Black IPA: too subtle for us

On Saturday, we drank Cornish brewery Coastal’s black IPA and enjoyed it but found ourselves, once again, scratching our heads in bafflement: it was yet another black IPA that might have been sold to us as porter or stout without controversy. Sure, it had evident citrusy hops which we might have made note of, though we wouldn’t have ‘marked it down’ as not being ‘true to style’.

People keep trying to explain the distinction to us:

  • black IPA should be black but not roasty — it’s a different ‘black’ flavour than stout
  • if you can’t taste any difference from ‘normal’ IPA, then the blackness is superficial.

This is a level of subtlety which, at the moment, is just beyond us, especially as the water is muddied by hoppy porters (complete with roastiness) bearing the black IPA label. (Failed attempts, as we understand it, as measured against an emerging set of rules surrounding the style.)

Maybe we need to try making one ourself to really understand this other ‘black flavour’?

Or, actually, maybe ‘black’ alone is enough of a style descriptor to cover everything from dark mild to black IPA, via porter and stout? After all, even beers just dyed black with caramel taste darker to us, because our brains and palates are wired to our eyes and are easily fooled.

This isn’t a moan about black IPA being oxymoronic, by the way, because we’re over that and everyone’s bored of hearing it/refuting it.

14 thoughts on “Black IPA: too subtle for us”

  1. Aparently Americans want the style to look black but taste pale. I think thats bollocks. for me it should display both dark malt character even roast and big hop aroma, flavour and bitterness. As to whether it falls into the hoppy porter or black ipa camp I think its a matter of emphasis. Is the hop aroma or dark malt character bigger in the nose? in mouth? in the finish?

    I am writing a column on this right now actually.

  2. Really, if they want a dark beer to taste pale, why bother making it dark to begin with? It’s not that it requires a lot of skill, just toss a handful of colouring malts and you are done.

  3. Like I said, I think thats bollocks. A freind got talking at the WBC and the US brewers said they were adding dark malt at the end of the run off to give colour. They could just use sinamar. But what would the point be.

  4. Another case of Americans taking credit for a style that is pointless/a bastardisation of a style that existed a long time ago. Same goes for double IPA. What a load of shit.

  5. my views on “black IPA” or any other black version of a traditionally pale beer, are well documented, but how exactly does one taste colour?

  6. I suspect one can’t taste colour, but KHM’s taste description at the top seems to accurately describe the positive characteristics of the better Black IPA’s I’ve tried, notably Magic Rock Dark Arts and Red Willow Faithless.

    Is that Coastal one called Riptide btw? Only I had it at the commercial fest in Chap and it wa really nice. Thing is (obviously not supping with my alalytical blogging head on) I never gave its IPA vs Porter/stout credentials a second thought – it was just the best beer on when I was there!

  7. Thanks for recommendations, all. If we were served any of those beers blind, would we taste them and say: “Ah, this is a black IPA!” Or would we just think they were stouts or porters?

    Beefy — we weren’t in note-taking mode so didn’t catch the name, I’m afraid.

  8. “Black but not roasty” sounds like bollocks to me (there’s a poll in there); there is no ‘black’ taste. I think there’s a distinct thing that modern IPAs do – a certain combination of cold-tea bitterness and hoppy astringency – and a distinct thing that stouts do (‘roastiness’, probably), and when you get them both together you’re drinking a black IPA. Saltaire Cascadian Black is a good example.

    Styles on the dark side of beer are hopelessly broken, if you ask me. I’ve got a growing list of dark beers that I genuinely don’t know how to classify – was it a dark old ale, a sweetish porter, a strong dark mild or just a very dark bitter?

    Incidentally, when I googled Cascadian Black to check the brewery the first hit was “Cascadian Black Metal is bollocks”. Just think, if you picked the right bar you could be listening to a style of music that doesn’t exist while drinking a style of beer that doesn’t exist!

  9. The dark malt I think used in many Black IPAs is a dehusked chocolate malt “Carafa Special” from Bamberg master malz-makers – Weyerman.

    http://www.weyermann.de/eng/produkte.asp?idkat=19&umenue=yes&idmenue=37&sprache=2
    “our unique de-husked roasted barley malt adds aroma, color and body, with a mild. smooth flavor”

    With the husk gone, they won’t give so much of the harsher roasty flavours associated with normal choc & black malts or roast barley.

    In terms of their use in Black IPA brewing, the norm seems to be to not mash in with the Carafa, but to add it later to the top of the mash, just prior to sparging (or even later) so as to accentuate colour over flavour.

    I would say these malts do however still add some flavour, a light coffee/choc note, which in the few examples I’ve tasted works well.

    I’m of the opinion that if a Black IPA has no discernible dark malt flavour, then it’s a bit of an empty gimmick.

  10. MikeMcGWirral that is indeed the way some/alot of American brewers are doing it. Many from this part of the world and I suspect from the UK are mashing dark grains right through.

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