India Pale Ales, also known by their abbreviation “IPAs,” are one of the most popular beer styles in the world. But like all things that are well-loved, IPAs are at the center of debate, with beer lovers questioning which sub-style of IPA is better – West Coast or Hazy.
In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with either, and it’s just a matter of preference with flavors and bitterness levels. So, what’s the difference between West Coast and Hazy IPAs anyway? We sat down with Sam Tierney, brewing manager at our Propagator brewhouse in Venice, CA, to learn more about the two styles, their influence, and how we classify Firestone IPAs into these categories.
WHAT IS A WEST COAST IPA?
West Coast IPAs are traditionally known for their bold hop aroma, high bitterness, and citrus and piney notes and flavors. They’re typically brewed with higher amounts of hops in the boil kettle, which leads to the high bitterness, and a mid-palate hop flavor. Hops are still added to the beer after fermentation to provide more aroma and little bitterness, but the proportions are more equal between the two.
Our most well-known West Coast-style IPA is Union Jack. Union Jack is aggressively hopped, which showcases pineapple, citrus, and piney aromas and dry hop flavors of grapefruit and tangerine. Packing a punch at 7% ABV it includes an array of hops including Magnum, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, Chinook, and Simcoe.
Our latest IPA release, Hopnosis, is also a West Coast IPA. Its distinguishing feature is that it’s brewed with Cryo Hops®, which allows for a big hop aroma with much lower bitterness. Compared to Union Jack, we double dry hop this beer with varieties from the U.S. and New Zealand. Hopnosis is born out of new trends in IPAs, and it’s a more innovative West Coast IPA. It comes in at 6.7% ABV, and it offers hints of tropical fruit flavors including mango, passionfruit, white grape, and lychee.
WHAT IS A HAZY IPA?
The Hazy IPA goes by many names including New England IPA, juicy IPA, East Coast IPA, and unfiltered IPA. It has taken the beer industry by storm. Hazy IPAs tend to be lower on the bitterness scale and offer tropical and juicy flavors. They also have a fuller or creamier mouthfeel, and are often sweeter. These factors can impact the perception of bitterness and balance.
Compared to West Coast IPAs, hazy IPAs tend to have more hops added post-fermentation, with little to none in the kettle, and a smaller amount in the whirlpool. This leads to less bitterness, a mid-palate flavor, and more aroma. The haze craze is well underway, and most breweries are now offering at least one hazy–style IPA to stay current with the trends and give the people what they want. Insert Mind Haze.
Mind Haze is a free-spirited beer made to elevate your perceptions – juicy yet balanced, hazy yet lasting, and loaded with an imaginative array of tropical hop flavors.
Mind Haze is Firestone’s first hazy IPA. Brewed with Cashmere, Mandarina, El Dorado, Idaho 7, Azacca, and Mosaic hops, it comes in at 6.2% ABV. It didn’t just stop there for us, though. The love for Mind Haze has allowed the line to grow, and we now offer even more hazy IPA options including Double Mind Haze, Mind Haze Light, and our Tropical Hazy Mixed Pack.
The science behind the haze: It’s not just for appearances
One of the main differences between the two styles is when hops are added during the brewing process. In West Coast IPAs, hops are usually added to the kettle throughout the wort boil to extract a range of bitterness and flavor. Hazy IPAs are usually brewed with most or all of the brewhouse hops added to the whirlpool after boiling is complete. Because the hops are not boiled, this “hot steep” time allows for the extraction of aroma and flavors, but not too much bitterness.
Hazy IPAs get their signature cloudy appearance from a combination of proteins and tannins contributed by higher-protein grains like wheat and oats used in the mash, and high rates of hop additions. The resulting haze complex binds to non-polar hop aroma compounds that would normally not remain in the beer, leading to the unique juiciness and lush mouthfeel.
“It’s been pretty wild to see how quickly hazy IPAs have risen in popularity,” said Sam. “I think that the juicy, fruity flavors and lower bitterness have very broad appeal with many drinkers who may have been turned off by the higher bitterness in most West Coast IPAs. We took our time in joining the fray, but we found the perfect balance and drinkability for the style with the creation of Mind Haze.”
— Brewmaster Matt Brynildson
Mind Haze offers the best of what you expect from a hazy IPA. But we’re going about it a little differently, and that’s what gives Mind Haze its own unique signature. We’re finally ready to do a hazy IPA the Firestone way.
IPAs ARE EVOLVING
We now live in a world where West Coast and Hazy IPAs styles are blending together. The popularity of Hazy IPAs has helped accelerate an already-existing trend in West Coast IPAs toward lower bitterness and juicier hop flavors. These modern West Coast IPAs, exemplified by Gen 1 from our Propagator brewhouse, may be unfiltered and have varying levels of haze, but they maintain a firm balancing bitterness and refreshing dryness in the finish that set them apart from the hazy style, even if they have similar hop aroma and flavor.
Another example is our Mind Haze Light extension of the Mind Haze family, everything you want from a Hazy IPA with nothing to weigh you down. Citrus, hazy and crisp, Mind Haze Light is only 100 calories and 5 carbs. Maximum flavor, minimal calories, no compromises. “We took everything we learned from making the original Mind Haze and we packed it into this low-calorie, low-alcohol edition that is loaded with tropical hop flavors,” says Brewmaster Matt Brynildson, “This is the kind of beer I love to drink when I want all the goodness of a hazy IPA with nothing to weigh me down.” Learn more about the world of Mind Haze.
Well, now you know…when asked about the difference between West Coast and Hazy IPAs, it’s not a simple answer. There are two general families, but not everything falls cleanly into separate boxes. Both styles are popular for a reason, and they have made a permanent imprint on the craft beer industry. To anyone still trying to answer the question, “Which is better?” we suggest exploring all the options out there and learning what qualities you prefer in a beer. Whether you’re Team Hazy or Team West Coast, we can all agree that it is exciting to see the industry evolve.