What Beer is That You’re Drinking Now?
Wait! Wait! There seem to be quite a few of them in my fridge and another two dozen in my cellar. And I’m getting thirsty! Thirsty, I tell ya!
What do you mean—I can’t have a beer until 4 o’clock? Gimme a break. Once you start not drinking until four, they’ll expect you to go on that way until you get old—or worse—until you die! And, yes I know that the only reason I am still drinking, and maybe even why I am still alive (I just celebrated my fourth 21st birthday), is that I don’t often pig-out on booze. I’m the only one in my peer group still drinking. My friends have all had to quit. My doctor knows better than to cut me off (I hope). So which one will it be?
There’s that beautiful bottle from one of my favorite brewers. Oh, it’s a big 22-oz. bottle—that’s so much better than a miserable 12-oz. regular. I’ll just tell my doctor it was one bottle, since I’m allowed two or even three bottles a day. If you, the reader, will promise not to tell anyone how big the bottle was, we can open it.
Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery is a long way east of here, in Bend, although they also have a pub here in Portland. This particular brew, Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale, is brewed from about 16 Plato/1065 gravity at 6.5 percent ABV. It is glowing in all its wonderful dark malty beauty, at about 30 SRM (Standard Research Measure of beer color). But that’s not all. There’s 70 IBUs (International Bittering Units) here. This is a Cascadian dark ale (CDA), aka black IPA, from the Pacific Northwest, severely hopped with Oregon Cascade, Amarillo, Citra and Centennial.
What’s an IPA?
I remember the first regular IPA that I tasted. Like most of our readers, I was weaned on Budweiser, which, as we all know, hasn’t changed since it was first brewed in 1879. We know this to be the case because TV commercials tell us that it is so. That implies Budweiser has always had only 10.5 IBUs, despite the fact that they have their own hop fields up in Idaho.
So, I had no idea what hops could do to a beer. One of the first American beers to claim the title “IPA,” Bert Grant’s Yakima Brewing version introduced in 1983, was brewed at OG 12 P/1048, 5 percent ABV and 55 IBUs from Galena hop pellets. I thought it was too hoppy! Well, almost, but the second time I tried it, the taste was more welcome. Before long, 55 IBUs was mere child’s play. Today, I am a certified hophead and look for 100 IBUs when any are out there to be found.
I just searched my basement fridge again, because I know there’s another Cascadian dark in there: a bottle of Widmer W’10 Pitch Black IPA, brewed earlier this year. Yes, there it is! Brewed to 16 P/OG 1066 (6.5% ABV), with dark malt flavors from two-row pale (10-Lovibond) caramel malt, 65 IBUs from the bittering alchemy, dry hopped with Cascades and brilliantly dark, at about 35 SRM. Good stuff! Well balanced and friendly.
But wait! There are two more back there. Would you believe an Oakshire O’Dark:30 Cascadian dark from Eugene, south of here by 60 miles. Another great brew, 15 P/1062, 70 IBUs, but not as well balanced as the first two, nor as dark (28 SRM). Of course, as this is my third bottle, it must be my last, but please don’t tell my doctor about the 22 oz. size, OK?
That final bottle had to wait until the next day, but it turned out to be another Pacific Northwest dark from Laughing Dog in Ponderay/Sandpoint, ID: DogZilla Black IPA about 17 P/1069, (6.9% ABV) and 69 IBUs with the color at maybe 40 SRM. It was impressive, well balanced and delicious, but not strictly a Cascadian dark as it comes from Idaho, somewhat east of our mythical Pacific Northwest Cascadia.
So Where Did The Black IPA Style Originate?
Well, that depends on what is considered a real black IPA. I haven’t been particularly impressed by previous examples, which have not seemed very interesting, until now. The style has probably been around for a long time.
Variations on IPAs abound. As for the “black” IPA type, there has been a smattering of this beer type out there (across the country, I presume), most of them rather innocuous it seems. I had always assumed that it was a national style developing. But I’ve not researched the type as a national “style.”
Around here we have come to calling them “Cascadian,” which is the name some folks around here have given the Northwest U.S.-Canadian area (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, some of Western Idaho, and some of Northern California.) It would be a country only if we were to secede from the U.S. and Canada.
IPAs are a developing style: modern versions abound with double, triple, or even quadruple the accustomed hop rates of the traditional IPA. The “Cascadians” are worthy of note, if only because they are spectacularly delicious to a hophead such as myself.
We do have special hops here in Oregon. The Pacific Northwest has always had great hops, but those from Washington and Idaho are usually the most popular. Oregon’s hop growers have always specialized in odd, but well appreciated, types. That worked out very well for our folks when American craft brewers began to experiment with the many fascinating hop varieties developed at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station at Oregon State University, under the direction of Al Haunold and C.E. Horner.
In 1972, they introduced the now popular Continental-type flavor hop Cascade, one of many hop seedlings that gave new impetus to their efforts. These new hop varieties have been a great blessing to Oregon hop growers and our new craft brewing revolution.
These great hops became an inducement for Oregon brewers to develop new, highly hopped “imperial” styles of beer now gaining popularity across the country. Our brews are especially famous for their grand hop character.
Back to my Fridge
I don’t give much care (as is my usual wont) to what particular beer types I acquire, although there are styles of which I’m not too fond. Still, if they get into my fridge, they nearly always get drunk. But, as noted earlier, I am definitely a hophead, that means that I often head in the direction of the nearest highly-hopped beer.
There are other bottles in my fridge. One of my favorites is the Guinness-brewed Kaliber non-alcoholic premium beer, at less than 0.5 percent ABV, which has a good deal of color, flavor and character. When I pour some for a friend, without mentioning the NA character, that person will usually enjoy the beer just as though it was a “regular” beer. None of my friends have ever called me on it (so far). I enjoy the beer for my weekly non-alcohol day, but not before 4 p.m. and my limit is still three maximum.
That’s not all. Like most folks, I love the really big, strong beers that craft brewers are famed for brewing. There are a couple bottles of Hair of the Dog Fred and Adam, both 10 percent ABV, and both likely to stay there for a while, because I can’t drink that much strong beer very often.
One More for the Road
But I do have another brew back there, one in a style our industry desperately needs. The new Widmer Sunburn Summer Brew is a light-hearted beer for a long night’s effort: 10.3 P/1041, 4.3 percent ABV, from pale malt and caramel malt, 10-L, 20 IBUs and about 5 SRM. The key here is 4.3 percent ABV.
This is a great mild ale, but if I were to call it “mild” most Americans would avoid it. We can’t call it session beer—the traditional term—because another Oregon brewer trademarked the name for one of their beers. Such brews are usually under 5 percent ABV, as most of our beers have been since Prohibition. In Europe, most beer is also in that range. Here, anything stronger used to be rare and had to be called a “malt liquor.”
We Americans are in desperate need of some full-tasting, low-powered beers. Somewhere in every beer fridge, there should be a few bottles of “session” or “family” brews to relax with.Disclaimer: I have a “Free Beer for Life” card from one of the brewers listed here. I keep that card in my wallet, right next to my “Get Out of Hell Free” card that I got from an old friend, a slightly inebriated Christian minister drinking partner.