Best of the Valley Taste Test: Hazy IPAs with Chef Lee Hillson

Editorial StaffJuly 7, 2021
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What a difference four years can make, especially in the mercurial world of craft beer. The last time we did a taste-test involving India Pale Ales, in 2017, only a handful of Arizona brewers were making New England-style IPAs, aka “hazies” or “juicy IPAs.” Now, virtually all of them are dabbling in creamy, citrus-centric hazies, so we recruited Lee Hillson, head chef at T. Cook’s at Royal Palms Resort & Spa and a noted beer geek who once had a local brew named after him, to put his learned palate to use.

When & Where: Wednesday, May 26, at the PHOENIX office. The tasting began promptly at 4 p.m.
The Rules: Eight hazy IPAs brewed in Arizona, with alcohol-by-volume percentages no greater than 8 percent. The tasting was blind.

No. 1
SanTan Juicy Jack
6.5% ABV/37 IBU
“Has a real fruity aroma, but that dies pretty fast [in the mouth],” Hillson says of the Chandler brewer’s peach-noted hazy. “To me, I like this style.”

No. 2
Wren House Spellbinder
7% ABV/IBU n/a
“Very cloudy, very yellow,” Hillson says, eying the oated brew, which won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2020. “And a slightly more bitter taste.”

Quarterfinal Winner
SanTan Juicy Jack
A close one, but Hillson ultimately favors the “softer, more rounded” SanTan, brewed with Mosaic and Cashmere hops to impart tropical hints of guava and tangerine.

No. 3
Bone Haus Desert Distortion
6.3% ABV/55 IBU
Hillson has a good initial impression of the Fountain Hills upstart. “Sweeter, but not in a bad way. Dangerous on a hot summer day.”

No. 4
Tombstone Oregon Lots IPA
7.1% ABV/IBU n/a
“A little skunkier, a little drier,” Hillson says of the respected Southern Arizona brewer’s ultra-turbid hazy. “It’s got a good grapefruit kick to it.”

Quarterfinal Winner
Tombstone Oregon Lots
Ultimately, the more West Coast-ish IPA – made with Strata and Comet hops to impart a dank gust of passion fruit and pot – wins over Hillson. “It’s not usually my style, but I like this one.”

No. 5
12 West Cirrus Haze
7.2% ABV/IBU n/a
Amarillo hops lend a faint citric bitterness to this Gilbert IPA’s “very fruit-forward” overall mien, according to Hillson.

No. 6
Mother Road Limited Visibility
7.2% ABV/62 IBU
“I like that a lot,” Hillson effuses after his first sip of the straw-colored hazy from Flagstaff. “It has a perfect balance… a little bitter, sweet and fruity.”

Quarterfinal Winner
Mother Road Limited Visibility
Maker of one of Arizona’s most-admired West Coast IPAs, Mother Road takes this hazy round. “It has kind of an oaky finish, like white wine,” Hillson says.

No. 7
Huss Hopaloosa
6.6% ABV/38 IBU
Golden-orange in color, the Phoenix brewer’s first-ever hazy has the expected tropical effluvia but doesn’t leap out of the can. “It’s good, but flat,” Hillson says. “No tingle.”

No. 8
The Shop Church Music
6.7% ABV/46 IBU
“Kind of mellow, but nicely rounded,” the chef says of the ubiquitous hazy from Tempe’s The Shop Beer Co., admiring its thick lacing and tawny color.

Quarterfinal Winner
The Shop Church Music
Often noted for its milky mouthfeel and pronounced pineapple aroma, Church Music makes a believer of Hillson. “Just a very easy-drinking summer beer.”

Semifinal Winner
Tombstone Oregon Lots
The sublime dank-ness of the Tombstone offering – made exclusively with Oregon hops, hence the name – continues to beguile Hillson’s palate through the second round. “It actually stays in the mouth… lingers a little longer.”

Semifinal Winner
Mother Road Limited Visibility
Unleashed on the Valley last December, the Flagstaff hazy – with its woody aroma “that comes through the nose” – disarms the chef. “It’s the complete sensual experience.”

Mother Road Limited Visibility
Torn between the two finalists, which he deemed “so different… but [imbued] with some of the same qualities… fruit, bitterness,” Hillson and his culinary sensibilities are ultimately won over by the more oaky Mother Road. Side note: He loved both beers so much, he picked up four packs of each after he left the tasting.