Hazy IPA overtakes regular IPA as America’s top craft beer style


In 2016 Georgetown Brewing Company won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), bringing home top honors at the nation’s largest beer judging competition in the most hotly contested category: American-Style IPA. A GABF gold medal is the most highly coveted prize in the world of beer. Georgetown Brewing’s victory was impressive because, if for no other reason, Bodhizafa IPA ranked first among 312 beers entered in that category. No other category saw so many entrants. For over a decade, American-style IPA reigned supreme as the most crowded category at the GABF.

This year, things have changed as Hazy IPA continues to rise in popularity. This year, Juicy or Hazy IPA is the GABF’s most-entered category.

A hazy IPA at Tacoma's Narrows Brewing Company.
A hazy IPA at Tacoma’s Narrows Brewing Company. Photo by Kendall Jones.

Held each September in Denver, the Great American Beer Festival is the largest beer fest in the country, with 800 breweries from across that nation pouring approximately 4,000 different beers for a three-day crowd of over 60,000 people. The GABF is also the largest commercial beer competition in North America, with a panel of experts judging thousands of beers in over 100 different beer style categories. From Pale Ale to Pilsner, Stout to Saison, Hefeweizen to Helles Lager, the GABF judges them all. Since 2002, American-Style IPA has been the most-entered beer style each year, with 408 entries in 2017 and 312 entries in 2016.

Cloudburst Brewing has earned a reputation for making outstanding Hazy IPAs. Photo from Facebook.
Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle has earned a reputation for making outstanding Hazy IPAs. Photo from Facebook.

The New Kid in Town

Earlier this year, three new beer categories were added to the list of styles judged at the Great American Beer Festival: Juicy or Hazy IPA, Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale, and Juicy or Hazy Double IPA. Some people thought it was just a passing fad, but apparently the GABF’s organizers think those murky, cloudy, hazy beers are here to stay. (See note at the bottom to understand what sets these beers apart.)

The Great American Beer Festival is still more than a month away, scheduled for late September, but the competition is already underway. Breweries across the nation have already shipped their entries. Recent news from the Brewers Association, which organizes and operates the GABF, speaks to the magnitude of the nation’s love affair with hazy, juicy beers.

In all, 706 beers were entered in the three new “Juicy or Hazy” categories. This year 414 beers were entered into the GABF competition in the Juicy or Hazy IPA category alone, making it the most-entered beer style.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Juicy or Hazy IPA: 414
  • Juicy or Hazy Pale Ale: 131
  • Juicy or Hazy Double IPA: 161
Three hazy IPAs. Picture by Reuben's Brews.
Three hazy IPAs. Photo by Reuben’s Brews.

This marks the first time in over a decade and a half that American-Style India Pale Ale—which received 331 entries—is no longer the top entered beer style in the U.S. commercial beer competition.

So does this news from the Great American Beer Festival mean that Hazy IPA is now the most popular style of craft beer? Since breweries are in the business of selling beer, and that’s easiest to do if they produce the kind of beer people actually want to buy, it could be argued that Hazy IPA is now America’s most beloved craft beer style. Around the Seattle area these days if you visit any beer-focused bar you are very likely to find more than one of them on tap.

Away from the competition, Hazy IPA is really just a sub-category of IPA, which has dominated the beer world for years. Hazy IPA, West Coast IPA, Session IPA, Black IPA, we’ve seen them all. For years now the mantra has been, “As long as the label says IPA, it will sell.” It now seems the haze craze has spilled over into other styles beyond IPA and the words “haze” and “hazy” have gained the same kind of marketing power as “IPA.” Suddenly the word hazy is appearing in the most unexpected places. Even lagers, which most people think of as sparkling-clear beers, are not immune.

In July 2018, Pyramid Brewing introduced its Hazy Lager.
In July 2018 Pyramid Brewing introduced a Hazy Lager. Photo by Kendall Jones.

So what do you think? The only thing that’s clear about these hazy beers is that they aren’t going away, but do you think the frenzy will continue? No one can say for sure, but my guess is that within a couple years it will become just another beer style and something else will become the new best thing ever.

Why All The Haze?

When brewing beer, brewers typically use various types of malted barley exclusively. That is, the recipe’s grain bill is comprised entirely of barley. Adding some higher protein grains to the recipe, like flaked oats and/or malted wheat, creates haze. It’s actually the proteins in those non-barley grains that creates the haze. Hefeweizen, which is brewed using a portion of wheat (weizen, in German), is a notoriously hazy style of beer.

The haze is actually caused by particulate matter that does not fall out of suspension because of the proteins. In the case of hazy IPA, that particulate matter—hop matter—contains flavor. So, the goal of the haze is to suspend more hop character in the beer. Hops have traditionally been used to add bitterness to beer, but these days hops are used to add floral, fruity, citrusy character to beer. The haze amplifies those hop attributes. Thus, hazy IPAs are often juicy IPAs.