The hottest new beer in Colorado taps into the hazy IPA trend

GREELEY — The bartender at WeldWerks Brewing poured a glass of Juicy Bits and managed a polite laugh to a now familiar joke.

“Is this orange juice or beer?”

Cloudy as if filled with pulp, with a tropical aroma to match, it’s easy to think the India pale ale is a fruit smoothie — or just bad beer.

One sip, however, answers the question. The palette is overwhelmed with a burst of flavors — tangerine, cantaloupe, grapefruit and pineapple — and the IPA finishes with a smoothness rather than traditional bitterness. It defies perception.

The confusing but exciting result is what makes Juicy Bits one of the hottest new beers in Colorado and the poster child for the latest rage in craft beer, the hazy IPA.

“It’s just a different way of thinking about brewing IPAs,” said Neil Fisher, the owner and head brewer at WeldWerks. “Instead of it all being about bitterness, which is what it has been, it’s all about hop flavor and aroma.”

WeldWerks is one of a dozen breweries in Colorado now replicating the hoppy goodness that is more common in New England, where legendary brewers Alchemist and Hill Farmstead, along with newcomers like Trillium and Treehouse, make some of the nation’s most-coveted IPAs.

The top Colorado hazy IPAs

The Colorado versions offer variations on the theme but share the turbid, fruity and soft-hoppiness characteristics.

The most noted are Odd13 Brewing’s Codename: Superfan, Fiction’s Cosmic Unity, and Cerebral’s Rare Trait. Together with WeldWerks, the four breweries recently collaborated on a hazy double IPA called Robot Librarian, now available in cans.

Odell Brewing, the state’s third-largest craft brewer, tapped into the trend with its slightly hazy Drumroll APA, a new year-round pale ale. Other local breweries are adding their own spin, such as Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales The hard-to-find brewery known for sours released a succulent wild pale ale this month named Hypersonic at its sister operation, Former Future. The beer is made with a native yeast cultivated in Denver.

The “hype” in the name of the Black Project beer is not unintentional. This new version of the IPA — the most popular craft beer style — is getting huge interest, from hop-heads and hop-haters alike.

“It’s more approachable than a West Coast-style IPA,” said Sean Buchan, Cerebral’s owner and brewer. “The people who typically come in and say that they don’t like IPAs usually end up liking ours because they are not incredibly bitter.”

Why the haze?

What gives the hazy IPA its name is how it is made.

To start, the water chemistry is different, with more chloride lending a softer mouthfeel, rather than sulfate additions to amp the bitter hop punch.

The recipe typically includes high-protein grains, such as wheat and flaked oats, and hops added during the fermentation, both of which will leave remnants suspended in the beer. The yeast, often an English variety, imparts its own fruity ester touch, and a portion remains suspended in the beer because it is a less flocculent strain.

All together, it creates an unfiltered, cloudy look that otherwise would signal a defect in most styles. But it also transforms the IPA experience.

“I think the hazy most comes through in the mouthfeel,” Fisher said. “I think that’s what everyone is going after. A softer, creamier, more fluffy mouthfeel … that makes an IPA a bit more palatable.”

Others brewers are less enamored. Comrade Brewing’s David Lin, one of the IPA masters in Colorado, thinks the cloudy appearance suggests the beer is not ready. He credits the popularity to the growing trend of homebrewers entering the industry with less professional experience.

Andy Sparhawk, the craft beer program coordinator at the Boulder-based Brewers Association, notes that clarity often equals quality, except in unique styles, such as a hefeweizen. But the hop craze is changing the game.

“Hop haze is a permanent haze brought on by aggressive dry-hopping,” he wrote on craftbeer.com. However, he continued, “the addition of more and more hops can have repercussions on clarity — and some brewers, as well as their hop-head fans, are OK with that.”

A huge following

WeldWerks’ Juicy Bits only debuted in March but is building a national cult following, thanks to internet beer traders. A 15 barrel batch (or roughly 3,700 pints) will last less than a week at the taproom, which is usually the only place to find it.

The brewery drew a line of more than 300 people by 10 a.m. on a recent Sunday in June for a beer release. The 32-ounce crowlers of Juicy Bits sold as fast as debut bottles of two limited-edition barrel-aged stouts.

Sam Bailey, a 35-year-old from Fort Collins who works in Greeley, stops by the brewery every time a new batch debuts. “I’m a fan. A lot of people feel that it is really unappealing, but I actually put it in the pro side of the beer,” he said, adding that the haze signals a style he enjoys.

He trades once a month for beer from New England and ranks Juicy Bits “up there with all of the best IPAs.”

Sitting nearby, Lorenzo Ors, a 31-year-old financial analyst, is drinking a Robot Librarian. He drove from Denver to snag Juicy Bits. “For the summer, to me this style is the perfect beer — it’s so refreshing,” he said.

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