When I first saw the headlines from beer blogs proclaiming that Firestone Walker was finally ready to unleash its first hazy IPA, my immediate thought was something along the lines of “wait, haven’t they already done this before?”
As it turns out: No, not officially. Firestone has never thrown its considerable weight (and street cred) behind a beer marketed as “hazy IPA,” but it’s not as if the brewery’s hoppy beer game has been rooted indelibly in the past for the last few years. Modern IPA releases from Firestone, stretching back to stuff like the first Leo v. Ursus release, Fortem, have been informed by the rise of hazier, juicier IPAs even when they weren’t necessarily reflecting them visually. Just look at the page for Luponic Distortion IPA on the website, covered in pineapples and fruit imagery, and it’s clear they’ve already been exploring this flavor territory for a long while.
Mind Haze, then, is less Firestone’s first go-round in this flavor wheelhouse and more their first real commitment to marketing a beer as “hazy.” It’s an IPA I was excited to try, given its pedigree and the fact that we love Firestone around here. What I found, sadly, didn’t exactly capture my imagination. Mind Haze is a fine, solid example of hazy IPA, but one that already seems rather familiar to me. In waiting so long to create what they think of as the perfect expression of hazy IPA, Firestone has ultimately made something comfortable rather than cutting edge. And that’s fine—but it’s hard not to be left wanting more all the same.
On the nose, Mind Haze presents very green—it certainly comes off like something that has captured a ton of aromatic hop compounds, that’s for sure. Grass and resin are initially dominant, fading into hard-to-place tropical fruitiness. In terms of profile, it reminds me a bit of Trillium’s IPAs, which I sometimes find to be overloaded with grassy characteristics to the point of becoming unpalatable.
On the palate, though, Mind Haze actually takes a step back in terms of assertiveness—it doesn’t present its green flavors as intensely as the initial aroma might lead one to expect. Pineapple fruit juice, lemon, lychee and grass/resin come forward, supported by mild bitterness and a slight astringency, perhaps from suspended hop particulate or yeast. The texture is quite nice—Smooth and supple without being overly chewy. The finish, meanwhile, is quite dry—moreso than usual for the style, to the point where it feels like the fruit flavors might actually benefit from a bit more sweetness. I don’t often find myself calling for more sweetness in hazy IPAs, but there you go. Although I should say that thanks to its dryness, Mind Haze drinks pretty easily.
Ultimately, though, the lasting impression I had was one of familiarity—I could swear that I’ve tasted beers very similar to this before. And really, given that we blind tasted 324 IPAs last year, the chances are good that I probably have. It’s an issue that many have raised: There simply seems to be less room to work within the world of hazy IPA, in terms of carving out something distinctive. And it’s far harder now than it was a couple of years ago to make people say “Oh, that’s interesting.”
The end result, in my mind, seems to be an increasing appreciation for older styles of IPA. Mind Haze is a fine beer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up becoming a huge retail hit for Firestone, exposing hazy IPA to new audiences along the way. But drinking it does on some level put me in the mood for a good old Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA—a beer that seems increasingly novel, the more it becomes surrounded by hazies in the marketplace. I’m glad that we still have access to both.
Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
City: Paso Robles, CA
Style: Hazy IPA
Availability: 12 oz cans, 6-packs
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.