Beer glass with Raw material hops and pineapple for beer fermentation. Concept beer craft. beer homemade.

© 2020, Randy Mosher / Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine

Sublime juice. Yeasty swill. The apex of 15,000 years of brewing art. Why can’t these lazy brewers clarify their beers? Deeply held opinions swirl around these controversial beers. Whatever your feeling, there’s no denying that these aromatic, fruit-tinged IPAs have upset the norms around IPA, including the level of passionate devotion to them. 

The roots of this style originated in the late 1990s when John Kimmich—later a co-founder of The Alchemist brewery—was a junior brewer to the legendary Greg Noonan at his Vermont Pub & Brewery. In search of more aromatic beers, they tolerated the increasing haze, then considered deeply inappropriate in the IPA style. When John opened Alchemist in 2003, he had a clear mission: to brew a beer that smelled as much like weed as possible. Eventually a beer called Heady Topper emerged, the first in this radically new mold. This, in turn, inspired Shaun Hill of nearby Hill Farmstead brewery—he became the first to bestow the “juicy” descriptor. The style exploded to a number of other breweries in New England, and eventually the word got out to the rest of us. 

The first thing you notice as it’s set in front of you is the haze. While more of a byproduct of the radical dry-hopping than an impactful asset of the style, juicy-looking haze has has become a touchstone for the style. Woe be unto the brewer who gets this wrong. 

Secondly, even as it sits on the table, there’s a face-full of elegant, fruity hops. This is not your father’s West Coast IPA. There is usually little-to-no piney-resin or pungent floral (a chemical called geraniol: think marigolds) aroma. Tropical notes of passionfruit, mango, guava and pineapple are the most desirable characteristics; stone fruit aromas, especially of apricot are also beloved, if not as sexy as the tropicals. Bright lemony citrus, lime, orange and tangerine all have a place. 

In the mouth, you’ll notice a viscous, creamy texture, the result of lots of unmalted grains, usually at least 20% flaked wheat and/or oats. I like the denseness attainable by fully half the grist—and it doesn’t hurt the haze, either. To me, these are hoppy wheat beers rather than a natural descendant of IPA. Certainly, from a grain standpoint, this is unquestionable. Flaked wheat is neutral in flavor and delivers glucans that create the oily texture. Oats are also mild, but because they’re so gloopy they’re limited to a 10–20% range. Uncommonly, flaked rye up to about 30% offers a hint of gentle spiciness and a plummy fruitiness.

The viscosity that adds such a wonderful creaminess also makes the mash as sticky as oatmeal, which leads to the ever-present threat of a stuck sparge. If you use a lot of rice hulls to enhance filtering and otherwise have your act together, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. In our experience, a protein rest can add to the creaminess of any wheat beer by breaking down longer proteins to ones beneficial to head and body, and this may be haze-positive as well. 

When you smell it, the tropical bouquet hits you with an intensity rare in old-school IPAs, and a sip reveals a mild bitterness. Achieving both of these characteristics requires rethinking of traditional hop use. “Normal” beer has a portion of hops added at the beginning of the boil to add bitterness, period. More are added at the end of the boil in a stage called whirlpooling. Along with aroma, this adds some bitterness. To keep the bitterness low, it isn’t possible to add more that a sprinkling of bittering hops in the boil. They drink like they’re about half the bitterness of conventional IPAs, but it’s impractical to measure it as the IBU assays don’t count the bitter compounds added from dry-hopping. We find that if we hop properly for aroma, the bitter perception ends up just where we want it. 

The real magic is in the dry-hopping. What began…turned into a defining technique of the style: dry hopping during active fermentation. Every little yeast cell is a powerful chemical factory affecting the beer in surprising ways. First, as hop tannins (polyphenols) combine with proteins from the grains, a stable and attractive haze appears. How this works is a bit of a mystery, but dry hop on day four instead of 12 hours in, and you’ll get little or no haze. Second is another yeast trick called biotransformation, in which yeast can chemically transform that floral geraniol to more desirable chemicals: linalool, with a orange, coriander character and then to beta citronellol, more of a lemongrass note. The idea is to move from less to more desirable hop aromas by this process. 

A second, larger dry hopping comes at the end of fermentation, and with triple IPAs sometimes being dry-hopped a third time. The quantities can be huge. For a double, three pounds per barrel is where you start. We have used as many as eight pounds per barrel in our 10% triple IPA. Hops are expensive, especially the desirable ones. Loads of hops means a lot of unusable sludge, so it’s no wonder these beers are expensive.

You’ll notice little of the chewy, raisiny caramel malts at the heart of IPA 20 years ago. That raisiny flavors tasted amazing in an era when mainstream beers lacked any malt character save a whiff of white bread, but they taste a bit heavy these days. IPAs had been moving away from them years before the hazy phenomenon came on the scene. 

And then there’s the haze. A pale turbid beer shines like a sunny day (or is it Sunny D?), but a dark hazy beer looks like, as 17th century writer Andrew Boorde said of one beer: “…as pigs had wrestled there in.” So, yuck. We had the brilliant idea to try a red version, which while tasty was a visual disaster. 

While as a beer-drinker, we rarely think about the water used to brew, but it can have important effects on the beer’s taste and texture. Rather than use the classic IPA mineral, gypsum, with its minerally bite, juicy IPAs tilt towards calcium chloride, which offers a softer taste that enhances the creamy presentation. As a brewer, you always like to get things working synergistically; it doesn’t make sense to wrestle those sticky grains through the lauter only to diminish them with an edgy mineral character. 

The final element is yeast, normally an English strain. You won’t find any obvious yeast-generated aromas in these beers; the spicy aromas of weizen or saison strains are incompatible here. Yeast’s production of glycerin has been credited with adding to creamy mouthfeel, but it’s hard to know how much glycerin each yeast strain will produce under what conditions. The haze is not yeast, so there shouldn’t be more than a trace—you don’t want dead creatures in your beer, as a rule. Specific yeast strains are associated with juicy IPAs, most notably the so-called “Conan” strain, purported to be from Boddingtons. But yeast produces different results in different breweries, so other English-strains may also produce great results. 

At the bigger end of the range, this style should be exploding with hop aroma and very rich and full on the palate. Balance can sometimes tilt away from drinkability, so it may be helpful to tweak brewing to increase fermentability, drying out the beer slightly, while leaving the creamy aspect intact. But on the other hand a lot of the fans like their juicy beers as rich and sweet as they can get them. The market is definitely driving this style. 

Lactose is a go-to for many breweries, using a little to reinforce the fruity notes or a lot to complete the orange juice illusion with a heap of sweetness. Lactose, however, is a matter of personal taste. Our team finds it appropriate in small doses to reinforce the fruitiness of our rye IPA, for example, but find it a little artificial-tasting and/or cloying. But to each, his or her own taste—and of course some peoples’ digestive systems are incompatible with it. 

Drinkers are fanatical about drinking these beers super-fresh. When they are very young, they can display a peppery “hop burn” on the finish, but this goes away after a week or two. Our brewing team prefers to wait until they mellow, but the super-enthusiasts prefer them as fresh as they can get them, no matter what. In my experience, they will stay perfectly lovely for a couple of months or more if they are well-brewed and well-packaged. In fact, they keep better than classic IPAs, as the mid-colored caramel malt is especially susceptible to oxidation. 

If you’re new to this style, by all means, get your hands on one. You will need to set aside all of your expectations and prepare yourself for a sip of something entirely new.