The Dark Side of Bitterness
This is the type of beer that will confuse your senses. Jet black like a tropical stout, with the aroma of Pacific Northwest pale ale. Do you trust your eyes or do you believe your nose?
Upon further review, and your first gulp, you realize that this is something different.
It is not that often that you can observe a new style of beer being created. After all, beer has been around for about 8,000 years and there are fewer than 100 styles recognized for formal judging. But this is a new beer, even if brewers still cannot agree on what to call the style. Is it a black IPA? How about Cascadian dark ale? What about a dark IPA? Or would you prefer India black ale?
The category has been around in small quantities from a limited number of brewers until recently, when a growing number have been introduced, often as spring or fall seasonals. The growth in numbers prompted the Brewers Association to add a new category to encompass these dark hop bombs for this year’s medal competition at the Great American Beer Festival.
Here is the official category description from the Brewers Association that judges used in the GABF competition: “American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor. Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 °Plato) • Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 °Plato) • Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%) • Bitterness (IBU) 50-70 • Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)”
“Cascadian dark ales are a testament to the fact the craft beer industry is still growing,” says Eriel Hoffmeier, an owner and the outreach coordinator at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, OR, pointing out that Sierra Nevada Brewing has been around for 30 years. “We’re in the second generation of craft brewers. It’s interesting because we’re seeing consumers starting to look for new styles.”
Oakshire O’Dark:30 is a spring seasonal that Hoffmeier says is “maltier than most of the others we have tasted, but it still has plenty of hops.
We named it for the time brewers are making beer and the rest of the world is still sleeping,” Hoffmeier says. “We wanted to create something because of the movement of Northwest brewers to adopt this style.”
The “Cascadian” name some in the Northwest are using for these beers refers to the Cascade Mountains that run through the region. These beers use hops from the region and local brewers believe the style is worthy of an appellation-style designation. These producers argue that “black” pale ale does not make much sense.
Greg Koch of Stone Brewing says dark IPA, “has to be the fastest growing style among craft brewers. The category has grown pretty quickly.” Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale was originally released as a special anniversary brew, but the black IPA caught the fancy of both brewery staff and Stone devotees.
We loved the beer and not too many people could get their hands on our anniversary brew,” Koch says. “Our head brewer, Mitch Steele, had run across some dark ales while on the East Coast in the early 1990s. Ours is pretty different than most, with a hoppy citrus quality up front and a roasted malt finish.”
Chad Kennedy, brewmaster at Laurelwood Brewing in Portland, OR, makes a 9 percent alcohol by volume black imperial pale ale that weighs in at 90 IBU.
Drinking this beer helps you realize how much your eye has to do with what you think you have been tasting,” Kennedy says. “We worked to keep the stout character in this beer to a minimum. We intentionally limit the malt sweetness and combine the roasted malt bitterness with the hop bitterness and hop character in the aroma. We play up the hop aspect of the beer by doing a cold extract, because we wanted a prevalence of the hop character to come through.”
Laurelwood was founded in 2001 as a producer of certified organic ales. The company was selected as the 2004 Small Brewpub of the Year at the World Beer Cup. In 2010, the company will turn out 6,000 barrels of craft beer using a 15-barrel system.
We’re known for the balance in our beers, even in our hoppy beers,” says Kennedy. “We’ll likely do some expansion in the future, but we will keep brewing the beers we like to drink and then find the people who like to drink them, too.”
When it comes to the beers you like to drink, if you love hoppy ales your Next Beer just might be a black IPA.
Rick Lyke started writing about beer when there were fewer than 50 domestic brewing companies. Today there are more than 1,600. He likes the direction things are headed.