Though the start of summer is only a few days away, today we’re taking a look at the darker side of India Pale Ale. But first, it begs the question: how can a beer be described as black and pale at the same time? All Black IPAs are in fact black — the pale just points to the prevalence of hops. Though it may look more like a stout, Black IPAs really do taste like standard IPAs, but with the addition of dark toasty malt character.
No brewing style would be complete without a bit of controversy. Since it’s one of the newest styles, the “official” name has been highly debated. While most American brewers use the term Black IPA to represent the style, breweries in the Pacific Northwest refer to the style as Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA) due to its universal use of Pacific Northwest hops. They also claim to have invented the style, too. In 2010, the Brewers Association decided to settle the matter, coining the term "American-Style India Black Ale."
Though that probably should have ended the debate, it just lead to more head-scratching, as the guidelines for alcohol percentage and IBU (which measures bitterness) were too narrow to include many of the more popular examples of the style. We’d rather not perpetuate the quarrel, they’re all damn good! Here are 10 of our favorite Black IPAs, perfect for a summer night.
1. Stone Brewing Company: Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Some of the best things in life start with a celebration, and Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale was just that. Originally brewed in honor of the Escondido, CA brewery’s 11th birthday back in 2007, this brew helped popularize the style. It’s definitely a Stone beer at 8.7% ABV, and at 90 IBUs, the hops are as aggressive — think West Coast IPA — as the awesomely arrogant gargoyle on the bottle. Even for its excesses, the dark toasted malt provides balance with flavors of chocolate, dark fruit and a bit of citrus hops.
2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company: Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
If there’s a second in line for the Black IPA throne, Wookey Jack from Firestone Walker out of Paso Robles, CA is it. Not quite as aggressively hopped as their other “Jack” offerings, at 8.3% ABV and 60 IBUs, this Wookey still packs a gnarly punch. Sweet roasty malt balances coffee notes and spiciness from the rye. It’s even a bit smoky, but this amazing ale is all about the big grapefruit, orange and pineapple flavors from massive citrus hops. It’s hard to imagine these flavors coming from an IPA so dark, and it’s astoundingly tasty.
Uinta Brewing Company: Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
Leave it to those clever rascals at Uinta in Salt Lake City, Utah to make a Black IPA with hemp seed called Dubhe (pronounced, of course, "doobie"). Brewed in honor of Dubhe, Utah’s Centennial Star, this massively hopped pitch-black ale weighs in at a supernova-like 9.2%, which will definitely have you seeing stars if you drink too many. Tons of bitter chocolate from the malt, far more than you’d ever expect to find in a beer this hoppy. At 109 IBUs, this is one of the hoppiest Black IPAs out there, with tons of pine and citrus to satisfy hop-head cravings.
4. Greenbush Brewing Company: Anger
Greenbush probably felt like the East and West Coasts were getting all the Black IPA love, so we can understand their anger here. And hey, it’s some tasty anger at that! They use Belgian dark malts which add chocolate, coffee and even some dark fruit to the taste but don’t worry, they don’t overpower the hops. Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe hops provide 85 IBUs of grapefruit hop-splosion. Even at 7.6% ABV, there’s a wonderful balance to this brew which makes this new Michigan-based brewery one to check out.
5. Thornbridge Brewery: Wild Raven
So often U.S. breweries try to perfect and build on European styles, but in this instance we have just the opposite. Thornbridge from Bakewell, England is building quite a reputation for their English-style pale ales and IPAs, but they've mastered the Black IPA style, too. Although they included centennial hops, native to the U.S., what makes Wild Raven special is that Thornbridge branched out from the Pacific Northwest hops normally associated with Black IPAs, opting instead for exotic hops like New Zealand’s tropical Nelson Sauvin and Japan’s lemony Sorachi Ace. They also used Maris Otter, a traditional malt found in English ales and combined it with chocolate and Black Patent malt for a robust, roasty malt experience. More than just a respectable take, Wild Raven is a blueprint for what non-traditional hop and yeast varieties hold for the style's future.
6. Evil Twin Brewing: Femme Fatale Noir
The Femme Fatale series by Evil Twin (a.k.a. Gypsy Brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø) is definitely one to check out, as each variation offers a different style of IPA brewed with 100% brettanomyces yeast. The Noir version is a highly drinkable Black IPA at just 6% ABV and while IPA purists may want to stay away from the brett's innate funkines, which doesn't traditionally complement the IPA style, this adventure has plenty of rewards. A bit of funk leads to piney hops and roasted malt flavors of coffee and chocolate. The brett actually brings out more of the citrusy flavors and really works well. Look for this in the bottle or on draft at Brooklyn's Tørst.
7. Clown Shoes Beer: Hoppy Feet
As the name suggests, Clown Shoes puts hops front and center with 80 IBUs. A distinctly East Coast IPA, the hops are more pine and resin-forward but still retain some grapefruit bitterness. You'll taste creamy, sweet chocolate and roasted malt flavors. Though this beer isn’t clowning around at 7%, there’s actually a Hoppy Feet 1.5 Double Black IPA, which doubles the hoppiness and clocks in at a whopping 11%!
8. Smuttynose Brewing Company: Noonan Black IPA
This one is brewed in honor of Greg Noonan, former owner of Vermont Pub and Brewery, who (according to Smuttynose) also co-founded the Black IPA style in 1994. Noonan started out as a Short Batch limited release from the Portsmouth, NH-based brewery but the alcohol has been toned down a bit for this general release from 6.5% to 5.7%, making it one of the lowest ABV black IPAs on the market. Strong pine, grapefruit and floral flavors balance with rich dark malt, coffee, caramel and some chocolate. Smuttynose has a knack for excellent IPAs and porters, so it's no surprise that this one came out so well.
9. Deschutes Brewery: Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale
The Pacific Northwest is home to many of the best examples of Black IPAs (or Cascadian Dark Ales, as they call them) but Deschutes’ Hop in the Dark might just be the best. Located in Bend, Oregon, Deschutes has just about every kind of Pacific Northwest hops at their disposal. Here, they’ve got 75 IBUs from six different local hops including Citra and Nugget. Seven different malts also make this chock-full of roasted chocolate, coffee, caramel — all the notes of a great porter coupled with a great West Coast IPA (and Deschutes has fantastic examples of both).
10. 21st Amendment Brewery: Back in Black
We love beer in cans, and San Francisco’s 21st Amendment makes some of the best. Many examples of darker IPAs are big intense beers meant to savor, but for those who might want to kick back with a few, this one is extremely drinkable even at 6.8% and 65 IBUs. Pine and citrus hops are well-balanced with a caramel and chocolate malt backbone. Perfect for cooler summer nights.
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