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Hazy IPAs: Why these cloudy beers are so popular

What is a Hazy IPA?

When you order a draft beer, your first impression is a visual one. A Hazy IPA, like the name implies, has a cloudy appearance, one you can’t see through like you might with other beer styles (think a light-bodied pilsner or even our Pale Ale).

But a Hazy IPA is far more than looks. Its foggy appearance hints at a fullness of flavor, which it delivers. The careful planning of malt and hops, along with less filtering before packaging, yields a beer with lower perceived bitterness than other IPAs and hop character that’s decidedly fruity — you’ll often hear “juicy” as a flavor descriptor, like a tasty bite of ripe citrus. With our Hazy Little Thing IPA, you might pick up notes of orange and pineapple. That’s all hops; we don’t brew Hazy Little Thing with any real fruit.

Pouring a can of Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA into a custom Hazy Little Thing glass.

While other craft beer styles might seem like an acquired taste — the assertive bitterness of a West Coast IPA, the richness of an Imperial Stout — the popularity of Hazy IPA suggests it’s a crowd pleaser. Not to say it’s superior by any means, but Hazy IPA is a welcoming style within craft beer.

Hazy IPAs vs IPAs

India Pale Ale (IPA) shines the spotlight on unique aromas and flavors only hops can accomplish. The origins of IPA are several centuries old, with English brewers traditionally making IPAs with more pronounced malt character and a certain subtlety to hop aroma and flavor. American craft brewers, on the other hand, have really leaned into hop intensity.

Today, IPA has a fairly broad interpretation, with substyles pushing the boundaries of alcohol content, using unexpected ingredients, or experimenting with process.

Two hands reaching into a pile of freshly harvested hops.

Since the beginning, we’ve always been about hop exploration. In 1981, our Celebration IPA reimagined winter beers, using the first hops from the annual harvest to create a medley of citrus, pine, and floral flavors. Bigfoot Barleywine came soon after, and while not an IPA, its sheer hop intensity rivals most any monster IPA. And for more than a decade now, Torpedo Extra IPA has grown an allegiance for its huge aroma, the result of dry-hopping with our custom-built “Hop Torpedo,” a device that pushes hops to their limit.

More recently, we’ve had fun exploring the realm of Hazy IPA, mixing and matching newer hop varieties to invoke familiar fruits: mango, passion fruit, pineapple, tangerine — the whole farmers market, really. Hazy Little Thing IPA clocks in at 6.7% ABV and is silky smooth, and Summer Break is a Session Hazy IPA with an easy 4.6% ABV for those long days of sunny play.

A can of Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze IPA next to a full glass of beer, surrounded by hops.

A can of Sierra Nevada Summer Break IPA next to a full glass of beer.

What does a Hazy IPA taste like?

With countless Hazy IPAs on store shelves, it’s no surprise their taste can vary greatly. But to narrow down what to expect, one helpful comparison is West Coast IPA vs. New England IPA, another name for Hazy IPA.

The West Coast IPA typically showcases aromas of citrus and pine, and perhaps additional fruity character, with an emphasis on creating a clean yet assertive bitterness. Hops are front-loaded in the kettle boil (the “hot side” of brewing) which extracts more of their bittering qualities. There’s enough malt body to balance the hops, yet the overall drinkability remains crisp. Dankful is one of our West Coast-style IPAs, brewed with seven hop varieties for a resinous, fruity kick.

A young man holding out a can of Sierra Nevada Dankful IPA.

New England IPAs go big on “cold side” hops (i.e., added during fermentation) to unleash more aroma and flavor without extra bitterness. You’ll find their fruity hop notes tend to be more tropical and “juicy” than West Coast counterparts, while also boasting a soft, silky mouthfeel thanks to specific grains.

What makes a Hazy IPA so hazy?

Plenty goes into how Hazy IPAs are made, including extensive dry hopping, but it starts even before we fire up the brew kettle.

Oats and wheat — both malted and unmalted varieties — are critical to Hazy IPA recipes, down to their exact makeup of proteins, beta-glucans, diastatic power, and other beer-nerdy specs. With Hazy Little Thing IPA, this precise grain foundation interacts with the polyphenols (think pre-haze molecules) in colossal volumes of lupulin hop dust, which is basically the pure flavor from inside hop cones, to generate a smooth and juicy haze.

We chill our fermenters at slightly higher temperatures than normal so the haze doesn’t fade, then we skip the filter to package all the hazy flavor in its prime — straight from the tanks and into the can.

Hands holding malted oats next to hands reaching into a bin of hops.

Are Hazy IPAs less hoppy than a standard IPA?

“Hoppy” is a broad term without a clear definition; you might describe it one way, while your buddy has something else in mind. Do you default to bitterness? Is it the intensity of aromas? You just know it when you taste it?

Look at the label on a Hazy IPA, or any craft beer for that matter, and you’ll likely see a number for the actual measurement of bitterness, International Bitterness Units (IBU). These units are one of the easily recognizable characteristics that help answer What is a Craft Beer? It’s a helpful marker that gives you a general sense of hoppiness, but it can be a tricky stat. Torpedo, for example, is a West Coast IPA, so its 65 IBU does reflect the hop bitterness common to the style. But then you have something like Narwhal Imperial Stout at 60 IBU, which isn’t a hoppy beer by nature; it’s big on malt character, but hops do help balance out the sweetness.

At 35 IBU, Hazy Little Thing IPA is on par with our classic Pale Ale (38 IBU). Yet the perceived bitterness of Pale Ale is higher for most drinkers, while the silky malt and juicy hops in Hazy Little Thing keep bitterness at bay.

Saying Hazy IPAs are less hoppy, then, is a bit subjective. Guess you just have to try them all and decide for yourself.

Hands of a bartender pouring Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA into a tulip pint glass.

Types of hops in Hazy IPAs

Hop varieties, based on the resins and essential oils inside their cones, are typically categorized as bittering hops, aroma hops, or dual-purpose hops. If you’ve tried even a few Hazy IPAs, you’ve no doubt experienced them all.

Bittering hops contain high levels of alpha acids, found in the resin glands and measured as a percentage by weight. Magnum hops, for example, have about 12–17% alpha acid, and we use them toward Hazy Little Thing. These hops need hot temperatures, 155ºF and above, to release their bittering qualities. That’s why brewers add bittering hops during the kettle boil, known as the “hot side” of brewing.

But the kettle comes at a cost: boiling drives off most of the essential oils — lost aroma!

Aroma hops, then, are those prized for an abundance of essential oils that contribute aroma and flavor. They’re also called “finishing hops” since they’re added later in the brewing process, whether that’s in the final minutes of the kettle — not long enough to zap the oils — or during dry-hopping, which is a hallmark of Hazy IPAs. Citra and Mosaic hops ramp up the ripe citrus and tropical fruit in Hazy Little Thing. (Another beloved aroma hop? Cascade, which Pale Ale launched to fame.)

Dual-purpose hops can do it all. Hops like Simcoe and El Dorado, both in Hazy Little Thing, give brewers flexibility when creating Hazy IPA recipes.

How big is Hazy IPA alcohol content?

While their haze is jam-packed with flavor, Hazy IPAs aren’t inherently bigger in alcohol content. Craft brewers target various ABV depending upon their vision for a recipe, from easy-drinking session beers to those that bulldoze your taste buds.

We make Hazy IPAs that cover the spectrum, including Summer Break Session Hazy IPA at 4.6% ABV, Hazy Little Thing IPA at 6.7% ABV, and the occasional Taproom exclusive that jumps even higher.

Hazy IPA nutrition facts

The calories in a Hazy IPA, like any craft beer, largely come from carbohydrates and alcohol generated during brewing and fermentation. Early in the brewing process, we mix hot water and grains (a step called mashing) to extract sugars that yeast will devour during fermentation to create, among other things, alcohol. The yeast, though, leave behind some sugars they can’t break down — carbs toward the finished beer.

So the nutrition facts of a Hazy IPA depend on recipe design, namely the target alcohol content and how “fermentable” the grains are, i.e., can the yeast eat everything during fermentation? At 6.7% ABV, Hazy Little Thing has 214 calories per 12-ounce can. Swing over to Summer Break, with its lower 4.6% ABV, and that 12-ounce can has a modest 143 calories.

Two cans of Hazy Little Thing IPA meeting in a toast

Why do people like Hazy IPAs?

For anyone who’s been unsure of hoppy beers, a Hazy IPA just might change their perceptions. Not every hop-forward beer is super bitter; most Hazy IPAs downplay bitterness, both through hop choices and with their velvety malt bodies. And hoppy flavor doesn’t strictly mean it tastes like a pine tree (but still, mmm); Hazy IPAs use hop varieties that produce full-on harvests of citrus, tropical fruit, berries, and more.

So people like Hazy IPAs because they meet drinkers where they are, whether that’s trying your first sips of craft beer, or you’ve sampled everything but man, those pineapple notes in Hazy Little Thing! *chef’s kiss*

Choose your Hazy IPA

Hazy IPAs are at once distinct, yet it’s pretty clear: You have a lot to explore. Different hops conjure different fruity flavors. Are you looking for a heavy-hitter, or are you keeping things low key? And if calories sway your choice, all of our beers include the stats you’re after. No doubt you’ll find a Hazy IPA to love.