In a simpler era of beer drinking, you could categorize a brew by looks alone. Pilsners were as golden as Fort Knox’s finest. Imperial stouts were darker than used motor oil. India pale ales ranged in pigmentation from beachy blonde to sunset red. But lately, a new breed of IPAs has thrown a curveball at the color spectrum by bearing a most atypical tint: black.
Usually, darker-hued brews baste your taste buds with rich, roasted flavors that recall coffee and chocolate. IPAs also demand your tongue’s full attention, overwhelming it with floral, citric flavors and plenty of puckering bitterness. These strong tastes seem as incompatible as oil and water, but brewers have accomplished a delicious deception: They’ve cooked up nimble IPAs chock full of piney bitterness and subtle, complementary currents of cocoa and java—a happy blend of day and night.
So what magic tricks did brewers rely on to create this trompe l’oeil style? First, brewers rely on techniques used to turn out schwarzbiers, which are easy-sipping, obsidian-colored German lagers. To temper dark malts’ roasted astringency, yet retain the sinister tint, the grains are cold-steeped in water. (Think about the smoothness of a cup of cold-brewed coffee.) Alternately, brewers use dehusked malt, which is created via a process similar to rice polishing that removes much of the scorched grain husk.
This style first caught on in the hop-crazed Pacific Northwest (where many breweries dub the beer a Cascadian Dark Ale, after the Cascade mountain range), but brewers from coast to coast have since adopted it. Here are 5 black India Pales Ales To Drink Now:
- Widmer Brothers Pitch Black IPA
Originally a one-off, the long-running Oregon brewers recently made Pitch Black a year-round release. It’s because the black beauty’s scent is full of ripe fruit and nutty malt, with a bit of coffee that snuggles up nicely to hops.
- Otter Creek: Alpine Black IPA
To create this obsidian ale, the Vermont brewery relied on a newfangled hop variety called Citra hops. It bestows a beguiling tropical profile that plays well the cocoa notes and creamy mouthfeel.
- 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA
Sold in cans, this San Francisco brew decants a handsome mahogany. On the nose, there’s a floral perfume of pine and citrus, with a tidbit of cocoa nibs. It’s a deceptively easy-drinker.
- Rogue Dad’s Little Helper Black IPA
Every father needs to take the edge off now and then, and this little midnight treat will do the trick: It offers an aroma of roasted malts and grassy hops, a creamy head, a light body and lots of lingering, piney bitterness.
- Deschutes Hop in the Dark C.D.A. (Cascadian Dark Ale)
It took 22 test batches to create this dark-tinged delight, which present a bright, fresh citrus profile and a bit of balancing roasted coffee.