A new year brings a new start for The Crafty Pint's blind tastings. While the format remained mainly the same for our look at the increasingly popular hazy pale style – which you can read about here – there were a couple of changes.
We switched the manner in which we source beers to better reflect the landscape in 2021 and also added a column to our score sheets. Alongside appearance, aroma and flavour, we introduced one we're calling "Structure" – a catch-all for for the way the beer presents in terms of its balance, finish, mouthfeel, and so on. You can read more about our approach to these blind tastings in our updated How We Judge article.
The hazy pale ale space – encompassing beers tagged New England pale ales, hazy pales, East Coast pales, juicy pale ales – is becoming ever busier, which made it the perfect choice for our first tasting of the year. After putting a shout out for beers to include, we ended up with more than 30 potentials – some well known, others we'd not heard of or from smaller, regional breweries.
We looked to include beers that are regularly available, rather than one-off limited releases, and ended up with 26 beers to put in front of our panel. There were some that were out of stock, such as Beatnik's Hazy Pale and Fox Friday's Wingman, a couple that arrived the day after the tasting – sorry, Shapeshifter and Uraidla – plus a couple that still haven't arrived from Modus Operandi and Ocho / Miner's Gold.
The others worth noting are the Range beer – they have no permanent lineup but always have a beer of this style out at any particular time, so we picked up the most recent – and Fixation, whose Little Ray is only becoming a permanent addition to their canned offering from February 22, meaning we used a growler of a batch brewed at The Incubator at the start of the summer.
Not only were there new elements to the way we approached this tasting, but we also had two new faces on the panel of six: both brewers with a wealth of experience – in the brewery and as educators and event hosts – as well as Cicerone qualifications. Well served by a trio of stewards, they joined some old hands in tackling nine flights of (mostly) hazy pale ales.
There were some early standouts, as well as some that had judges scratching their heads. As one panelist put it, hazy beers – pales, IPAs and beyond – by their very nature can bring "chaos": brewers often throw a wide array of hop varieties in large amounts at such beers, usually in tandem with appearance and texture-enhancing grains or other adjuncts (some use tiny amounts of fruit juice for textural and visual reasons rather than flavour or aroma), and yeast strains that bring their own personality to bear, so there can be a lot to pick out in often cloudy, creamy, low bitterness beers.
Descriptors ranged from the expected – lots of tropical fruit, in particular, and a fair bit of talk about texture – to the unlikely: pot pourri; Love Hearts; your socks after a hot day in the brewery; the filling from the pineapple chunks in a Snack bar; insulin... And there was some debate, albeit little in the grand scheme of things, over certain beers. Typically, we'd find in the between-flight discussions that disagreements stemmed from someone being highly sensitive or blind to a particular fault or characteristic.
Other than the few in which there were obvious faults, where beers commonly fell down was in coming across as too sweet or appearing to have aged / oxidised between being packaged and arriving for the tasting. While a juicy sweetness can be a welcome part of such beers, a few veered into syrupy, sticky territory. On the other hand, given it frequently comes up in brewer discussions of hazy beers, it was perhaps a surprise that hop burn wasn't detected more.
When it came down to the best of the bunch, they were typically at the paler end of the colour spectrum, and ticked all the boxes you'd want: solid haze; a decent head (not many did); hop forward; soft and rounded on the palate; low to medium bitterness; and a dry finish even if they offered up a gentle sweetness along the way. And, when it came to the very best of the best of the bunch, there were a few scores around the table verging on the perfect.
There was a mix of familiar trophy-winning breweries alongside some with less of a profile on the national stage at the top of the pack. You'll spot Stone & Wood Pacific Ale up there too; while that beer predates the New England pale ale and the current hazy pale craze, it is – as pointed out by one of the interviewees for our style piece – Australia's original modern day hazy pale. We decided to sneak it onto the lineup just to see how it would fare against beers often a decade younger and, well, the photo speaks for itself.
It was a double-whammy of delicious beer for the Fermentum Group too, with Fixation's Little Ray claiming top spot. Admittedly, this was as close to a draw as you could wish for, with a mere half a point out of the 180 available to each beer separating it from Hawkers' Hazy Pale; the pair finished a fair way ahead of the peloton too. We'd chosen Hawkers head brewer Hamish McArthur as one of the brewers for the accompanying style feature as we figured theirs was one of the best we've tried; nice not to have egg on our faces now it's been assessed blind!
We're pretty sure Port Macquarie-based Moorebeer will be happy with a top five spot for Lil Poppa, while it's not hard to see why Big Shed are keeping the Lockdown Series Hazy Pale around; initially created with NZ's Deep Creek in 2020, look out for the same beer with a new look and new name in the coming weeks. Given the two other beers we'd been sent from SA didn't make it in time, this one ensured all five states represented in the tasting landed at least one beer in the top half.
Sydneysiders in the know have been talking up White Bay's beers since the brewery opened on the Balmain Peninsula, and their cloudy Sunny Pale showed why. Meanwhile, Aether led the way for the four Queensland beers to make the best of list, sandwiching Mountain Goat's Hazy Pale and the highest-rated WA beer on the night, Rocky Ridge's Juicy Pale Ale.
When done well, it's easy to see why such beers are enjoying their time in the sun. Just typing up this article is making me thirsty again...
1. Fixation Little Ray – 5.2% – growler from taproom; kegged December 2020
2. Hawkers Hazy Pale – 4.6% – from brewery; best before 16/07/21
3. Dainton Equalizer – 4.7% – from brewery; packaged 23/12/20; best before 23/09/21
4. Stone & Wood Pacific Ale – 4.4% – Dan Murphy's, Alphington; packaged 23/12/20; best before 19/09/21
5. Moorebeer Lil Poppa – 4.8% – from brewery; no date
6. Big Shed Lockdown Series: Hazy Pale – 5.2% – from brewery; best before 02/08/21
7. White Bay Sunny Pale – 4.5% – from brewery; packaged 18/01/21; best before 18/07/21
8. Aether Deep Space Haze – 5.2% – from brewery; packaged 29/10/20; best before 29/07/21
9. Mountain Goat Hazy Pale – 4.6% – from brewery; packaged 28/01/21; best before 28/01/22
10. Range Way Back When – 5.7% – from Range Abbotsford; released 05/02/21
11. Bacchus Cryohopic Crush – 5.2% – from brewery; packaged 22/12/20; best before 12/21
12. Rocky Ridge Juicy Pale Ale – 5.0% – from brewery; packaged 11/01/21; best before 11/01/22
13. Ballistic Hawaiian Haze – 4.8% – from brewery; best before 23/07/21
The other beers to feature, in alphabetical order, were: Bodriggy Utropia (best before 29/01/22); Cooks River Hazy Pale (no date); Deeds Double Time (packaged 16/11/20); From Ben Tino Pai (best before 29/07/21); Hop Nation Melbourne Fog (best before 30/10/21); Innate Brewers Tropical Pale (best before 16/11/21); Mountain Culture Status Quo (no date); Mr Banks McConnaughaze (best before 11/10/21); Nomad Rollin' Haze (best before 01/02/22); Running With Thieves Hazy Pale (no date); Wolf Of The Willows Pup (best before 14/01/22); and Zythos (brewed for Woolworth's by Tribe, best before 14/09/21). The 26th was a not-yet-canned beer from a brewery-under-construction whose team kindly hand-canned some samples for the tasting; unfortunately, the cans didn't open properly and had lost all carbonation in transit.
Thanks to the judges and stewards who gave up a Friday evening for the tasting, to the brewers who got beers to us, and the Independent Brewers Association for allowing us to set up shop in their offices after hours.
Feel free to let us know if there are styles you'd like us to tackle over the course of the year.
Also, if there's a beer you know of – or brew – in the above style and it's not been featured or mentioned here, it's because we didn't know about it. With so many breweries in all parts of Australia releasing so many beers, it's impossible to be on top of every one of them, hence why we put a shout out via the site, our social pages, and our newsletter asking for nominations. The next tasting will likely be held in late April so keep an eye out for the next shout out for entries some time in March if you want to make sure a beer is up for consideration.
You'll find all past blind tasting-related articles here.