This is the beginning of a series of articles on IPA variants. For the near future, I’ll post one article per week covering one variation on the IPA theme. I will discuss rye IPA, Belgian IPA, wheat IPA, session IPA, IPL (India pale lager) and white IPA. This weekend, I’ll kick things off by posting two articles on “black IPA.” The first will cover IPAs with some color, but little or no roast character. The second will cover dark IPAs with a fair amount of roasted malt flavor and aroma.
Black IPA . . . and Other Dumb Beer Names
Black IPA. It’s an odd name when you think about it, having both “black” and “pale” in the same description. And of course, you have a similar problem with the terms American IPA and British IPA. However, even though it’s kludged together, the name is descriptive — it refers an IPA that’s black. [As an aside, I once made a dark-colored witbier and called it a schwarz wit — a linguistic train wreck combining the German word for dark (and referencing the German lager style called schwarzbier) with the Flemish word for white into one intentionally ironic beer name. It actually turned out fairly well. I added a small amount of lavender to the spice mix, but I digress.]
Black IPAs have been popular for the past few years, and in the following two articles, I’ll give a quick primer on brewing beers like this.
Description and Delineation of Possible Substyles
Black IPAs vary between breweries and some even claim that there are regional variations. (More on that in a minute.) However, the commonality is that they are all fairly strong, hoppy ales that are dark in color. They do not need to actually be black, like the darkest examples of porter or stout, but they should at least be brown to fit into the widest definition of these beers. Incidentally, I’ll leave it to you to decide if these beers should be treated as a separate beer style, or simply as a variant of IPA. I don’t care.
The dark color of the beer may be accompanied by some roasted malt flavors and aromas — and here’s where the regional variation may come into play. The story goes like this: on the US East Coast and in California, black IPAs are brewed in such a way that they taste very much like IPAs, with the dark malts only contributing color. In the US Pacific Northwest, these beers have a modicum of roast character, and are slightly less aggressively hoppy. Some sources describe them as more similar to hoppy porters than dark IPAs.
On top of this, many brewers in the Northwest feel that their beers should be called Cascadian dark ales. This proposed name has caused other brewers to get their panties in a twist, feeling that the Pacific Northwest is trying to bogart a type of beer that originated elsewhere.
The name Cascadian dark ale is certainly less descriptive, not to mention more pretentious, than black IPA — but for the sake of the upcoming articles, let’s pretend that we don’t care about the nomenclature and just accept the idea that you can brew a dark, IPA-like ale along a spectrum. At one end would be a somewhat darker version of an IPA with no roast character. At the other would be a beer that incorporates some elements from both IPAs and porter. Simply for expediency — and to avoid a needless proliferation of terms — we’ll call the former black IPAs and the latter Cascadian Dark Ales. As with the question of whether this type of beer is a style, I’ll leave it to you to determine what to label your beer and whether you think we need to define substyles.
Finally, for whatever it’s worth, here’s my opinion on the “controversy” over naming this beer. I’ll give it in the form of a joke. Why are arguments between brewers who favor the name black IPA and brewers who favor the name Cascadian Dark Ale so bitter? Because so little is at stake. (Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Keep your waitress happy.) So, if one or both of these terms upsets or annoys you, just be glad I didn’t rechristen them — for the sake of the article — with even dumber names. I would have called them Southern and Northern Bastropian American Indian-(Not to be Confused with Native American)-via-British Currently Melanoidin Positive (but Historically Pale) Ales.
On Saturday, I’ll post the article on “black IPAs.” On Sunday, I’ll post the article on “Cascadian dark ales.” For these articles, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the basics of brewing an American-style IPA. If you aren’t, check out this series of articles on American hoppy ales, which includes American-style pale ales, IPAs and double IPAs. (And for whatever it’s worth, I’ll leave the comedy to professional comedians for the rest of these articles.)