What is a Black IPA?

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First Posted: 1/28/2014

Style: Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale

Brief history: The history is somewhat disputed, but it can be directly tied to legendary and sadly missed brewer Greg Noonan from the Vermont Pub & Brewery. Back in 1994, Greg began brewing a new beer called Blackwatch IPA, though he named the style of the beer Cascadian Dark Ale. The popularity was immense and the beer gained a cult following. In 2006, Stone Brewing Co. head brewer Mitch Steele tried Blackwatch IPA and was blown away, and he openly admits that the beer was the inspiration for Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, the beer that is considered a frontrunner and flagship beer for the style. The biggest dispute with this beer style is the name, with purists calling it Cascadian Dark Ale and many others simply calling it a Black IPA. Regardless of the debate, the style has continued to grow in popularity with many breweries now offering a take on the style.

Standard characteristics: The Black IPA has the appearance of a robust porter in both beer color and tan frothy head, along with a medium-to-full body. The aroma is dominated by hops up front, which can run the gamut of any variety of hop bouquets. The background notes are of roasted malts, giving the beer a smooth characteristic in body and mouthfeel, imparting a creamy hop characteristic on the palate. The key to this style is a perfect balance between malt and hop. The ABV for this style has a huge range, going from five percent to 10 percent ABV. This is a relatively new style and is very open to interpretation and experimentation.

Nose: The aroma is dominated by hops, which can lead to a wide spectrum of detectable aromas. With Black IPAs, brewers tend to lean away from aggressively citrusy hops and opt more for pine, floral, resiny hops, although the style is open to interpretation. The notes of roasted malts, which can emanate aromas of bitter chocolate and dark roasted coffee, act as background notes.

Body: The body is similar to porters, leaning more towards the medium-to-full range with a moderate amount of carbonation, but a wide variation is acceptable. This combination gives the beer a smoother character than traditional IPAs mainly due to the malt choices.

Taste: The taste is where this style truly shines and separates itself from other beers. The hop bite is present throughout and generally hits the palate first. The malt profile soothes the hop bite and cleanses the palate with rich roasted malts, giving subtle hints of coffee and bitter chocolate, both enhancing and subduing the hops. The beer should have a dry finish, as with all IPAs.

Food pairing: The combination of aggressive hops and roasted malts make this the perfect beer to have with all red meats. Try pairing with a porterhouse steak, venison, and elk steaks. The malt profile enhances the mineral quality of the meat and highlights the flavor, while the hops will immediately cut through and leave a pleasant aftertaste on the palate. Some in this style can be paired with desserts, but experiment a bit with this pairing.

Recommendations: Black IPAs are an acquired taste for some, but if you are familiar with and love IPAs and darker beers, than this is a style that must be tried. Some of the best currently available are:

Black Diamond IPA, Breaker Brewing Company

Black Racer, Bear Republic

Back in Black, 21st Amendment

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Stone Brewing Co.

DevESTATEtion Black IPA, Sierra Nevada

Black Hatter, New Holland

Mountain Standard Double Black IPA, Odell Brewing

Firestone Walker, Wookey Jack

Durty, Smuttynose

New World Porter, Avery Brewing Company