Great Question is a great fucking beer.
Great Question is a great fucking beer. Lester Black

Cloudburst Brewing tapped a new hazy IPA on Wednesday. It has notes of pineapple and cedar and oranges. It’s so soft that drinking it feels like the liquid version of laying your head down on a pillow. It’s fucking delicious and it almost certainly wouldn’t exist without The Stranger.

What does Seattle’s only newspaper have to do with this latest glass of awesomeness from Cloudburst? Great question.

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This hazy IPA, which also happens to be named Great Question, is a collaboration between Cloudburst, Bellingham’s Structures Brewing, and Portland’s Modern Times Beer. You can taste this hazy at Cloudburst Brewing, select fancy beer bars around Seattle, or at Structures Brewing's taproom in Bellingham. The three breweries made this beer last month the same day we brought the breweries together for Haze Craze, the second event in our new Zymurgy Beer Series. That morning, Steve Luke from Cloudburst, Andrew Schwartz from Modern Times Beer, and James Alexander from Structures brewed Great Question. Then, in the evening, they sat down for a moderated panel discussion about the topic on everyone’s minds: hazy IPA.

This style of hoppy and hazy beers has quickly taken over the American craft brewing scene, replacing the clear and bitter West Coast IPA with a new style of hoppy beer that is cloudy, less bitter, more sweet, and full of hop aromas. These three breweries are some of the best hazy makers in the world so it was a delight to hear their thoughts on this style of beer and get to ask them a few… great questions:

What makes the haze?

Hazy brewers spend a lot of time getting their beers just the right type of cloudy. When I asked exactly how they make their hazies I heard a lot of complicated sounding words like pre-gelatinized flaked grains, polyphenols, full gluten chains, lactic and citric acid, calcium citrate, wort pH, and a bunch of other terms. Shit got confusing.

The basic answer? Most conventional beers are made with barley, but with hazies brewers mix in higher protein grains like wheat and oats and rye to bring more haze to the beer. Add in a heavy amount of oily hops, the right kind of yeast, don't use a filter, and voila! You have a hazy. But like I said, my main takeaway was that these brewers spend a lot of time thinking about how to make their beer just the right kind of haze.

Why make the haze?

When a brewer dumps a box of terpy and aromatic hops into their kettle or whirlpool it creates a wave of aromas in the entire brewhouse. Alexander said a hazy IPA is essentially an attempt to recreate that aromatic explosion inside a glass.

“The best way to do that is to keep everything there. Let’s not pull anything out of it. Let’s give the consumer what we smell in the tank rather than sending it through a filter and then giving you guys the skeleton of what we experience,” Alexander said.

Can a hazy be shelf-stable?

There’s a widely held belief that hazy IPA is inherently less shelf-stable than other beers and will quickly go bad in a can. Is this a fact or a myth? Alexander said it’s a myth:

“I don’t think that it’s any harder to produce a shelf-stable hazy IPA than it is to produce a crystal clear West Coast IPA. If they’re both treated the same way… then they are both going to be great in the beginning and the hop character is going to dissipate over time,” Alexander said.

Schwartz from Modern Times didn’t disagree with Alexander, but he said that hazies are still best when they come straight from the brewery and not from the grocery store.

“I think what we’re seeing now is that shelf stability to the consumers is—I want the best fucking beer I can have. That means you have to go to the tasting room to get it,” Schwartz said.

When is Cloudburst going to can their beers?

Cloudburst is one of Seattle’s best breweries but they do not can their beer, they only put it in kegs or in those weird crowler to-go things. When can we expect to see Cloudburst in the supermarket aisle?

“You never say never but at this point it’s not in the cards to package beer. The means that we have—and the way that we would want to do it—far exceed what we can do,” Luke said.

Why do I hate hazy IPA?

This was one of my favorite questions of the night, which came from an audience member who said they just don’t like the beers that the entire event was based on.

“I think we all have our distastes. So you might just be subjected to not liking this… and there’s no problem with that,” Alexander said.

Is the term New England IPA bullshit?

Some people have taken to calling hazy IPA New England IPA, even though these beers are made all around the world and their distinctive fruit flavor comes from hops grown on the west coast, not New England. All three brewers said they don’t prefer the term New England IPA.

“I don’t like associating a region with any type of beer style especially in this day and age,” Luke said. “It has been really hard for me to break the image of shipyard IPA, caramel malt, diacetyl, and Fuggle hops. That was New England IPA to me. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA was the best New England IPA for a while.”

Why is milkshake IPA so bad?

There’s an alarming subtrend with hazies called “Milkshake IPA,” which is a type of beer called IPA but has essentially no bitterness, is sweetened by milk sugar called lactose, and often has fruit and vanilla added. The style was supposedly invented by Tired Hands, a Pennsylvania brewery that I have a ton of respect for, but all of the Milkshake IPA I have tried has been universally gross.

Schwartz said Modern Times makes their milkshake IPA without any lactose because all of their beers are vegan and because lactose “is a piece of shit ingredient. No one should really use it, it’s terrible. It’s like the milk you wouldn’t buy at the store. That’s what lactose comes from.” Schwartz was the only brewer to actually defend the style, saying that “I think that it’s a really cool thing to mess around and push the boundaries of flavors.”

Alexander kept it simple: “I am happy other people are doing it so I don’t have to.”

Steve called Milkshake IPA a "gateway beer."

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“Maybe a lot of these beers that don’t really taste like beer are getting people to say: ‘You know what? I once really liked this beer that had lots of residual sugar and vanilla and fruit in it and now my taste is starting to be a little more refined and I don’t… I don’t want diabetes. Unless it’s barleywine.’”

Steve Luke is a hop whisperer.
Steve Luke is a hop whisperer. Lester Black

What’s your favorite hop?

I always open the Zymurgy panels up to audience questions to see what the crowd is curious about. People tend to ask better questions than what I have prepared, and the Haze Craze event was no different. The last audience question we took was a simple one—what is your favorite hop?

Luke said he liked Strata and Mosaic but ultimately his favorite is Citra. “Citra can hold it’s own among others and it’s a fantastic role player,” Schwartz said Nelson Sauvin, a hop from New Zealand. Alexander said Amarillo, Citra, and Chinook. Chinook was on Alexander’s mind because that’s exactly what he had brewed with earlier in the day when the three breweries were making their collaborative beer, Great Question.

“Today we were brewing a beer and Steve [Luke] sent us into the cooler to pick out hops and I picked out Chinook and [Andrew Schwartz] picked out Idaho 7,” Alexander said. “Neither of those hops are cool by definition. None of y’all would give a shit if those [names] were on the can. But they’re both awesome hops.”

Based on how good Great Question is I suddenly do give a shit about Chinook. Just goes to show, everyone can learn something tasty at a Zymurgy event.