25 of Chicagoland’s Best Hazy IPAs Blind-Tasted
After almost 10 years of reviewing beers weekly for the podcast, we remember the time before the hazy IPA became a dominant force. It was just this thing weirdo farm breweries on the East Coast were doing, and when we were lucky enough to try them, their appeal was undeniable. In early 2017, we finally gathered up our first episode of seven hazy IPAs made by local-ish breweries for a blind tasting. That was a time when it was actually hard to find local New England-style IPAs on the shelves – either because not many breweries were making them, or the ones that were couldn’t keep them in stock.
Now there are very few hazy IPAs that sell out in a matter of hours or even days. In fact, the biggest challenge is ensuring the hazy IPA you’re grabbing from the grocery store is somewhat fresh. That doesn’t mean hazy IPAs or the IPA category in general is fading in any long-term significant way, but there’s been a noticeable uptick in lagers and easier-drinking beers in craft. And here’s the thing: it’s okay to like both. We sometimes forget that, as we’ve been guilty of admitting “haze fatigue” and have spent the better part of the last few years drinking minimal hazy IPAs compared to 2017 and 2018.
This blind taste test series did in fact restore my love of hazy IPAs. Even though a lot of it – a lot of it – has been done before (see “The Hops” below), there’s something undeniable about a fresh aromatic juicy IPA when done well. And because these are all “flagships,” these are done exceptionally well. Breweries put their best foot forward with year-rounds and flagships, so there’s been a lot of recipe tweaking and dialing-in of all of these beers. We never came across a hazy IPA during this tasting that we wouldn’t finish the can and likely even reach for another – and that’s a good thing for beer in general.
The term flagship may be a little out of style (despite those valiant attempts to establish Flagship February), but in our definition of “flagship hazy IPA” we sought out beers that were considered the brewery’s go-to hazy IPA. We were looking for the beers that are either already on their “Year-Round” calendar or are rebrewed enough that you could easily always find a fresh can at the brewery or on shelves. Due to this criteria, our most glaring omission of Hop Butcher for the World is justified due to their resistance to brewing anything one could term a flagship. And the IPA requirement means no flagship hazy Double IPAs, despite Mikerphone Brewing making an excellent one in their Mikerphone Check 1, 2.
With that in mind, we initially sought to make this into a three-episode podcast series with maybe ten or twelve beers to put to the blind tasting test. But as we started assembling shows, more and more beers fit the exact criteria above, pushing our grand total of beers to 25, spread out over five episodes (and one “bubble round” re-evaluation.) Without further ado, this is the full list of beers we tasted through to get to our results, in alphabetical order by brewery:
Alarmist Brewing – Le Jus; Alter Brewing Co. – Ambigram; Around the Bend Beer Co. – Juice Trials; Art History Brewing – Major; Begyle Brewing – No Tomorrow; DESTIHL Brewery – Deadhead Tourbus; Half Acre Beer Co. – Waybird; The Hopewell Brewing Company – Lightbeam; Horse Thief Hollow Brewing – Spoonful; Hubbard’s Cave – Fresh IPA; Maplewood Brewery – Son of Juice; Midwest Coast Brewing – Elevator to Nowhere; More Brewing – Morever; Noon Whistle Brewing Co. – Gummylicious; Old Irving Brewing – Beezer; Open Outcry Brewing – Delirio; Penrose Brewing Co. – Goofy Boots; Phase Three Brewing – Pixel Density; Ravinia Brewing Co. – Isle of Lost Hops: Medusa’s Lagoon; Revolution Brewing – Hazy Hero; Riverlands Brewing – Dean Street; Roaring Table Brewing – Tuba Solo; Short Fuse Brewing – Loosey Juicy; Sketchbook Brewing – Insufficient Clearance; Solemn Oath Brewery – Small Wave City Club
Across 24 beers,* there were 23 different hops used. Unsurprisingly, Citra and Mosaic reign supreme appearing in 18 and 13 of the beers respectively. In fact, five beers use only Citra and Mosaic (Old Irving, Solemn Oath, Open Outcry, Alarmist, and DESTIHL), while two beers exclusively use Citra (Phase Three and Riverlands). But many others were Citra, Mosaic, plus one – and very few avoided Citra and Mosaic altogether (Midwest Coast, Half Acre, and Ravinia). Here’s a sloppy pie chart I made where the FIFTEEN hops that were only used once just kind of fade away into tiny slices:
*The hops used in Short Fuse’s Loosey Juicy were not able to be verified in time for this post.
The Blind Tasting Method
For the podcast, we record remotely over Zoom as to ensure that the drinking of multiple beers in one sitting can be done in the comfort of our own homes with no unnecessary traveling needed. So bless our patient and understanding (and also beer-loving) wives who coordinated and poured all of these blind lineups out of sight of us so we could record the podcast and be truly surprised. We drank these beers in sets of five over the course of a few months, but all the beers tasted were within a 2-month or less window of freshness. This resulted in five podcast episodes where we came to a consensus on which ones would move on to the championship episode, and one bonus “bubble round” where we revisited four runner-up beers. In the end, we had six beers on our championship round, and the winner is nested at the bottom of this list. The other beers that fill out this dozen were agreed-upon highlights that just rose enough above the competition to stand out from a crowded field of great IPAs.
The purpose of the blind tasting is to remove any subconscious bias we might have around these particular breweries or beers so we can focus only on the experience of drinking them honestly. But the bias that exists in both of us is what we prefer in hazy IPAs. And for two best friends that have been podcasting together for a decade and drinking together for almost twice as long, we do have very similar preferences. We want robust aromatics that really propel from the glass. We prefer the body of the beer to feel slightly fuller without feeling heavy. We’d like to be able to recognize some of the fruit character imparted by the hops and yeast. And finally – maybe the most elusive and important to us – we want to have some bitterness. Now of course we know that part of the reason hazy IPAs have caught on is because they are counter to the “IBU Wars” of the early 2010s and usually have minimal bitterness. And we’re both admitted West Coast IPA lovers over New England-Style IPA. So, this became a clear dividing line – if we didn’t get some lingering bitterness, it fell lower on our lists. IPAs without bitterness, to us, can often veer way too sweet – and that’s just not what we were looking for in this test. But likewise, if a beer was too bitter – more like a West Coast – then it also suffered a bit in our rankings.
The Results: Our Top 12
Here are the 12 beers that rose to the top for us, in no particular order other than alphabetical. And we will tell you our consensus favorite, should you dare to scroll down to the end. (If you’d like to hear the rest of these beers reviewed in a very particular, arbitrary order, you should listen to the podcasts.)
Le Jus | Alarmist Brewing Co. (Chicago, IL) | Citra & Mosaic hops, w/ lactose | 6% ABV
When we ended up with four GABF gold-medal winning hazy beers in this top 12, I suppose we shouldn’t have been too surprised. This beer kicked off Illinois’ incredible run on medals in the Juicy or Hazy categories in 2018, the first year those styles were recognized separately in the competition. (Illinois has since counted at least one medal across those Juicy or Hazy categories every year since.) Le Jus is a hazy IPA staple across Chicagoland grocery stores, and it’s a standout when fresh. It’s citrus and lemon-forward, but notes of peach and tropical cocktail peek out in the aroma and flavor. Since it utilizes lactose, the mouthfeel is a bit fuller and lends an orange dreamsicle quality to the beer, but it may be a bit too sweet for some drinkers. I’m happy it’s around and that it allows the talented brewers at Alarmist to get weird with their smaller batch brews.
Ambigram | Alter Brewing Company (Downers Grove, IL) | Citra, Mosaic, and Idaho 7 hops | 6.5% ABV
From our June Sampler…
This ended up being our 25th out of 25 flagship hazy IPAs from local breweries that we’ve blind-tasted, so for this thing to surprise us and win our fifth round is really quite a feat when you consider the context and rapid onset of haze fatigue. The aroma is dank kush, papaya, mango, drippy citrus, and neon orange pocket candies. The bitter finish cuts through the layers of orange, lemon-lime, peach, mango, and tropical slurry, leaving the experience refreshingly dry for a hazy.
Juice Trials | Around the Bend Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) | Southern Cross, Pacifico, Cryo Mosaic hops | 7% ABV
Dan from Around the Bend is more of a scientist than a brewer sometimes, and he can talk your ear off about linalool and beta-glucans and biotransformation. Although this hazy is not a part of his #science series, it does feel like the work of an endless hop tinkerer. There are some aromas and flavors on this beer that we didn’t experience off of any other: watermelon rind and cucumber water mixed with orange lemonade and lightly-kilned grains. It has a soft mouthfeel and minimal bitterness that makes it incredibly easy to drink.
Deadhead: TourBus | DESTIHL Brewery (Normal, IL) | Citra and Mosaic hops | 7.4% ABV
Another GABF gold medal winner from 2021, this one lives up to the iconography of their hazy series. The first aromas hit like the billowing smoke from a hot-boxed hippie van, all dusty Pineapple Express buds with an enormous amount of dank. The mix of melon, berries, and citrus somehow converge to be almost mimosa-like probably in part due to its full effervescent mouthfeel. It finishes with a sticky resinous bitterness that won’t destroy the hop-averse, but it’s bolder in that area than most on this list.
Son of Juice | Maplewood Brewing Company (Chicago, IL) | Mosaic, Mosaic Cryo, Simcoe, Simcoe Cryo, and Nugget hops | 6.3% ABV
From our March Sampler…
I love doing blind shows. We table the label (which can influence you no matter how much you try) and just taste what’s in the glass. Going into round 1 of our Flagship Hazy Battle Royale I didn’t think Son of Juice would make much noise – until the reveal at the end. Buoyed by bitterness, Son of Juice did everything I wanted in a hazy beer. Juicy fruit notes, a liquid that coats the tongue, and some sweetness did what I expected. Despite being labeled as “low-bitterness IPA,” this one popped with bitterness in a field of 4 other hazy beers. While not a 3 Floyds level of bitterness, it sure felt like it on the show. This should be regarded as one of the better hazy IPAs in the Chicago market so don’t skip it if you see it while shopping. It scratches all the itches!
Beezer | Old Irving Brewing Co. (Chicago, IL | Citra and Mosaic hops | 6.9% ABV
From our March Sampler…
Yes, it’s well-known that the GABF gold medal winning Beezer is a great beer. It wasn’t a well-known beer back when it won in 2019, but now in 2023 it’s ubiquitous enough that you can find it on the shelf at many of the big grocery-store chains around Chicagoland. When we had it as a part of our Flagship Hazy IPA Blind Battle Royale, it’d been close to a year since the last time I’d opened a fresh can. But even in the context of stiff competition, we both picked out the Beezer – which we’re happy to report is still as good as it was in 2019. It’s soft and full of tropical fruit and citrus with a dank and slightly resinous bitter character in the end to keep it from getting sweet. Even if you’ve grown a bit tired of the haze, this beer will remind you what can make them such a great occasional treat.
Delirio | Open Outcry Brewing Co. (Chicago, IL) | Citra and Mosaic hops | 6.8% ABV
This is the hazy IPA that is newest to packaging, even though the South Side brewery has been fine-tuning this taproom favorite for some time. It’s big on tropical fruits, honeydew, and sweet lemonade with a hit of dank Sour Diesel. The bitterness is present from mid-sip to far beyond the finish which really helps cut out any haze-induced sweetness. Craig said this one was the closest to a West Coast IPA with its bitterness, and there’s nothing wrong at all with that.
Hazy Hero | Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, IL) | Idaho 7, Citra, Centennial, Mosaic, Amarillo, and Sultana hops | 7.3% ABV
When planning these blind tastings, I almost wasn’t sure if this was still a regular release for Revolution or if they had pivoted all the way towards Infinity Hero since that one’s been marketed harder lately. But Hazy Hero is still one of their core Hero beers, and that’s a good thing if you like accessible haze. Aromatically, there are distinct notes of pineapple, honeydew, and cantaloupe. The fruit is a bit more muddled and orange juice-like in the flavor, but there’s a good low bitterness that carries all the way through leaving some to linger on the tongue.
Dean Street | Riverlands Brewing Company (St. Charles, IL) | Citra hops | 6.8% ABV
From our May Sampler…
It finally happened. And of course it had Citra in it. But only Citra! Dean Street broke the hazy GABF medal winners curse on our blind battle royale shows. And with good reason. A solid, pillowy base feels soft going across the tongue. All that Citra brought along citrus fruits I’ve come to know and love in hazy beers over the years – papaya, mango, orange. The finish came with enough bitterness to warrant successive sips. Most importantly, though, it wasn’t sweet. It was doing everything I want out of a hazy IPA that few breweries seem to accomplish correctly.
Tuba Solo | Roaring Table Brewing (Lake Zurich, IL) | Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and El Dorado hops | 7.2% ABV
Roaring Table covers a lot of ground in terms of style, and without much exception they’re all done extremely well. Their take on a hazy is a little sweeter with less bitterness on the finish. But the aromatics of orange, tropical juice, lime, watermelon, and honeydew are lovely and pungent. The fruits follow suit in the flavor, but there’s a bit more melon and orange dreamsicle without much “green” from the hops. It’s creamy in texture and drinks lighter than the ABV suggests.
Loosey Juicy | Short Fuse Brewing Company (Schiller Park, IL) | “American and New Zealand hops” | 6.4% ABV
Though we were unsuccessful in finding the hops on this beer, we are starting to get convinced that this one has Sabro in the mix. There’s a distinct coconut aroma and flavor mixed in with a vibrant passionfruit and watermelon. It starts light in the sip but a good bitter lemongrass rises and the beer seems to get fuller on the finish. It’s a dynamic and interesting beer that has a lot of flavor but is still exceedingly easy to drink.
And the winner is…
Goofy Boots | Penrose Brewing Company (Geneva, IL) | Azacca, Citra, and Mosaic hops w/ lactose | 7% ABV
This is the only multiple GABF winner on this list, pulling down a gold medal in 2020 and a bronze medal in 2019. Penrose has certainly evolved and pivoted from their early Belgian-inspired days, and they have an absolute stunner of a hazy IPA with this Goofy Boots. This is the beer that brought it all together for us: a propulsive and dynamic aroma, a creamy body that matches a glass of pulpy juice, and the mix of dank and pithy bitterness in the finish to give it the perfect send-off. The aroma carries orange, peach, strawberry, and mango with some dank weed. In the flavor, the fruits are the star and more mango emerges before the bitterness dries out the end of the sip. It has a necessary sweetness that never overstays its welcome, as the lactose is mostly there to fill out the beer’s body. It’s worth a trip to Geneva for a fresh tap pour, but there’s also plenty to be found at beer shops around Chicagoland. And if you’re looking for a cure for “haze fatigue,” give this beer a shot.