Black IPA

One things that puzzles me about Cascadian Dark Ale, American-Style India Black Ale or Black IPAs, call them what you will, is that quite a few aren’t black. Take the Mike Hall Furry I had in The Mitre the other week, it was decidedly brown, all be it a dark brown, but still brown. I have a mental image in my head that anything calling itself black, should be, well, black.

The Brewers Association defines a Black IPA as:

American-Style India Black Ale (Page 12)
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)

That pegs the colour at something a shade darker than this  . I’ve definitely had lighter beers that have called themselves a Black IPA. What about the taste though, as an American invention*, I have an expectation that it will be chock full of C hops, so get a bit disappointed when they’re not. If the beer’s not rammed full of piney, resinous, citrus and tropical flavours, shirley it’s then just a modern version of an India Export Porter.

Why am I bringing all this up now, when it’s been done to death plenty of times already. Well, I’m drinking a Hardknott Code Black, which proudly proclaims itself to be a Black IPA. It nearly looks black in the glass, but it’s really just a really deep, deep brown, you can see through it when it’s held up to a light. I didn’t really get much on the nose, but it felt good in the mouth, with a good level of bitterness. Taste wise, it seemed to be all about the roasted flavours, I certainly didn’t get much in the way of citrus hop flavours to contract all the roastedness.

I’ve been thinking about doing a homebrew Black IPA, which would essentially be one of my existing pale and hoppy recipes (like I have more than one at the moment) with some Carafa Special in it. This is a speciality malt, that is a de-husked barley malt that adds aroma, color and body, with a mild, smooth flavour. To me, a Black IPA shouldn’t be about roasted notes, it should be about the hops, essentially just an IPA that’s black; bitter, malty, with good hop flavour, but black.

Take The Kernel’s Black IPA, which I believe is a 21st Amendment recipe, or at least based on that recipe. It’s got far less of the roasted notes and far more piney resinous flavours. That’s the kind of Black IPA I’d like to brew, less of the roast, more of the massive C hop flavour. I know that doesn’t necessarily conform to the Brewers Association definition above, Code Black certainly does and it’s a nice beer, but if I’m going to brew one, I want to brew it to my tastes.

I suppose it’s all a bit of a nonsense really, Black IPA or India Export Porter, it’s just a name. Shirley it’s the quality of the beer that counts, rather than some style definition? After all, styles and their definitions change over time, just look at Mild. I’ll definitely be giving it a go at some point next year, maybe by then I’ll have tried a few more and decided exactly what I want in one. As for this Hardknott Code Black, while it’s nice, I think it could do with a few more flavour hops to combat all the roasted notes, but that’s just me.

* As we all know, thanks to Ron and Martyn, there is nothing new in brewing…

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