beers labeled by Monkish as being Triple Dry-Hopped would be in the Hoppy Ale category.

Tree House absolutely has a handful that would be in the mix. At times throughout its history, Trillium has released beers that fall in line with these delicious attributes, but sadly their output has once again fallen by the wayside. The Veil’s Triple Dry-Hopped beers definitely make the cut; though I do not consider anything Other Half currently brews to be in Hoppy Ale territory even though they do release beers that occasionally carry the TDH moniker. Other Half’s TDH beers of recent vintage (really, the last two years-plus) have been generally muddled and completely lacking on the finish, so they fall shy of both components 2 and 5 outlined above.

Untappd friends (and the three people that read my annual year-end best-of lists) know I’ve had my share of issues with Fidens‘ hazies over the last few years, which have always looked stunningly beautiful but never quite seemed to deliver on the promise of their appearance. Though I’m now questioning whether previous cans I’d received in the mail in 2021 and earlier in 2022 were compromised in some fashion or another either during packaging or in transit, as the hazies I’ve sampled more recently (September 2022 onward) have been substantially more enjoyable to the point where I’m ready to eat humble pie with regards to my previous stance on Fidens. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say Fidens’ beers deliver the aggressive finish I want in Hoppy Ales, but they do make some very flavorful hazies.

San Diego’s North Park has been crushing its Triple Dry-Hopped beers and absolutely makes the Hoppy Ale cut. Tired Hands‘ TDH beers also carry the saturated, palate-coating goodness of the best of the best. Interestingly, for as much as I’ve grown to love Green Cheek, I’m somewhat torn on whether I would consider their top-tier hazies as Hoppy Ales. They never discuss poundage or hopping rates, and while they do pour brilliantly yellow and are frequently flavor-packed, I don’t know that I go as far as to say they are dripping with saturation. I think some of that may have to do with their hazies being easily the most carbonated of any of the breweries I regularly consume beers from. 

Newer names that I’ve recently come across that appear to adhere to Hoppy Ale dogma (though they may not necessarily have publicly announced hop poundage) in appearance and flavor include Troon’s New Jersey neighbors at Conclave Brewing; Johnny Osborne of Deep Fried Beers fame (who recently set up shop at Crossroads Brewing in Upstate NY); and Long Island’s Noble Savage (which I’ve only had one time, but it was enough to grab my attention).

Lastly, I can’t not mention the incredible work Chris Shelton has been doing at Whole Foods Market Brewing Co. here in Houston. Yes, I can’t possibly be unbiased given that he and I have an ongoing partnership where we are producing several collaborative hazies every few months in conjunction with my Musical Box Brewing label, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has basically saved local beer in Houston for me (and others!). As mentioned earlier, many breweries in Houston used to brew hazy beers that would have been classified as Hoppy Ales, but virtually no one does anymore.

Which is why when Chris and I started batting ideas around earlier this year, I knew any beers we would produce together had to be 8 lbs of hops per barrel at a bare minimum, and very thankfully Chris was not only on board with that notion, he insisted we needed even more hop poundage than that.

Some of you reading this have gotten to experience Chris’ greatness, perhaps best represented by our debut collaborative release this past April, Haze of Our Lives, which ended up clocking in at over 10.5 lbs of hops per barrel, and poured about as beautiful an opaque yellow as one could hope for.

We have since teamed up to do three more beers: the recently released Haze of Our Days, Haze of Our Nights, and Gilded Haze (and though not an “official” collaboration, I also had input into Who Y’all Gonna Call).

All 5 of these beers very much tick all of the boxes for Hoppy Ale inclusion, and there’s much more to come.

In any case, part of my hope in pushing for the widespread adoption of Hoppy Ales as opposed to just tossing everything and anything in to the Hazy DIPA category is that it’ll start encouraging more breweries to produce these beers.

I’m certainly not calling for the Hazy DIPA to go away! I think there’s enough room in brewery portfolios for the more traditional Hazy DIPA that doesn’t require eye-opening poundage numbers — but they should coexist alongside the Hoppy Ale.

Based on the response to the Whole Foods / Musical Box collaborations alone, I can assure you there is an audience very thirsty for the absolute hoppiest beers a brewery can produce!

About the Author
Larry Koestler is a longtime hophead utterly obsessed with Hazy DIPAs. He is the founder of itinerant brewing project Musical Box Brewing, which focuses on extravagantly saturated Hoppy Ales. Musical Box currently has an ongoing partnership with Whole Foods Market Brewing Co. In 2019, Musical Box’s Where It All Began Hazy DIPA was featured in Hop Culture Magazine; and in 2021 was included in that publication’s “The 5 Best Breweries to Visit in Houston, Texas.”

Larry has also brewed collaborations with SpindleTap Brewery (Juiceton Hazy DIPA); Baa Baa Brewhouse (Group High 5 5XDH Hazy IPA); and Ingenious Brewing (Joose Wayne Hazy DIPA; The Hop Knight Hazy DIPA; and The Hop Knight Rises Hazy TIPA). In 2014 Larry co-founded the now-defunct NYC-based gypsy brewery Third Rail Beer, which was among the first breweries in New York City to can its beers.

He lives in Houston, Texas, but is a native New Yorker who was born, raised, and lived most of his life in Manhattan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s