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Beer of the Month: Firestone Walker enters haze craze with Mind Haze IPA

Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Variety Menu

The beer: Mind Haze (Firestone Walker Brewing, Paso Robles, Calif.), a hazy IPA.

The back story: We're several years into the haze craze -- that is, the ascendance of low-bitterness, fruit-forward India pale ales -- and the largest craft breweries have taken notice. Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer were among the first large craft breweries to trot out their takes. In recent weeks, we've also seen this arrival from Firestone Walker Brewing. Hazy IPA has been a challenge for larger breweries due to the style's notorious lack of shelf stability (based on the unusually high amounts of hops, which degrade quickly). Creating a hazy IPA with national reach was a lengthy process for Firestone Walker, but it's a quality beer with an interesting twist: The brewery calls Mind Haze an IPA, but only sort of considers it an IPA. In reality, it's a deft hybrid.

What Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson says: "We opened our satellite brewery in Venice Beach a couple years ago and designed the system to be good for research and development. We're surrounded down there by all these breweries -- like Highland Park and Monkish -- who are crushing it with hazy IPAs. People walk up to our bar there and say, 'What do you have that's hazy?' If the bartender says, 'We don't make those beers,' they turn around and walk away.

"We made our first hazy IPA there in 2017. I was skeptical at first about the style. It seemed like this Instagram-friendly style -- because visually it sets itself apart from everything else -- but I had a hard time with it because I was tasting some really poorly made beer: very vegetal or a lot of yeast. But I learned to embrace it, thanks to Evan Price, the owner and brewmaster at Green Cheek Brewing (in Orange, Calif.). He's a close friend and confidant, and when he opened the brewery, he came out of the gate with hazies. He had been anti-hazy, and I was giving him crap about it. But he said, 'I'm starting a new business, and if I'm going to do this, I need to get fully behind those beers.' I started tasting them, and I really began to get it.

"When it came to new beer in 2019, the most impactful thing we could do was follow the haze craze and see if we could help lead the charge in producing a sessionable hazy that's legit and has shelf stability. I love the challenge of keeping up with the fan base and keeping current, because we know what happens if you don't -- a bunch of breweries are struggling right now because their innovation paths didn't follow the trends. We wanted to put our own fingerprint on the style and not be too influenced by what's already in the market.

"There's obviously a lot of visual effect with hazy IPA, but also creamy mouthfeel and a tropical hop character; I call it integrated hop character, as opposed to a classic West Coast IPA, which in my mind is a canvas to express hops. Hazy IPAs smell like the raw hops, but they really remind me more than anything of weizenbock (a hearty German wheat ale) -- with an interesting hop aroma. Weizenbock pours hazy, and the yeast produces these notes of tropical banana, but mixed with slightly higher alcohol content, it comes across less as banana and more as tropical-fruity. German brewers have been doing this for a long time.

"With this beer, we moved away from classic piney-grapefruit hops and went for more tropical and soft fruit character -- pineapple, mango, peach. Our beer has a hop-dominated aroma, but in the back of my mind, the softness and ester profile was what I wanted to create. A lot of brewers will tell you a big part of style is leaving some yeast behind, but we take all the yeast out. We wanted to clean the beer up a little bit. If it's a Firestone beer, it has to have high drinkability.

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"The hopping schedule is similar to a lot of hazy IPAs; we only add hops late in the process, and the vast majority is dry hopping. The difference is that ours is 40 percent wheat and oats -- it's closer to that German wheat beer than an IPA for sure. We're comfortable making a hoppy beer and confident in our use of hops, but this was an interesting road -- a higher degree of difficulty than the typical IPA, no doubt. There was some weight on my shoulder about how I would be judged. We're a big brewery jumping into the little brewery's world. I went to Colorado in the second week of January and went straight to Weldwerks, which is one of the most famous hazy brewers right now. I brought a can of Mind Haze, and their brewer was like, 'Nice work -- you did it.' I was like, 'I feel a lot better right now.'"

Alcohol: 6.2 percent

Find it: Available in six-packs of 12-ounce cans year-round.

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

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