Alberta’s craft beer drinkers have been in a haze for a few years — not from over-consumption, but from an enduring infatuation with hazy IPAs and pale ales.
There are signs that some breweries are moving toward other styles, including lagers, and that consumers may be ready for some change. There’s even a small-scale resurgence of West Coast IPAs — the style that helped fuel the rise of its hazy cousins as drinkers turned away from an arms race of ever-increasing hoppiness and bitterness and looked for something less extreme.
But an end to the haze hegemony? Not so fast, says Stephen Bezan, purchasing manager at Sherbrooke Liquor. Many beer trends have come and gone, but the retail veteran says hazy IPAs and pale ales have enjoyed sustained popularity for five or six years.
“Those are the ones that go out the door the quickest,” Bezan says.
Hazy IPAs and pale ales are also known as “New England” IPAs and pale ales, in reference to the region that was home to the earliest popular examples. They’re best known for hop traits that are bright, tropical and juicy, and low in perceived bitterness relative to piney and resinous West Coast IPAs. The additions of wheat and/or oats give them pillowy mouthfeels and contribute to the trademark hazy appearance. Those traits give hazies a wide appeal, and staying power. Their approachability has also made them popular gateway beers for people just discovering craft, in addition to their fanbase among existing drinkers.
But in a province gone hazy, one Edmonton brewery is going in a different direction. Blind Enthusiasm recently decided to focus on creating lagers at its Market brewery — an initiative it has dubbed the Lagerization Project.
Blind Enthusiasm owner Greg Zeschuk says the move is mainly motivated by wanting to share the kinds of beers he enjoys drinking. It’s a positive statement about lagers, rather than negative one about hazies.
“Lagers have been really debased here, with people thinking it’s just fizzy yellow water. I want people to experience what I experience when I have a really awesome dry-hopped lager,” he says.
Edmonton author Scott Messenger, who charted the growth of Alberta’s craft beer industry in his 2020 book, Tapping the West, agrees that it’s good business sense for breweries like The Market and Fahr Beer in Turner Valley (which focuses on traditional German styles) to carve out niches for themselves.
As an industry watcher, Messenger says it’s important for Alberta’s relatively young craft beer business to continue to grow and evolve. Part of that process, he says, should include breweries demonstrating their ability to master established styles.
As a beer lover, Messenger says that he appreciates having a range of well-made beers to choose from. Messenger agrees West Coast IPAs appear to be making a small comeback and recently found himself revisiting the style for the first time in a while. It had been too long, he concluded.
“It was a little trip down memory lane that shouldn’t have been a trip down memory lane,” he says.
It’s possible 2021 will deliver a measure of satisfaction to everyone. Some breweries will find an audience among beer drinkers who appreciate something different, hopheads nostalgic for West Coast IPAs will find more examples on store shelves … and haze lovers will continue to have a vast selection from which to choose.
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