The mighty I.P.A., or India Pale Ale, is by now a household name when it comes to craft beer. Named for the brews 18th century British Colonial forces shipped to the sub-continent, it was stronger and highly hopped to withstand long sea voyages. Pioneering American craft brewers revived the fading style in the 1980s and continue to play around with style parameters, so it was only a matter of time before new formulations of different hues emerged, altering the color and mouth feel without changing alcoholic strength. This speaks to one of the great misconceptions about beer: color and strength aren’t always linked. There are black craft beers lighter than a Silver Bullet; there are pale beers big and hoppy enough to make your eyes water.
Enter the Black I.P.A., also known as American Black Ale, Cascadian Dark Ale (C.D.A., taking its name from a locals’ term for the Pacific Northwest, where the style is popular) and, perhaps least confusingly, India Black Ale (in the wording of the Brewers’ Association). So what’s in a name? The best are medium-bodied ales of dark complexion with ample but not overbearing hop aroma and bitterness. With their roasted malt-given flavors of cocoa, coffee, and caramelized sugars, they’re delicious, and rarely as heavy as they look. It’s a longstanding barroom debate who brewed them first, but what matters most is the sweet selection now available. Read on for our two favorite recent versions.
Hop in the Dark CDA (6.8%abv)
Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR
The famed Oregon brewers tried out 22 batches before settling on the formulation for this new brew in 2010. It’s unexpectedly refreshing, thanks to a sturdy lashing of Citra hops.
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (8.7%abv)
Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, CA
First brewed in 2007 as a small stash for Stone’s 11th anniversary, this tangy libation was released commercially in 2009 by popular demand. Its Chinook, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops balance a cavalcade of roasted malt flavors.
Have you tried these black ales? Tell us what you thought below.
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