Today, the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the trade group for the American independent beer industry, published its annual update to the living document which is its beer style guidelines. Each year, the headlines generated by updating style guidelines usually revolve around the introduction of new styles or changes to descriptions of iconic beer styles – changes that are by no means “final”, but important in the sense that these guidelines serve as the judging criteria for each year’s Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest annual beer competition. The 2022 style guidelines are, in fact, distinguished by the fact that they do not do introduce some new styles this time around, but a subtle tweak to the entries of several hazy Indian lager varieties is still quite significant. For the first time, these definitions now recognize the biggest problem hazy IPA style has faced in recent years: hop burn.
What is the “hop burn”? Well, this is something I’ve written about at length before, and an issue that’s been bothering me particularly since I wrote this article in 2019. At that time, the mere existence of “hop burn” and the phrase itself, had just come to be widely recognized, although it’s something that has plagued many IPAs since the misty/juicy revolution began. Today, the driving forces behind hop blight are better understood: This intensely astringent, drying, and corrosive sensation is widely believed to be caused by chemicals called polyphenols, which are unsurprisingly present in hops. Hop burn is thought to be caused by excessive contact time between the vegetative matter of the hops and the beer – something that was not a problem during earlier eras of traditional IPA brewing, but has become very common in the modern era. hazy era of the IPA due to the standardization of long and massive periods of dry hopping. This is why “hop burn” was unknown in earlier styles of IPA, which may have used dry hopping techniques, but in a much more restricted way, while still getting most of their hop flavor from the hops added during boiling.
In short, as beer remains in contact for long periods of time with extremely large volumes of mushy hop material, in a fermenter or brite tank, it slowly releases polyphenols into the final product. These tend to give an intensely astringent, unpleasant and puckered mouthfeel, which can easily spoil the desired “juicy” profile. The other style characteristics of the cloudy IPA, such as the thicker, creamier texture, also contribute to the hop burn, as the “viscous grit” of cloudy IPAs also plays a role in maintaining polyphenols. astringents suspended in beer, according to beer author Scott Janish, author of The new IPA book.
Hazy IPA often manages to be one of the most visually appealing styles of beer, albeit with textural flaws. Or in other words, perfect for Instagram.
Fortunately, brewers who focus on hopped beer and are aware of the unpleasant aspects of hop burn are now able to take steps to avoid it, which may include the use of alpha acid (AA) varietals. ) higher, which generally contain fewer polyphenols. It’s even was suggested by Janish that including some degree of hop bitterness can to diminish the astringency of hop burn, which is music to our ears for a style that has been defined by an intentional lack of any semblance of balance. A more balanced, less purely sweet and fruity hazy IPA might just be the platonic ideal after all.
The Brewers Association, on the other hand, has provided us with the next step towards a more formal codification of the idea that burning hops is undesirable, because the 2022 graphic charter updated the entries for the three most important “hazy” categories, ‘ala “Juicy of Hazy India Pale Ale”, to include a passage on burning hops. They all contain the following language:
These beers can exhibit astringency and heat (sometimes referred to as ‘hop burn’) due to very high hop utilization rates and excessive contact time in the beer, which can be detrimental to balance and drinkability when present above low levels.
Written a little confusing, perhaps, as it initially makes it sound like hop burning should be considered an acceptable part of the style, but the phrase “may adversely affect balance and drinkability” more clearly indicates that the presence of hop blight should be considered by judges as a defect, at least “when present above low levels”. A bit late to get to the party, perhaps, but that’s to be expected in the BA’s style guidelines, which tend to lag innovation by years – they haven’t added the hazy pale beer, IPA and DIPA as their own categories until 2018, when it had been painfully obvious for years that new categories had to exist in order to capture the American IPA schism.
So it’s a good indication that the fuzzy IPA is arguably moving in a healthy direction in the American craft beer landscape – away from ridiculously unbalanced excesses and objectively unpleasant mouthfeel, and perhaps even in a more respectful of subtlety and balance.
Well, we can at least dream, right?
Jim Vorel is a staff writer at Paste and a resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.