I’m encouraged to see that beer, collectively, has stopped debating the “legitimacy” of hazy IPAs. They’re here, they’re beer, they’re not going away anytime soon. Now that we’ve accepted their presence on our draft lists and in our grocery-store refrigerators, we can turn our attention toward more important matters, like what makes them enjoyable.
Mostly, fans of these beers tell me they enjoy the IPAs’ tropical, juicy-fruity hop flavors, as well as their more cushioned bitterness. These components can be achieved in traditional, non-hazy IPAs, of course, but hazy IPAs are synonymous with both qualities. Astute drinkers who think about a beer’s texture sometimes also tell me that they enjoy hazy IPAs’ generally fuller, “fluffier” body. But one drinker’s “enjoyable softness” is another drinker’s heaviness; I tend to be in the latter camp. As much as I might enjoy a certain hazy IPA’s aroma and flavors, I sometimes find its fullness to be a bit much, maybe even cloying. Tasty, yes, but not particularly refreshing.
So the appeal of a session hazy IPA, to me, is not just the sub-5% alcohol by volume, but the more refreshing, lighter body. I was hoping that’s what Ballast Point’s new Passing Haze session hazy IPA would deliver, and it does. The San Diego-based brewery earned acclaim making IPAs—most famously, Sculpin IPA and its variants—so it’s no surprise its brewers knows their way around hops of all stripes. Ballast Point’s sale to huge wine and liquor company Constellation in 2015 was an astonishing billion-dollar craft brewery acquisition, fueled in part by IPAs’ raging popularity and Ballast Point’s reputation for brewing popular ones.
But rather than aggressive bitterness or piny flavors, Passing Haze offers a more beachy take on the style. The trio of Centennial, Mosaic, and Citra hops—added late in the brewing process for maximum aroma and reduced bitterness—lend an aroma that’s equal parts fruit smoothie and beer, with notes of passionfruit, pineapple, orange, and mango. (Fear not, fellow Centennial hop fans, some of its trademark spruce aromas poke through.) Flavors are straightforwardly tropical, with grapefruit, sweet lemon, dried mango, and light apricot all hitting the palate together before receding in a juicy undertow.
The body, though, is why I’m writing about this beer. It solves my warm-weather dilemma of wanting all those lovely hop flavors but without some hazy IPAs’ sticky-sweet, thicker texture. Like a good session IPA should, Passing Haze delivers the flavor punch and then, well, quickly passes along. Some might call it thin, but that’s what I’m looking for in a session IPA: A beer that’s flavorful but quickly fading, leaving me thirsty for another sip. Some critics will say this beer isn’t full enough, but it’s not intending to be. If you want a hazy IPA you need to eat with a spoon, there’s plenty of lactose-added, sugar-stuffed versions in tallboy 16-ounce cans already out there for you.
Ballast Point Passing Haze will be available through May across Ballast Point’s 49-state distribution territory. (Sorry, West Virginia. Ballast Point says they’d love to sell beer in your state, but certain distribution laws and regulations prevent the company from selling there.)
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