In the four-plus decades of craft brewing, arguably no other style has more profoundly changed what and how we drink than the opaque, fruit-smoothie sweet IPAs New Englanders started brewing in the mid-2010s. Thanks to a flood of juicy new hop varieties bred for their tropicality, brewers used hazy IPAs to make us reassess bitterness. The colorful, geometric pint-sized cans sold over the counter of taprooms prompted us to rethink the beer bottle. And the weekly stream of new releases at our local brewery caused us to reconsider familiar old flagships.
But nearly a decade on, something has changed. Hazies haven’t gone away, but they don’t seem to cause the same giddy delirium they once did. In some quarters, they’ve even caused a counter-trend back to lip-smacking bitter IPAs or clear, sparkling lagers.
That leads some observers to wonder: Have hazy IPAs become a victim of their own success?
The answer, it turns out, isn’t easy to assess. Small breweries led the development of these beers (see The Alchemist), and because of the way they were made and packaged, hazy IPAs were best enjoyed at, or shortly after, a visit to the taproom. By the late teens, hazy IPAs had spread across the country and swamped tap lists — they appeared to be everywhere. Yet that popularity didn’t show up in the numbers for a long time, until larger breweries started making brands that sold well in the supermarket (Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing was the first nationally available hazy IPA and surpassed the brand’s flagship Pale Ale in sales in 2022). Even now, they only account for about a quarter of IPA sales, creating a disconnect between the hazies’ vibes (they’re everywhere!) and the data.
The numbers say they’re still growing. According to the retail tracking firm IRI, hazy IPAs have been growing steadily for five years. That shift seems to be happening at the supermarket level, however. Especially on the West Coast, retailers and distributors suggest the velocity of hazy IPAs has slowed. For David Sanguinetti, who owns both ForeLand Beer and the Bitter Monk taproom and bottle shop in McMinnville, Ore., that has been the case over the past few years. “In our shop we have a one full cooler dedicated to rotating hop-forward beer.” he says. “In the past, hazy choices took up at least half of the inventory. Now it is only a quarter of the shelf space.”
“Some breweries whose real passion is lager, stout, or sour never really were passionate about hazy IPA and just went through the motions.”
Warren Wills has seen the same thing from his window into the beer world as marketing and operations manager at Day One Distribution in Portland, Ore. “I feel like, post-pandemic folks are exploring other options, primarily for sessionability and ease of drinking,” Wills says. And that same deceleration in hazy sales has been seen by other retailers and breweries.
But that’s the West, where old-school IPAs are king. In North Carolina, where Bryan Roth lives, growth numbers are healthy and things don’t appear to be slowing down. “They are certainly ubiquitous and for many craft beer drinkers, a hazy IPA is IPA,” Roth says. “[Hazy] brands may have more share of space than a combo of sours, lager, and flavored, malt-forward beers.”
No surprise, hazies are holding their own in New England as well. But Suzanne Schalow, the co-founder and CEO of the Craft Beer Cellar, says there was a definite post-pandemic shift. “Is the craze for IPAs slowing down? Yes,” she says. But she adds, “Are Hazy IPAs still strong? Yes.”
“The typical hazy IPA consumer wants that sweet, juicy profile and will just order ‘the hazy.’ [They don’t] care who it is from or what beer it is. It’s become a commodity.”
Beyond regional sales trends, there are bigger industry-wide factors at play. At Skydance Brewing in Oklahoma City, owner Jake Keyes makes a lineup of exceptional hazy IPAs. Skydance didn’t build its model around hazy IPAs the way some breweries did, but Keyes’ skill started attracting a lot of local attention to his hoppy creations, and now people come in looking for hazy IPAs.
Keyes doesn’t see any change in the relative popularity of hazies he sells — but he does see a change in the industry. “Eight years ago, if I were releasing some of these hazy IPAs, we’d have lines out the door and around the corner,” he says. “Now it’s not that hazy IPA has lost steam; I think it’s that people just don’t get as excited for a beer release, period.”
At one point, breweries could put something, anything “hazy” in a Day-Glo can and watch it fly out the door. But discerning customers no longer buy indiscriminately. “Some breweries whose real passion is lager, stout, or sour never really were passionate about hazy IPA and just went through the motions,” Keyes adds, “but customers lose interest when you do that, so of course they see a decline in their hazy IPA sales.”
Wills has no problem distributing beers from breweries well regarded for their hazy IPAs, like Skydance. “Do they still move? Most definitely,” he says. On the other hand: “It seems like only those who excel at and are known for making hazies are still moving it like they did a few years ago.”
Sanguinetti points out that for one segment of his drinkers, hazies did become a generic category of beer. “What we’ve found is that the typical hazy IPA consumer wants that sweet, juicy profile and will just order ‘the hazy.’ [They don’t] care who it is from or what beer it is. It’s become a commodity.” And they’ll likely continue to sell steadily as a result.
Change has been the one constant in beer for millennia. The fact that hazy IPAs may have lost some of their cultural power is merely a shadow of the far more significant fact that they have remained so popular for so long. Rather, as they prepare to enter decade two of life, hazies appear to have found equilibrium. Their early success was inflated by oversupply at the small-brewery level, and undersupply nationally, a dynamic that is coming into balance. Their strength remains strong in some regions but less so in others. And they no longer generate the level of excitement that forces people to wait in long lines for the privilege of buying a new release. But that’s not because they’re falling out of favor. If hazy IPA is a victim of anything, it’s a beer market that never fully recovered after the Covid pandemic.
The article Hazy IPAs Aren’t Over, They’ve Just Found Equilibrium appeared first on VinePair.