Like many larger breweries, Bell’s Brewing was fairly slow to accept that hazy IPAs were here to stay. I remember being quite surprised when their Sideyard hazy released through their Eccentric Cafe, and then Bell’s Official only came out in 2019. Years after Michigan’s Old Nation exploded onto the scene with their now-ubiquitous (but still pricey) M-43, the brewery has put their second major hazy into wide release in the form of this Two Hearted brand extension, which is the way of the brewing world these days.
I admit it: Hazy Hearted is a pretty decent beer. The first time I pulled up a draft of it at a local bar, I will also admit that I didn’t want to like it, in a stubborn sense of loyalty to Two Hearted. But I do like it. It lacks the legendary refinement and straightforward assertion and bitterness of its much older sibling, but it’s head and shoulders above the thin, easily forgettable Light Hearted that rolled out a few years back.
Unfortunately, it’s also not any significant improvement over Bell’s Official, which was softer on the palate, a bit sweeter and at a 6ish-percent ABV simply more approachable than Hazy Hearted’s 7.5%.
Is Official done for? That’d be a shame, but if the weight of the company is behind Hazy Hearted (and all the other -Hearted extensions currently out there) then it seems unlikely that Official is going to continue; I know I haven’t seen it on store shelves lately. I am, however, happy to continue to see the other recent hit from Bell’s, their No Yeah golden ale, continuing onward.
I will say that Hazy Hearted is a significant upgrade over one of New Belgium’s current rocket ship rides, Juice Force. Having recently blown roughly $10 on a sixer of that, I found it to be thoroughly mediocre: Gritty, with acrid bitterness atop sticky apricot, canteloupe and orange juiciness. The 9ish% ABV is probably responsible for a lot of those rough edges but that’s what drinkers want from it, and in huge numbers, so who am I to say that New Belgium is wrong for putting this out? No one, that’s who.
So is Hazy Hearted a net positive for drinkers around the country increasingly able to access beer from Bell’s? I’m sure this beer will do just fine for itself, but hopefully not at the expense of the original Two Hearted … and to everyone who’s cracking into their first Bell’s hazy in this form, I’m sorry you didn’t get to give Official a shot.