It’s always fascinating to me, at this point, when a larger regional brewery decides to fully commit to a new, year-round hazy IPA in packaged form, if it’s not something they already had as a permanent staple of their lineup. It’s been years now since NE-IPA sprung into popularity, and so many breweries are still getting by these days in the “limited release” vicious cycle, seemingly never making the same IPA twice, hoping the lines to buy 16 oz sticker cans keep showing up. To actually release a canned, year-round hazy IPA, though, implies that at least a certain amount of R&D and test batching has been accomplished. It at least gives us reason to be optimistic.
Chicago’s Revolution Brewing is a brewery I’ve been following for almost a decade now, since they were first founded in 2010. I visited the brewpub in its heady early days, crunching away on the bacon fat popcorn for which they were known, and the company’s flagship Anti-Hero IPA immediately became one of my favorite Chicago brews. A decade later, it’s still a lovely beer, and the supporting “hero” series has continued to be a fun way to explore single hop varietals. But no matter how much Anti-Hero Revolution sells, and how big the company grows (now #38 on the Brewers Association list of the largest craft brewers), they clearly felt they couldn’t afford to simply get by on limited hazy IPA releases forever. Eventually, they needed a year-rounder. Enter: the newly released Hazy-Hero IPA.
“Hazy-Hero is really the next evolution of our Hazy IPA program, all the way from our first Brewpub batches of the style through the introduction of Northeast-Hero earlier this summer,” said Revolution Brewmaster Jim Cibak in the initial press release. “This one goes even further to bring in modern hops and the kind of smooth, tropical flavor profile that makes the style so popular.”
I was certainly curious to try it, both as a fan of Revolution and Chicago craft beer in general, and as an observer of the hazy IPA landscape, of which I have occasionally been critical, especially of beers suffering from unpalatable mouthfeels and the sensation of “hop burn.” I wanted to see if Hazy-Hero might take a page out of the playbook of other NE-IPAs from top 50 craft breweries such as Firestone Walker’s Mind Haze, presenting as a middle ground of sorts between the sludgy juice bombs of smaller, hyped breweries (Tree House, Trillium, etc) and the easygoing, somewhat tepid nationally available entries from the likes of Boston Beer Co. And as it turns out, I was right: Hazy-Hero seems calculated to fall right in the middle of the pack, bringing adequate tropical fruit impressions to the party while still retaining both drinkability and a degree of bitterness, and avoiding some of the other NE-IPA pitfalls.
To look at it, this is still a pretty murky NE-IPA in the glass; one that would fit in alongside many of the hyped, east coast hazies. It’s a bit lighter of body, though, with a nose that delivers pleasant notes of passionfruit, guava and sticky resin. None of those notes are what you’d call “explosive”—this strikes me as a bit more of an easygoing hazy IPA, which is what I was expecting. It’s not an attempt to be the end-all, be-all of anything.
On the palate, one actually gets a hint of toasty malt and a bit of bready/doughy character in the mix, supporting by light impressions of tropical fruit—passionfruit, guava, mango, mostly. It’s quite dry overall; certainly not the juice bomb that so many are chasing after, and it thankfully avoids the unpleasant “hop burn” sensation of having too much stuff left in suspension. At the same time, there’s a noticeable bitterness component—moderate, but it’s definitely there, holding things together, and I welcome it. It makes for a well-balanced, if not necessarily the most expressive, IPA—a good daily drinker that is less decadent than the beers many geeks are chasing after, but more interesting than the most basic of hazy IPAs.
It’s not game changing, but Hazy Hero is a good update to the NE-IPA formula. If the beer style continued to travel in this direction—perhaps while retaining a bit more juicy punch—then I’d be more than happy to see it happen.
Brewery: Revolution Brewing
City: Chicago, IL
Style: American IPA (hazy)
Availability: Year round, 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.