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Glory haze

The “haze craze” is starting to reach Spokane.

Hazy, juicy New England-style IPAs – with their smooth mouthfeel, fruity flavors and low bitterness – are the hottest craft beer trend across the country. Such Northwest breweries as Great Notion in Portland and Reuben’s Brews in Seattle have been winning acclaim for their interpretations.

Now three local versions – from Iron Goat, Orlison and Perry Street – have gone on tap in the past week. Daft Badger in Coeur d’Alene is planning another.

And Whistle Punk, which has been distributing its rendition on a limited basis for several months, will make that the permanent IPA offering at its upcoming taproom in downtown Spokane.

All the major components of brewing play a part in creating the style. Special yeast strains stay suspended in the beer and produce fruity notes. Large amounts of late-addition hops contribute to both the aroma and the appearance, with their residue. Oats and wheat in the grain bill lend both smoothness and proteins that can add to the haze. And higher levels of chloride in the water soften the beer’s body.     

Perry Street in January announced it was planning a yearlong series of New England-style IPAs, experimenting with all of those ingredients.

“Each one will be different,” says owner/brewer Ben Lukes. “What’s fun about this is that we’re learning with our customers as we go along.”

Lukes sampled as many authentic versions of the style as he could find from friends in the beer-trading scene to prepare for the project.

His first offering (6.7 percent alcohol by volume, 60 International Bitterness Units) was hopped with Citra thoughout the boil, and massively dry-hopped –four pounds per barrel – with Denali, a newer, intensely fruity variety, and powdered Mosaic.

A bright but opaque golden, it’s soft and aromatic with juicy pineapple and peach flavors and a crisp, lightly bitter finish. “If this is any indicator, I’m excited about where we’re going,” Lukes says.

His second release will feature Galaxy hops, an Australian variety known for its passion fruit character, and huskless, malted oats called Golden Naked. The beers will continue to get hazier as he harvests and reuses the yeast from each batch, Lukes says.

“I’m having a good time playing around with it,” he says. “It will be fun to take a whole year and work with one style, and see what we can achieve.”

Orlison brewer Rachel Nalley had only read about the New England style when she decided to give it a try. Having started as a lager brewery, she says, “We’re known for clean, super-clear beers. I thought, let’s do something a little different.”

Her “Any” NE IPA (6, 45) also uses Denali hops along with Calypso and Amarillo, all of which were added late in the boil, in the whirlpool afterward and in dry-hopping (at about half the rate of Lukes).

The beer is cloudier than Perry’s – possibly a result of being agitated during transportation from the brewery in Airway Heights to the taproom downtown, Nalley says – and more bitter at first, though it mellows as it warms.

Nalley says she would probably cut down on the Amarillo next time to let the more tropical character of the other hops come through. Still, she says, “I like a little bit of bitterness. That’s what you expect out of an IPA. You want to have something that you know isn’t juice.”

The initial test batch is only 15 gallons, a single keg’s worth. The beer could be produced on a larger scale depending on customer reaction, Nalley says.

Since most beer drinkers here haven’t had an actual New England IPA, she says, “It seems like there’s still a little room to play with the style before people get an idea what it’s supposed to be. It gives local breweries a chance to do some things that are unique.”

Iron Goat took a decidedly different approach to the grain bill for its bigger Back East IPA (7.8, 71). Brewed without oats or wheat, it uses a combination of British malts that produce “more of a candy-like sweetness,” says co-owner/brewer Greg Brandt.

The resulting beer, hopped with Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo, is considerably darker in color with some fruitiness up front, rich malt in the middle and a drying, noticeably bitter finish.

Brandt, like Nalley, dry-hopped while the beer was still actively fermenting, not afterward – something Lukes also plans to try. That creates what’s called biotransformation, in which the yeast actually alters the composition of hop oils. “It really seemed to pop and bloom,” he says.

While Brandt calls it a fun experiment, he admits he’s not completely sold on the East Coast approach. “I like my beers a little cleaner,” he says.

Lukes was skeptical at first, based on the beers’ appearance, but was won over when he tasted them. “It'll be interesting to see if Spokane warms up to them,” he says, “or if it really is just a regional preference.”