Not that long ago, India pale ales were the province of only the most adventurous beer drinkers.
Their origins were exotic enough: strong, highly hopped brews made to withstand the long journey from England to colonists abroad. Modern microbrew versions pushed the envelope even further.
Today, IPAs have become commonplace, the top-selling craft brew category nationwide.
So what’s an intrepid explorer to do? Enter the black IPA – a hybrid combining that hop character with some of the coffee and chocolate flavors found in porters and stouts.
Or an American-Style Black Ale, as the Great American Beer Festival officially categorizes it, avoiding the oxymoron of combining “black” and “pale.”
Or a Cascadian Dark Ale, as some Northwest brewers like to call it, though their brethren in other parts of the country aren’t convinced. Indeed, an Easterner – the late Vermont craft beer pioneer Greg Noonan – is credited with introducing the concept back in the 1990s.
One of the earliest Northwest versions was Dogzilla from Laughing Dog Brewing in Ponderay, Idaho, which debuted on draft in 2006.
“We were one of the first breweries ever to put it in a bottle,” starting in 2007, said brewer/owner Fred Colby. Dogzilla has gone on to become Laughing Dog’s third best-selling beer, behind the Alpha Dog imperial India pale ale and the regular IPA.
While some call it gimmicky, Colby said the combination makes perfect sense: “I love my hops, but at times I like to drink a darker beer, and I don’t want a stout.”
Dogzilla (6.9 percent alcohol by volume, 69 International Bitterness Units) is a fairly aggressive example of the style. A pronounced roastiness from the black barley used in stouts plays off a hearty helping of piney Simcoe hops.
Later interpretations by other breweries have relied more on newer, debittered dark malts. Several showed up as seasonal offerings earlier this spring.
Widmer’s Pitch Black IPA (6.5 ABV, 65 IBU) – which won a gold medal in the experimental category at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival, before the style was formally recognized – is full-bodied and creamy with a good dose of citrusy Cascade hops.
The sweeter, slightly smoky Alaskan Black IPA (6.4, 65) has a more subdued hop presence. Pyramid’s thinner Discord Dark IPA (6.5, 69) finishes with an earthy, herbal hoppiness. Still to come later this month is Deschutes’ annual Hop in the Dark (6.5, 70).
Closer to home, the Black IPA (6.6, 98) from North Idaho Mountain Brewing in Wallace drinks mellower than its IBU might imply, while the Dark Luppy Matter (8.0, 100-plus) at C.I. Shenanigans in Spokane wears its Warrior hops on its sleeve (“luppy” is short for lupulin, the potent powder in hops). Their big bitterness is balanced by chocolaty malt flavors and floral, citrus notes from dry-hopping with Amarillos.
“It’s a challenge,” Shenanigans brewer Chachi Rodriguez said of the style. “There aren’t really any guidelines, so we kind of make them up as we go along.”
So what’s next on the horizon? How about a white IPA – which is what Deschutes calls its new Chainbreaker (5.6, 55), a hopped-up rendering of a traditional orange-and-coriander-tinged Belgian witbier.
Cascadian Light Ale, anyone?
In other IPA news:
• For a truly different take on the style, check out Widmer’s new Spiced IPA (7.0, 70). The latest in the Rotator series is brewed with black tea and chai spices – not your everyday drink, but a good partner to an exotic meal.
• Somewhat lost in the news of Northern Lights’ rebranding as No-Li Brewhouse is the happy fact that brewer/owner Mark Irvin’s rich, complexly hopped IPA will be available in bottles. It joins the flagship Crystal Bitter and a slightly hopped-up version of the previous pale.
Irvin, who has been experimenting with imperial stouts, hopes to eventually add one of those to the bottled lineup.
• Trickster’s brewer/owner Matt Morrow previewed his easy-drinking Coyote Morning IPA (5.7, 65), studded with spicy, herbal hops, at last month’s meeting of the IDHOPS homebrew club in Coeur d’Alene. Construction continues toward a planned late June/early July opening.
On the calendar
• Golden Hills will celebrate its third anniversary with live music and all five of the Airway Heights brewery’s lagers, Saturday starting at 6 p.m. at Bubba’s Bar and Grill in Reardan.
“They’ve poured the first keg of every beer we’ve brewed,” says owner Bernie Duenwald.
• Post Street Ale House in downtown Spokane will feature offerings from Golden Hills, No-Li, Twelve String, Budge Brothers and the Steam Plant on 10 rotating taps in honor of national Craft Beer Week, May 14-20.
• More than 40 canned craft beers will be showcased in the first Spo-Can festival June 2 and 3 at The Elk Public House in Browne’s Addition. Keep an eye on Spo-Can’s Facebook page for further details.
• The second annual Summer’s Here Brewfest, June 16 at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene, will more than double last year’s 10 breweries and 20 beers.
Also new is a pre-festival educational event on beer and food pairings. Space is limited; for more details see cdabrewfest.blogspot.com.