Hopster not a hipster

You may have heard about this trend to make cloudy, hoppy beers. Or to give them their hip name: East Coast IPAs.

East Coast IPAs, which arose in Vermont, are about beer in its natural state. They are unfiltered and unfined, in that no clarifying agents such as Irish Moss or isinglass have been used to remove particles. They are made with lots of late hop additions and usually with old-fashioned English ale yeasts that add to complexity of flavour.

The ingredients and lack of intervention in the process mean these beers have a cloudy appearance. Like, homebrew-quality cloudy.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact the beers taste great because they are unfiltered and unfined, while the yeast in suspension and hop matter adds to mouthfeel and flavour.

The pre-eminent example in New Zealand at the moment is Garage Project’s Party & Bullshit. Because it’s Garage Project you know it’s packed with intense flavour and technically well made to the Vermont style.

But the fear is that the trend will bring dangers in that it’s tempting for some brewers to add flour and other adjuncts just to get a visual effect.

The idea of clear, sparkling beer is a relatively new concept in the 10,000 year history of beer, coming along just a century ago thanks to refrigeration, which aids beer clarification, and technological advances. Taking beer back to an era when there was less intervention in the process mirrors a  “natural wine” trend that’s starting to spread around the globe. The irony is that brewers can be driven to trick-up a beer to conjure this natural look.

The question then becomes who do you trust? What do you trust? Is that beer in front of you cloudy because there’s something wrong, or was it overly-designed to look that way? Or, is it just a good example of a well-made beer that is unfiltered and unfined?

Luckily, I have a benchmark for you. And hopefully it’s a beer that will become more readily available around the country thanks to a nice redesign and a new distribution deal. It’s called Weezledog Hopster. While it doesn’t feature the exaggerated milkshake quality of an East Coast IPA, the ethos is exactly the same.

Weezledog is based in west Auckland and is part of an unusual marriage with fellow westie Black Sands, with the pair sharing facilities and Weezledog’s Mark Jackman doing the brewing for both brands. Jackman is a Yorkshireman with an accent so thick you may need a translator to understand him, but his beer speaks all languages.

Well before East Coast IPA became a buzz beer, Jackman, a former baker and blogger, was making his unfiltered, unfined, unpasteurised beer with little fuss and fanfare. And the star of his small stable is Hopster. I can still remember the first time I had one. Not knowing anything about it I was bemused by its appearance and approached it with a degree of trepidation before being blown away by the sumptuousness of the hop flavour. And while it’s super-hoppy, it’s smooth rather than angular in its bitterness.

And this beer, a true New Zealand IPA in that it uses just Kiwi hops, is all about flavour; grape must from Nelson Sauvin as well as citrus and blackberry.

So if you’re looking for a truly natural beer, just remember: it’s Hopster, not hipster