It’s never been so clear: Hazy IPAs are a phenomenon among craft-beer fans, who flock to new releases with the passion and dedication of “Phans” to Phish shows, or, as Christmas neared in 1985, my parents to every toy store in Queens in search of a Teddy Ruxpin, which they eventually found and I still have (and yes, it still scares me).
These sought-after ales, with their hazy appearance, lush, juicy hop flavor and bitterness barely there, are best known as New England-style IPAs. Most are sold exclusively from their breweries in 16-ounce cans, and in limited quantities that necessitate queuing up, creating excitement and a new revenue source for the craft-beer industry.
For new releases of hazy IPAs, wait times of a couple hours has become routine, with the thirst for “juice,” as the style has been nicknamed for its pulpable, er, palpable likeness to orange juice, on par with the frenzy at streetwear emporiums like Supreme and brisket bosses like Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. The turnouts at Other Half Brewing, in Carroll Gardens, for its weekly drops are among the beer world’s largest, and have received coverage in the mainstream media. Like a yucky pimple bent on ruining a teen’s class pictures, its lines are known to start forming the night before.
The chalkboard menu at Other Half’s newly expanded taproom might include items like Cabbage and Cream of Broccoli, but don’t expect these or any vegetables to be dispensed from the l-shaped bar’s 20 rotating taps. In this no-frills industrial space with communal seating (walls bare, don’t care!) adjacent to the beloved IPA-focused brewery’s original, considerably smaller drinking area (wall got a stuffed kudu head, it dead!), the sole plant showcased, and plentifully, is Humulus lupulus—specifically the perennial’s hops, the cone-like flowers that give beer its distinctive bitterness and bestow it other lively notes ranging from papaya to pine to white wine.
Other Half, one of the deftest hops users of the moment, employs varieties both classic and trendy as well as innovative brewing techniques, vogue adjuncts and even hops in new forms to flavor its dizzying array of IPAs. This impressive range has continually drawn the passion and commitment of the style’s growing fan base, and the brewery’s lines are a place, almost a pilgrimage site, where strivers encounter one another in pursuit of the objects of their devotion and worship. Beer is not the only prize for their endurance: there are bragging rights for those who proudly boast of their can conquests on Instagram, arranging their transitory accessions, commonly referred to in the industry as “hauls,” in pyramidal stacks resembling supermarket end caps. Others use the coveted ales as currency to trade for equally hyped out-of-market cans with fellow high-spirited fans.
But now there is an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy the world’s top IPA makers in one place: Other Half is hosting its first festival, called Green City, which will feature an all-star list of over 40 brewers that specialize in hoppy beers. To ensure extreme freshness, many in the vanguard keep their operation and availability small and local, and so the IPAs that will be served at the event (each brewer is required to bring three) are likely to be nearly impossible to find elsewhere. In other words, get a ticket and hop(s) over.
Green City will be held on June 23 from noon to 4:00 p.m. at Industry City in Sunset Park. General admission tickets, $100, include unlimited samples from producers like Cloudwater from the U.K., a miniature recreation of Other Half’s taproom pouring new collaborations and rare offerings that have been cellared, DJ sets, and even a wrestling show. (V.I.P. passes, $300, have already sold out.) Here, two of the brewery’s partners, Sam Richardson and Andrew Burman, speak about what to expect at the festival next month, as well as about the popularity of New England-style IPAs and the line phenomenon.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Edible Brooklyn: Call them hazy IPAs, call them New England-style IPAs, call them juice. Call them whatever you want. The style has become a phenomenon, not only among hardcore craft-beer fans but drinkers who would have previously claimed IPAs are too bitter, too. So, basically, everyone. Sam, about these IPAs you’ve said, “People are fanatical about it, to the point they don’t want to drink anything else.” Is that a good or bad thing?
Sam Richardson: It’s neither a good or bad thing. IPA has been having a looooong moment. New England-style IPA is just the continued evolution of the style. It wasn’t that long ago that West Coast style was new. Some people hated it and lots loved it. Now it’s just fact. We are headed there with this style too.
But getting back to the good versus bad, how can it be bad if people are enjoying something because it’s packed with interesting flavors that’s also made with a high level of integrity? Some beer styles are having a low moment in popularity and that may swing back or it may be that less breweries make certain styles. There are enough breweries in the world that I don’t think styles will disappear completely, they will just be harder to find. Our mission as professional brewers is to make beer that people want and like, but it can be painful sometimes when you can’t make a style you really like because it won’t sell. But all that IPA and imperial stout is what makes it possible to sneak a helles lager or porter in from time to time. I’ll end this by saying what’s really bad is people losing interest in beer. New England IPA has sparked a brand new interest in craft beer and that’s a great thing because people could get bored and move more of their dollars to wine and spirits and then watching breweries close would be a real bummer.
EB: The waiting line has become a hot topic of debate in the industry. Some speak favorably of its high spirit and communal atmosphere. It’s a bonding experience, a forum for fans to form friendships and bask in their shared lust. But some breweries have taken steps to limit or manage their queues, including preselling cans, while Sixpoint has launched an app effectively as an effort to eliminate them completely. Shane Welch, the brewery’s founder, told me, “Once people realize they don’t have to spend their time waiting in line to get a rare beer, there’s going to be an awakening.” What’s your opinion of the line phenomenon, and of your lines specifically? And would you ever sell your beer with an app?
SR: This is actually a much more complicated issue than it appears. First, there is a subculture within craft that waits in line in large part for the community. Meeting up and sharing with friends. I think that’s awesome, we could all use more community. Second, most of the breweries engaging in direct-to-customer sales are trying to make more beer. It’s not that easy! You need space, expensive equipment and competent people. As we make more beer people realize they don’t have to line up first thing in the morning unless it’s a one-off or some other highly coveted beer. Third, presales have their complications. What if you do it and people don’t show up to get the beer in a timely manner? We don’t have storage space for that kind of thing. This opens the brewery up to all kinds of uncomfortable conversations and interactions with customers that are best avoided. Plus it’s an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. No one is obligated to wait in line. We are incredibly grateful that people have and do because it’s changing craft beer for the better, but people do it because they like it or they stop. Honestly I’m not into the app idea so no we don’t plan to do it, but never say never, the time may come when it makes sense.
EB: Green City is a good measure of just how many breweries across the country now specialize in hazy, hoppy beers. Do you see that number continuing to grow?
SR: I do. It’s becoming too popular for breweries to ignore it. Three years ago at Modern Times’ Festival of Dankness I spoke on a panel about IPA and I told everyone that New England IPA was unstoppable and that it would head west because customers would demand it. Now how many West Coast breweries make them? A lot. Some begrudgingly, but you can’t ignore demand.
EB: What was the inspiration to throw your own festival?
Andrew Burman: We really wanted to bring our traveling, the collaborations we’ve done all over the world, all the breweries we’ve worked with and bring that here to Brooklyn. So many times on Instagram you’ll see a brewery post about a collaboration that none of their local fans will get, or they might have to wait in line forever for. So we wanted to bring the Other Half adventures to our fans here. This is a list of breweries we think are awesome and we’re impressed with, all under one roof. That includes local brewers like Hudson Valley and Equilibrium. This is a showcase of what we do and who we do it with.
EB: There was an article in BeerAdvocate last year about how beer festivals are moving beyond the frenzied, unfocused, one-size-intoxicates-all model, and toward a more curated, intimate and educational experience for both attendees and breweries. Is that the kind of experience you’re hoping to offer?
AB: I think so. We did want this festival to be a lot larger but logistically we just couldn’t do it right now given our schedule, so we trimmed it down to focus on friends who do IPAs and hoppy styles really well. Six months down the road I think you’ll see us do a stout festival and then a wild-beer festival, because we do make other styles and collaborate with other breweries on those kinds of beers. But with Green City, what we really want to excel at is providing a great customer experience. We don’t want it to be a super-precious festival, where breweries are only bringing one beer, and they’re running out in an hour. A major requisite is every brewer has to bring a lot of beer. And we want everyone to have equal showing. It won’t be a bunch of people just waiting in line for Trillium, Monkish and Hudson Valley.
EB: How did you choose which breweries to invite?
AB: Basically, these are all breweries and friends who we have collaborated with and who make amazing hoppy beers.
EB: You’ve also asked each brewery to bring a non-hoppy beer to serve. Why, given it’s an IPA festival?
AB: Well, we also really want to showcase the diversity of each brewery. We get made fun of a lot for only bringing IPAs to events, or being known as an IPA brewery. Most people don’t know that we make beautiful saisons or ESBs and all kinds of stouts. So that was the idea. For example, J. Wakefield makes IPAs, but they also make killer stouts. Monkish makes killer IPAs, but they also do saisons and sours that we love. And even if the general public are just going for the hops, these beers are as much for us to drink and discuss as they are the attendees. Everyone wants hoppies, but you know how it is, there’s a palate fatigue that comes into play.