As a fervent fan of all things hoppy, I have been eyeing the development of the black IPA with keen interest over the last several years. My first beer purchase on my 21st birthday was Stone Brewing Company’s 11th Anniversary Ale (now brewed under the “Sublimely Self Righteous Ale” moniker), one of the first black IPAs to hit the national market. Sure, “black IPA” is a funny and awkward name when you think about it, but I liked its practical charm. The beer tastes pretty much like an IPA, but is as black as a stout. The use of dehusked black malts such as Weyermann’s Caraffa malt allows brewers to get their beer to look black, but not display the roasty and burnt flavors that are typical of the roasted malts and barleys used in stouts and porters. You could call this playing a trick on drinkers, and I always thought that it was a cool concept. “Hey, check out this beer, it’s black but tastes like an IPA, not a stout…”
It has often been pointed out on the various internet beer forums that a beer cannot be both black and pale (as in India Pale Ale), and that black IPA is thus a ridiculous contradiction of terms. On top of this, the powers that be at ratebeer have recently debated adding this new style of beer to their style guide, but have decided to hold off. They have decided to wait until it further develops into a lasting style, or conversely fades away, doomed to simply be the flavor of the week.
Things were looking grim for the institutional acceptance of the black IPA. Then, a couple of days ago the Brewers Association went ahead and released an official guideline for the style, but with one big change: it is now called “American-Style India Black Ale“. Hmm. To spare you looking through the ridiculously long pdf that I linked to, here’s the guideline that they came up with:
“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 (oPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 oPlato) ● Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (oPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 oPlato) ● Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 50-70 ● Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)”
Reading this description, I can’t help but think that they were drinking different beers than I was. Maybe “black IPA” and “American-style India Black Ale” were always different takes on the theme. I wouldn’t have accounted for a “medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma”, instead opting for light to maybe medium in a stretch. In my book, if you are getting a strong roasted malt flavor and aroma, you are drinking a hoppy stout or porter. To add to the confusion, the ABV limit is set at 7.5%. Stone’s Sublimely Self Righteous Ale weighs in at 8.7%, and is perhaps the pioneering example of the style. Why write a style guideline and disregard the defining examples?
The third main challenger to the name throne was “Cascadian Dark Ale.” This one has apparently been around for awhile up in Oregon and Washington, but I’ve yet to see one anywhere in California. Deschutes is set to release one next month as the next beer in its Bond St. series of beers, called “Hop In The Dark.” I am of the opinion that a style that has seen such a wide geographical area of development previous to official recognition should not be named after a specific region. Thus, Cascadia is gone. On a similar note, there is really no need for the “American-Style” prefix that the Brewers Association slapped on their new guideline. Are other countries making India Black Ales that we need to differentiate these from? Maybe I’m just too attached to my beloved black IPA, but I really think that the Brewers Association jumped the gun and botched this one. In a couple of years is anyone going to be ordering an “American-style India Black Ale” in a bar? I’m not sure I could remember all that after a couple pints. Mark my words, black IPA will prevail.