Black beer or Black sheep…

Following my last post about hops, I thought it fitting to consider a relatively new trend in brewing – the Black IPA.  This style falls somewhere between Porter and Stout and strives for IPA like qualities.  The fact that it is called an IPA may speak more to the marketing draw associated with ‘IPA’ than to the style itself.  These brews typically show less body and less oomph than a stout (coffee and other nuances in stouts are often not included here either) as well as more hops and more bitterness than a porter.  It is a roasty, toasty brew showing the character of dark malts.  There is often a solid dry-hopping and, needless to say, the color is dark.  Although some come out a little more brown than black, the appealing, opaque, blackness of the beer is really the signature.

I will come right out and say it – This is a great trend in beer.  Perhaps my enthusiasm is partly rooted in me growing tired of the oak craze and my lack of appreciation for ‘brett’ beers.  Oak aged beers can be awesome, but that trend seemed to bring with it many more beers that taste just like bourbon than mellowed ales with a vanilla rounding.  And brettanomyces beer, although well appreciated in the world of traditional gueuze, is a real oddity.  Nothing like introducing a vicious yeast, one that is awful enough to have caused wineries of old to burn their equipment in a fight against it, to your beer (and brewery).  Anyway, I digress.

Black IPA is a nice bridge between bold, dark malt brewing and the flavor side of hops.  There is fairly good opportunity for flavor differentiation within the style as well.  Some really focus on the toasted quality of the malt, while others use a dark malt to hold up extreme bitterness.  I can’t help but wonder if it really fits in though.

Beer, in simple terms, can be broadly categorized in 6 fundamental styles that almost every beer drinker has heard of before: Stout, Porter, Amber, IPA, Pale and Golden.  I could be convinced to see that list go to 5 styles.  We are talking in broad generalities here as, clearly, there is much more than this going on.  This list is so fundamental that almost every brewery’s flagship beer comes off of it.  Does black IPA have enough fundamental merit to join this list?

Unlike many of the ‘one-off’ styles that we know and love from all of our favorite breweries, black IPA just isn’t crazy enough to be a real specialty offering.  I am not sure that it is grounded enough to be a brewery go-to either.  So what does the future hold for this black sheep?

I do think that there is staying power with black IPAs.  I also think that they are pretty delicious.  The palates of consumers are to decide if this is a staple of the future.  Surely there will always be a black IPA available, but maybe, like the ESB or American Amber it is destined to be an afterthought on beer shelves.

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