Interview & Photo - Matthew Curtis
Earlier this year I wrote about a chance encounter with beer author Randy Mosher while in Philadelphia for this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. In hindsight, turning offhand comments heard late at night in a Philly bar into a blog post was not one of my best ideas. However, writing that post opened a dialogue with Randy, which allowed me to interview him for an article on hazy beer I put together for this month’s Ferment Magazine (and also gave me the opportunity to apologise.) I only pulled a few quotes for the finished article, but here’s the brief interview in full, posted as a way of making amends for the piece I wrote back in June.
Randy’s second book Tasting Beer is perhaps one the most indispensable guides to learning about the technicalities behind our favourite drink. It was however, published way before the hazy/New England IPA style truly emerged, so hopefully this might shed a little light on Randy's thoughts towards some styles that are becoming increasingly more popular.
MC: Why do you think hazy beer styles such as New England IPA have become popular among beer enthusiasts?
RM: The sweet spot for new products has always been things that are just a little bit different. People want to feel like they're adventurous and trying new things, but in reality, they are also most comfortable with familiar things. The hard, cold reality is that only a few really like to try truly different or innovative things. Also, people, people seem to want to drink beer that other people think is good, rather than trying to sort it out for themselves, which I find a little sad. Like missing the journey just for the sake of getting to the destination. Just look at the way online ratings sort of pile on once things get rolling for a "hot" brand.
Making a beer cloudy makes it seem more different than it may actually be. This is one of the ways craft beer became popularised in the 1990s, with the hazy American wheat ales in the Pacific Northwest (Pyramid or Widmer, for example) that were the stepping-stone beers of their day and blew up very rapidly.
What, if any, is fundamental problem with so many brewers bringing very hazy beer styles to market?
Here's the problem: we drink with our eyes. We are so dependent on vision that it can actually tell our other senses what to expect. This has been scientifically demonstrated with wine. If you give professional judges white wine tinted with red colour, they find berry, bramble, cherry, etc., rather than peaches, gooseberry, whatever, that would be expected.
My guess is that if you presented some "normal" IPAs with added flavourless haze, or clarified some of these cloudy NEIPAs, it would change their perception in a similar manner. And of course any moron can make a cloudy beer, so there's no challenge to that part. Making a delicious beer is very difficult, cloudy or otherwise. So, if it's the cloudiness that's important to people, then other things may not matter as much.
Is hazy beer flawed or is it a sign of true innovation?
Well, that depends on the flavour, of course. Hazy beer is nothing new or difficult to make, so I do have a hard time seeing it as an innovation, really. When you make a dry-hopped beer, you end up with a lot of gunk in the fermenter that's a mix of dead yeast, hop vegetative material and other detritus. Most brewers feel that it's not flavour positive and don't feel good about selling that to their customers. I'm not exactly sure what these guys are doing, but if that's what they're doing, it's clever business, because it actually makes the resulting beer a lot more profitable.
Some of these that I have tasted have been very good, but others have a yeasty taste that I am personally not a fan of, as I think it muddies up the bright, fresh flavours of hops. I do take issues with a comment I think somebody made on your site that I was missing a layer of flavour by not appreciating the yeast. That's true statement, but I'd just as soon miss something I don't care for.
Photo: Paulaner Nockherberger, an unfiltered lager beer served only at the brewery's restaurant in Munich, Germany.