If you had asked us five years ago to name our favorite Firestone Walker beer, we probably would have rattled off Union Jack as our classic West Coast go-to, Pivo Pils as the beer that taught us about Italian pilsners, and Parabola as that Russian imperial stout we aggressively sought out. But go ahead and ask us that same question today, and one beer jumps to mind (ahem) more than any other: Mind Haze.

First launched in 2019 after a full year of experimentation at Firestone’s Propagator R&D brewhouse, Mind Haze was Firestone Walker’s introduction to the haze craze.

And a beer that Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson didn’t want to make at first. One he had a hard time wrapping his head around.

“In brewing school, this beer would’ve given me a failing grade,” Brynildson explains in one of the brewery’s Beer Talks. For Brynildson, a bit of an old-school brewer with new-school sensibilities, brewing a hazy went against everything he’d learned.

“A bunch of us older brewers had a hard time fully embracing hazy,” Brynildson told me. “We were pretty rooted in the West Coast IPA style.”

While the cool kids on the block out East embraced turbidity, Firestone Walker held out.

But a trip east—very far east—to Gutmann Brewery in Germany, of all places, changed Brynildson’s mind (ahem, again). Gutmann’s Weizenbock “was the beer that was the aha moment,” he explained. “I tasted that beer…and it had all the tropical, delicious aromatics, but it also had this very low bitterness and beautiful texture.”

Perhaps paradoxically, it took centuries-old, hazy European wheat beers for Brynildson’s brain to click.

And boy, did he shift his mindset into another gear.

“Mind Haze was one of these opportunities where we took something from the old world, this concept from the new world, smashed them together, and created something unique,” he said.

Today, Mind Haze ranks as a top-five national hazy IPA, the number two best-selling hazy IPA in all of California, and Firestone Walker’s best-selling IPA.

So, while Firestone Walker may have been “late to the haze craze,” Mind Haze has undoubtedly made a mind-altering splash. In many ways, this beer represents the new frontier for Firestone Walker.

“The aesthetic evolution of Mind Haze personifies what craft beer is all about—fearless creativity in and out of the can,” said Firestone Brand Director Hannah Barnett in a press release.

Safe to say that we’re all pretty happy Brynildson changed his mind.

Why Is Mind Haze So Mind Blowing?

firestone walker brewing company mind haze hazy ipa
Graphic courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Brynildson thinks it’s no surprise that Mind Haze has skyrocketed to the stratosphere so quickly.

“It’s a beer with training wheels on,” said Brynildson in his Beer Talk. “If you’re a novice, craft beer-curious individual and you snuck up on one of these and had a chance to try it, you’d be hooked. I think this is a perfect entry point into craft beer.”

Born in 2019 as Firestone Walker’s very first hazy, Mind Haze starts with a base of two-row barley, wheat, Munich malt, torrified wheat, Blonde RoastOat, and oats to help build the protein structure for a stunningly turbid beer that’s velvety smooth on the tongue.

But, as with most New England-style IPAs, Mind Haze is all about the hops.

The star-studded list reads like the cast of a Quentin Tarantino movie: Mandarina, Cascade, Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic, Chinook, Cashmere, Callista, Idaho 7.

All tropical-forward hops that really push a drinker’s mind into a state of equatorial euphoria.

One hop you won’t find in Mind Haze? Citra.

“I tried desperately hard not to use Citra only to differentiate ourselves because everybody else was using massive amounts of Citra in their hazies,” shares Brynildson.

Take a sip of this beer (as many we’ve done), and let lime, tangerine, and candied citrus wash over you. Brynildson picks out pineapple predominantly.

But what really blows your mind with this free-spirited beer is how easily you can crush a couple with its creamy polish and low bitterness.

Much like Pringles dares you to eat just one chip once you pop the top, we dare you to take just one sip once you crack the can.

“It’s our best-selling IPA, so I stand by it fully,” says Brynildson.

Funnily enough, while Mind Haze may not have physically altered the brewery’s brains, the beer has certainly allowed the brewing team to access new parts of the ol’ cranium.

While Byrnildson says he’d never mess around with some of Firestone Walker’s West Coast stalwarts like Union Jack, Mind Haze gives his team the freedom to experiment.

“With Mind Haze, we’ve allowed ourselves the license to go outside our normal, rigid, technical brewing-school mindset into a more playful [area],” he says. “Let’s have some fun with adjuncts, let’s have fun with ABV, let’s really mess with hops.”

I’m Melting! Mind Haze Brain Melter

firestone walker brewing company mind haze brain melter hazy ipa
Graphic courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

To kick off 2024, Firestone Walker will release two new additions to the Mind Haze brain tree, starting with Mind Haze Brain Melter.

“We didn’t mess with any mood-altering chemicals,” Brynildson assures jokingly. Instead, Firestone took everything they love about Mind Haze and doubled down for a high-octane pulse-pounding punch.

Brewing with a grist bill similar to Double Mind Haze (the imperial version), Brain Melter includes two-row, white wheat, torrified wheat, Blonde RoastOat Malt, and malted oats.

Where does the mood really start to change? With the hops, specifically dry hopping.

“We’re not one of these breweries that are approaching ten-plus pounds per barrel,” says Brynildson, “[But] I feel like every time we go there, we end up with a little more hops than the iteration before.”

In this case, the three to three-and-a-half pounds per barrel range. “Which for us is pretty mean,” he says.

Along with an increased dry hop, Brynildson says for Brain Melter Firestone Walker trialed new hop combinations on what the brewmaster calls the brewery’s little MFers, aka mini fermenters.

In an almost March Madness-style bracket challenge, the brew team experimented with blends featuring four or fewer hops—some Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook there or some Strata and Azacca here.

“In the first rounds, there was really no right or wrong answer,” explains Brynildson. “But for some reason, Strata just kept shining in those trials.” A bit unexpected in Brynildson’s mind.

After somewhere between twelve to fifteen trials, Brynildson says they landed on a combination of Strata, Vic Secret, Mosaic Cryo, Idaho Gem, Sabro, Rakau, and “this time we do have Citra in there,” he laughs.

You get a beer “more tropical even than Double Mind Haze,” says Brynildson.

Still at an amazingly low forty IBUs but reasonably high 8.5% ABV, Brain Melter integrates that higher alcohol with a somewhat creamy mouthfeel, according to Brynildson.

Lots of bright pineapple, mango, and guava from the Vic Secret gives Brain Melter “this nice big, juicy, round characteristic,” says Brynildson. “While Citra [brings] everything between grapefruit and just catty enough to make it interesting.”

A kiss of Strata Brynildson likens to almost a final seasoning spice.

“I’m excited about [Brain Melter] in many ways,” he says. “I saw it as a rebirth.”

Crushing It! Mind Haze Cosmic Crusher

firestone walker brewing company mind haze ipa cosmic crusher hazy ipa
Graphic courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

While Brynildson won’t go so far as to call Mind Haze Cosmic Crusher a triple IPA, he does admit that this beer is Firestone Walker’s “crazy adventure into the realm of imperial juicy IPAs.”

But here’s something that will have you scratching your head: Cosmic Crusher clocks in at 9.5% ABV but only 26 IBUs.

“It’s definitely a pretty intense imperial, but the goal of the whole thing was cloaking that,” says Brynildson. “It’s spooky; it’s a wolf in fuzzy sheep’s clothing for sure!”

The brain teaser—a 9.5% ABV beer that still had a lot of drinkability—kept Brynildson and the team at the Propagator, headed by Sam Tierney, on their toes.

To camouflage the crazy crush of ABV, Brynildson says they had to pull a few tricks out of the bag.

“Highly attenuated beers with high ABV can accentuate high hop bitterness, or at least that is what we found with this beer, so we kept lowering the bitterness as we continued to play with the recipe,” says Brynildson.

Techniques like cool-pooling or lowering the whirlpool temperature before the hop additions helped, as did brewing with a hop like Callista on the hot side. “Callista is a tropical aromatic hop that is high in total hop oil but very low in alpha acid, so it’s a great hop for hazy IPA hot-side additions,” says Brynildson. “It has the right flavor profile but super low alpha, so you can use a lot of it, especially on the hot side or whirlpool side, and not bring a lot of bitterness to the finished beer.”

In Cosmic Crusher, you’ll also find Melon, Simcoe, Strata (“as a zinger to give a little extra zip,” says Brynildson), and Galaxy. “There’s something about that hop that, when you drink a beer with Galaxy, it just feels a little fuller and has a little bit of that nice, juicy roundness.”

Drinking Cosmic Crusher will bring the psychedelic hammer down on your tastebuds. “We get a lot of pineapple, tropical, mango … out of that beer,” says Brynildson, noting out of all the new beers Firestone Walker trialed last year, this one really jazzed the team.

“They took it pretty seriously,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times they walked into my office wide-eyed and smiling, saying, ‘Did you taste this? Did you taste this last batch?’ Yes, I tasted it, and it’s amazing; I love it!”

Ready to Have Your Mind Haze Blown?

You can find Mind Haze, Mind Haze Brain Melter, and Mind Haze Cosmic Crusher across Firestone Walker’s entire twenty-seven-state footprint. Ready to blow your Mind Haze? Hit up Firestone Walker’s “Find Beer” page to nab one of these beers near you.