Some breweries may claim to have the hazy IPA on lock, but a brewery in the tiny Michigan town of Williamston is taking haze to the next level.
If you head east out of East Lansing you’ll eventually run in to the town of Williamston, with its quaint downtown, small town charm and the unlikely brewery at the epicenter of the hazy IPA craze in Michigan — Old Nation Brewing Company.
Before you can understand Old Nation’s seemingly perfect grasp of the hazy IPA, you have to understand its past, which stretches back to Detroit.
Old Nation co-owners Travis Fritts and Rick Ghersi founded Detroit Beer Company in 2003. Prior to that Fritts was in Germany learning how to brew old world styles, which includes their Detroit Dwarf, an altbier that serves as Old Nation and Detroit Beer Co’s flagship brew. Fritts specialized in the style while in Germany, and it shows.
Detroit Dwarf is crisp, clean and a touch with sweet with some herbal notes. It plays well with Old Nation’s original notion, to specialize in German and Belgian styles. The latter includes a Thai twist on the Belgian Tripel, Belgium Club of Thailand. The beer swapped out traditional Belgian ingredients for the likes of lime leaves, galangal root, lemongrass and lime. And it’s fantastic.
And while Old Nation’s beers were good, the brewpub atmosphere fantastic and family friendly with above average bar food it was missing something to set it apart. And that something was M-43.
As the Detroit Free Press tells it, the inspiration for M-43 came from Fritts wading in to the murky waters of a craft beer enthusiasts Facebook group discussion on the hazy IPA craze.
On August 10, 2016, he joined a robust debate in a comment thread with Detroit Area Craft Beer Enthusiasts, a Facebook group of nearly 3,000 members. The New England-style IPA — exemplified by the Alchemist in Stowe, Vt., and Trillium Brewing in Boston — had aroused lots of contentious chatter, with some arguing the style was overhyped and often rife with flaws.
Fritts stepped in and, in a civil tone, explained the science behind the style’s especially juicy hop flavors, along with some beer history, and seemed to cool off the naysayers.
He ended up inviting a few members of the group to the brewery to conjure up a test batch and seven months later M-43 was born.
But this isn’t just a story of that one awesome hazy IPA someone brewed. This is where the next level part comes in, as Old Nation has released three other hazy IPAs as part of their New Orthodox IPA series: Boxer, Boss Tweed and Greenstone.
The one that started it all. Big tropical notes on the nose and palate with hardly a hint of bitterness, M-43 pops with vibrant splashes of peaches, apricots, mango, pineapple and grapefruit. It’s remarkably easy drinking and could go toe-to-toe with the headliners of the haze craze.
Boxer is hazily similar to M-43, but the appearance is where the similarities end. This beer employs a different malt bill, which is more noticeable among the bright tropical fruit juice notes. The bitterness is toned down with Boxer, much like the M-43, but it’s the interplay of sweet and subtle malts with juicy hops that makes this one shine.
The newest release in the New Orthodox Series is the lightest of the bunch, clocking in at 5.5 % ABV. It’s equally as hazy as Boxer and M-43, however its hop profile bends slightly away from juicy with bits of rind and an herbal hoppiness. Dry-hopping gives it a more of a traditional IPA-ish scent too, despite the cloudy appearance, and carries a bit more bitterness.
This double IPA carries all the haze of M-43 but with added heft. Juicy notes of mango, papaya and pineapple pop up front followed by loads of pine, however there’s not much bitterness. This may be my favorite of the bunch as it’s not all juice and has a bit more oomph.
A few weeks ago, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I watched as a three-fourths full Old Nation Brewing Company quickly ballooned with beer nerds, lined up out the door, there to lay claim to up to a case of Boxer and Greenstone. It was an hour before Old Nation was to start selling 4-packs of each.
Quite the sight compared to Sunday afternoons a year ago.
I sipped my way through the New Orthodox IPA series as I watched the line dwindle throughout the afternoon. Two hours after the first case was sold, I walked to the window and got a small share of Greenstone and Boxer. That’s the nice thing about the brewery on the edge of a small Michigan town; you can wait in line for a special beer release, but you don’t have to.
Although if Old Nation keeps this up, I suspect that will change.