Every fall, brewers from across the nation gather in Denver for what equates to the Olympics of beer: the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). At the event, concoctions from all corners of the U.S. are tasted and rated, as judges narrow down thousands of submissions spread across 167 distinct beer styles. There’s more than bragging rights at stake—the top three brews in each category take home bronze, silver or gold medals.
In 2018, GABF introduced new categories that comprehend the latest craft craze: Juicy or Hazy IPAs (a.k.a. New England–style IPAs), sweet, creamy, hop-filled beverages that are, as their name suggests, as cloudy as can be. More than 400 entries greeted GABF’s inaugural Juicy or Hazy IPA category, but two Chicago breweries, Alarmist Brewing and Eris Brewery, took home the gold and the bronze, respectively. A third Chicago contender, Corridor Brewery, earned the silver in the Juicy or Hazy Double IPA category for a beer called Color of Life.
Although he would eventually win a medal for a hazy creation of his own, Alarmist head brewer Aaron Dahl initially wasn’t a fan of the style, which he viewed as “poorly brewed beer.” It wasn't until he tried a few local hazy IPAs that Dahl acknowledged the complexity of the style and the opportunity to improve upon it. Following several experiments at Alarmist’s Sauganash brewery, he developed the recipe for Le Jus, the first beer to win gold in GABF’s Juicy or Hazy IPA category and a genuine local hit. “We joke around saying, ‘We should call ourselves Le Jus Brewing now,’” Dahl says. “[It’s the] majority of our production right now. The demand is really still outstripping what we’re capable of producing.”
As Alarmist, Maplewood, Marz and other local breweries explored the style, the name “Chi-PA” caught on with local drinkers as a clever way to differentiate hazy IPAs made in Chicago (likely bolstered by Marz’s decision to name its New England IPA riff “Midway ChiPA”). But brewers and craft aficionados admit that the “Chi-PA” isn’t a style unto itself. According to Chris Quinn, owner of the Beer Temple, Chicago’s hazy brews are essentially the same as those being made elsewhere. “There’s no difference, people have gotten [the style] down,” he says.
Local brewers will continue to give drinkers what they want (haze!), though it’s unlikely that Chicago will become synonymous with the cloudy creations. For Dahl, the city’s lack of allegiance to a particular beer style is its greatest strength. “Chicago does everything,” he says. “I think maybe that’s what the Chi-PA is. We basically do whatever we want here.”