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On Brewing: The tricky task of canning hazy IPAs

Article by Eric Peterson February 5, 2018, 11:52 am MST

It's a beautiful afternoon in Denver. I'm sitting on the patio at Great Divide Brewing Company with founder Brian Dunn, enjoying a pint of the brewery's Hazy IPA. The sun is shining. Birds are chirping. All is right with the world.

But it's a different story deep in the haze: The abundant ultraviolet light and oxygen are wreaking havoc on the unfiltered yeast and hop particulate that adds to the body of the beer and makes it semi-opaque.

Dunn says he can taste the difference between the first and last sips of a pint, especially when  he's drinking outside. "There's a chemical reaction that happens," he says. "Certain kinds of hops really get affected by UV light and it makes them skunky. That can happen with any beer."

But hazy IPAs are particularly vulnerable, he adds. "The reason IPAs are hazy is because there's a lot of hop loads in the beer, there's protein, there's yeast," says Dunn. "It's a tough thing. A lot of breweries are working on it."

Dunn points to three high-profile efforts in Samuel Adams New England IPA, Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing, and New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA. Packaging a true hazy IPA is easier said than done: Hazy Little Thing "is a nice IPA, but it's not like a canned version of a hazy IPA," he says.

He's quick to point out that Great Divide isn't planning to package its draft-only, Colorado-only Hazy IPA in cans or bottles. The brewery is releasing a new IPA, Heyday, in cans this spring, with "more contemporary" hops than Titan, but no haze.

Neil Fisher, co-founder and head brewer of WeldWerks Brewing in Greeley, says he applied a year and a half of experience with kegs and Crowlers of Juicy Bits and other New England-style IPAs to canning before launching in October 2017.

The success of Juicy Bits helped WeldWerks has propelled to 100 percent growth year-over-year growth. "New England-style IPAs are probably about 60 to 70 percent of our volume," says Fisher.

But there have been plenty of lessons learned along the way. "We're the best ones to ask what not to do," says Fisher. "A lot of it is the unfiltered nature of it, and the high dry hops -- about double the dry hops of a West Coast IPA -- subject to oxidation. It's just got more vulnerability."

Fisher says smaller breweries are a better fit for the style. "About 90 percent of breweries producing New England-style IPAs are 25 barrels or smaller," he notes. Its fragility "is why it's done well with small breweries: It's best to be consumed fresh. It prioritizes flavor over everything."

WeldWerk's brewing team had already learned how to maximize the shelf life before canning the first six-pack. "Two months was not unheard of for a Crowler," says Fisher. "What we figured out was a lot of breweries rush it to cans to keep it hazy. We try to get as much yeast as possible out of suspension before it goes into the cans."

Minimizing dissolved oxygen is also critical, he adds. "We're really cognizant of the DO through the entire process. Limiting our DO before we get to the brite tank really helped us as well. . . . We really started from the top down and made sure every tank was basically at zero."

The end result: A can of Juicy Bits can last for 90 days in cold storage. "All of our IPAs are unfiltered," says Fisher. "Cold storage is a big thing. We're trying to make sure they're never in warm storage."

To make the jump to cans, WeldWerks has worked with contract brewery Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in Denver and Craft Canning on location in Greeley.

In both cases, the canning lines are more efficient and thus contribute to the main goal of less oxygen and longer shelf stability. "Craft Canning are really affordable and really good," says Fisher, citing a low 3 percent loss during a recent canning session.

With about 50 retail accounts in "a very limited footprint" on the Front Range, it can be difficult to find a sixer of Juicy Bits or another WeldWerks New England-style IPA. And that's part of the plan. "We're always going to prioritize the taproom first," says Fisher. "Bringing people to Greeley is a big mission for us."

Eric Peterson is editor of BreweryWeek and CompanyWeek. Reach him at rambleusa@gmail.com.

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