Showing posts with label black IPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label black IPA. Show all posts

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Definition of Black

On Saturday I was a judge at the Dominion Cup, Virginia's largest, I believe, homebrew competition. In the morning I got to judge a combination of Scottish, Irish and Brown Ales, which was won by a 70/- ale which I later discovered was an entry from fellow CAMRAite and blogger, Jamey Barlow. The afternoon session was rather more taxing, as I had been handled Category 23, Specialty Beer, or as it should be accurately be known "random stuff that doesn't belong anywhere else".

Some of the beers in the category included an American IPA fermented with Brettanomyces and an Imperial Stout that had raspeberry puree in the secondary fermentation and then aged on cacao nibs, the most dominant beer type though was "Black IPA" in various guises. Now, if you have been reading Fuggled for a reasonable length of time you will know that I am not a fan of Black IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, call it what you will, but the task of the judge is to be as objective as possible, and thus I tried to be.

Our task though was made all the more difficult because of different interpretations of exactly what the "black" in Black IPA really means - should the black be purely colour or should there be a distinct roasty element? Unlike the Great American Beer Festival, the BJCP style guidelines have yet to take into account the phenomena which is Black IPA. I have read plenty of bits and bobs on the old interwebs to the tune that if you drink a Black IPA with your eyes closed you shouldn't be able to tell the difference between it and a normal IPA, so my interpretation would be that roastiness from roasted barley, Black Malt or Carafa shouldn't be noticeable to any great degree. My fellow judges felt that the addition of dark malts should be obvious to distinguish the Black IPA from the usual kind, to which I wonder how it not then just an overhopped Porter or Stout?

It is clear to me that the BJCP needs to address this hole in the style guidelines, perhaps creating a new sub category within category 10, it would be 10D - American Black Ale. As for the guidelines themselves, using the GABF guideline would be a good start, which reads:

"American-style Black Ales are very dark to black and perceived to have medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins many contributre character. The style is further characterized by a balanced and moderate degree of caramel malt and dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent
  • OG - 1.056-1.075
  • FG - 1.012-1.018
  • ABV - 6-7.5%
  • SRM - 35+"
Clearly then, while roast is an element in the beer it shouldn't be the dominant flavour or aroma, and in opinion that has been the problem with pretty much every Black IPA I have tried, whether professional or homebrew, it is simply so roasty that it may as well be an "American Porter".

Clarification is most definitely in order.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Death of IPA

Last night at our monthly homebrew club meeting, Barlow Brewing's Jamey spoke about emerging beer styles and touched on several interesting points about what constitutes a "style". One part of his presentation looked at "experimental IPAs" such as Belgian IPA, Black IPA and this year's "innovation", White IPA. I have to admit that all three of the examples are beers that I have problems enjoying, regardless of what you call them, and this got me thinking about the nature of IPA.


As you know, India Pale Ale started life as a beer for the officer class of the East Indian Company's military wing and bounced around in very warm oceans for 6 months because nobody had built the Suez Canal yet. If you aren't aware of the real history of India Pale Ale, read Martyn Cornell's superb book "Amber, Gold and Black". Actually, read the book in general, it really is a mine of fascinating information.

Through the years breweries have sold pale beers under the moniker of India Pale Ale that range widely in strength, shades of pale and perceived bitterness. IPA eventually split along national lines to become British or American style IPA, depending on the use of hops. In the hands of small indepedent brewers, IPA has become the benchmark by which the quality of a brewery is measured in some minds. Today IPA is effectively a meaningless marketing term, appended to any type of beer as long as you hop the shit out of it and make it virtually unpalatable to anyone other than the latest lupulin loony that wandered into your tasting room.

In many ways you could say that IPA is the Pilsner of the early 21st century. Misunderstood, misappropriated and abused at will by marketeers to sell hopped up beers, just as "Pilsner" has come to mean in the minds of those who know no better, a pale, flacid lager, mass produced and sold cheap in dive bars.

What then does the future hold for IPA, both as a beer and a marketing term? Will some brave soul of a brewer actually have a stab at brewing an early style IPA and letting it hot mature for 4 months so we can see what the product that so wowed the East India Company's "servants"? Will we see endless bastardisation until IPA means precisely nothing or will IPA become accepted shorthand for any beer with too many hops in it?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Enough with the Oxymoronic Beer

One of the things that is guaranteed to set me off in an apoplexy of rage, or at least a muttered "oh god, not again", is fannying about beer style descriptors in an attempt to describe a beer. There is one word which is pretty much the source of all this annoyance, the word "black", as in "black" IPA, "black" Pils, "black" K?lsch and so on and so forth, and I say this as a devoted drinker of black beers.


Let's get this straight, a black ale can in no way, shape or form be an India Pale Ale - there is a hint in the name there, perhaps you can spot it? Now of course it can be an Export India Porter, as it would have been during the era of the British Raj. I have no problem with it being a Cascadian Dark Ale or even an American Black Ale, but Black IPA? Please.

Then there is the notion of the Black Pils. Could someone please explain to me how a "black" pils differs from a schwarzbier or a dunkel? Perhaps it falls somewhere between the two and would qualify as a tmavé (that really would mess up the stylistas at certain advocating rating sites)? If it is, in fact, a schwarzbier then please just bloody well call it a schwarzbier. My cynical side (what's that, you didn't realise I have one?) wouldn't be too surprised if "black pils" is a schwarzbier but hopped to proper pilsner levels, in which case why not Indisches Schwarzbier? Alternatively you could make it stronger and call it Imperiales Indisches Schwarzbier (or would that be a Baltic Porter by this point?).

The one though that raised my hackles this week is the concept of a "black K?lsch". According to the K?lsch Convention, for a beer to be able to use the appellation "k?lsch" it must be brewed in Cologne, and "pale, well attenuated, hop accented, bright, top fermented". There's that tricky word "pale" again. Sure, a brewery might have got 4 out of 5 of the beer's characteristics right, but it is not a K?lsch because it is not pale. Interestingly, the only major difference between between K?lsch and Scottish 80/- in terms of the style parameters is the colour. Is "black" K?lsch therefore a Scottish 80/- by another name?

I am fairly sure I am not the only one that finds this idea that by adding a dash of dark malt to a pale beer style you have somehow created a fusion of traditions, innovated in new and sexy ways, annoying, especially when similar styles already exist. It was said of the great Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon that he had a talent for "calling a spade a spade", it would be nice if breweries would do likewise.

* the full quote about Lewis Grassic Gibbon, author of A Scots Quair, is that Gibbon was ""for ever calling a spade a spade, when there is no need whatever to refer to the implement at all".

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Collection of Updates

As you can imagine, having several projects and plans all bubbling along together often means that beer related stuff that I am up to doesn't get written about on this here blog of witterings. So I thought I'd lump a load of odds and sods together and make one post out of them - sort of like making a soufflé and hoping it doesn't go all flat on me.

First up, the International Homebrew Project. If you recall, and if you are one of the homebrewers to have emailed me confirming your intended participation, the democratic opinion of the beer to make turned out to be a historical recreation of a milk stout, hopped with Challenger and Goldings. As I said previously, when I get the recipe from Kristen I will posting it, so please be patient and in the meantime perhaps stock up on your hops and have a look at these recipes from Ron's blog for different iterations of the Mackesons milk stout recipe.

On my own brewing front, I have bottled both my Thunder Child Extra Stout and Mrs Velkyal's Session Beer, an Irish Red Ale single hopped with Fuggles. Both beers were on the high end of the final gravity range for their style guidelines, but tasted good in their green state - which is really all that matters. My barleywine is still in primary and I am playing with ideas of what to do with it next, whether to go to secondary and add another batch of yeast, or to dry hop, or just go straight to bottle and leave it be until Thanksgiving.


There is a new version of the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague available through Lulu.com. I heard from a few people that the download was taking an age, which is hardly surprising as the document was some 600Mb, mainly due to the fact that I used massive picture files in the text. Well, I resampled the pictures to make them smaller, without too much loss in sharpness, and the new version is only about 6Mb and should be much quicker to download. While talking about the Pub Guide, my collaborator is in the Charlottesville area for the next 6 months and we are discussing a couple of project ideas - he also bought me a bottle of Matu?ka ?erná Raketa, a Czech Black IPA.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you'll have seen me make mention a few times about the upcoming release of Morana Dark Lager, the tmavy le?ák I helped brew with Devils Backbone. February 1st is the day to put in your calendar - I for sure will be there with growlers to fill and a belly aching for beer.

I think that's everything.....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Revival! Export India Porter...

Last night I went to my first CAMRA meeting. No, not the Campaign for Real Ale. Charlottesville's local homebrew club is called the Charlottesville Area Masters  of Real Ale, or CAMRA. Yes, yes, I know I have been here now for over a year, but I had not plucked up the courage to go to a meeting quite simply because these guys win medals left, right and centre at homebrew competitions.

Anyway, one of the members recently started following my Twitter feed and we got into the conversation that seems to be de rigeur in American beer circles at the moment, Black IPA or whatever the trendy term this week is. It turned out that Jamey had brewed a Black IPA around the same time as I brewed my Red Coat India Black Ale. We agreed to meet at CAMRA's monthly meeting and compare beers, a short version of the comparison would be; both were good. Jamey used American C-hops and for the first time in a Black IPA they didn't taste out of place, although my first thought of the nose was sweaty jockstraps, but that became blood grapefruits after a further sniff or two. On the basis of his beer I wonder if part of my gripe is with the lack of balance in the IBAs I have had so far?

My beer was also good, judging from the approving nods and comments from various members, but given that the hops were British, the consensus was that this was really a porter. I suppose that reaction very much vindicates my belief that Black IPA is actually just an over-hopped porter, using American hops rather than British. Given that the IBU range for Robust Porter according to the BJCP (sorry to the non-style people) is 25 - 50, and that according to a recent post on Ron's blog, 19th century porters shipped to India had about a third extra hops chucked in, then the evidence is stacking, in my mind, that India Black Ale belongs with the porters rather than the IPAs.

As such, I have decided to enter Red Coat in the upcoming Virginia Beer Blitz as a Robust Porter rather than my initial plan to enter it as a Category 23 Specialty Beer.Also being entered in the competition will be Machair Mild, as Experimental Dark Matter has been renamed, and Gunnersbury Gold, a Best Bitter.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Red Coat is Coming!

Black IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, American Style India Black Ale, call it what you will, seems to be the latest fad de jour, and yes I have written about it before, and yes I am still unconvinced that it is not a porter over hopped with the wrong hops.

One of the joys though of being a homebrewer is that I can be a cynical sod AND put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Firstly though a quick precis of the project; take a clone recipe for ASIBA, switch out the hops for British varieties, whilst keeping the malts and yeast the same, and see how porteresque this British Style ASIBA would be. Simple.

I only brew very small batches by some people's standards, usually a couple of gallons, but for this experiment I really didn't want to have a case of bottles lying around if the beer was piss awful, so I scaled the recipe to just a single gallon, or a dozen 12oz bottles when the time comes. Of the recipes in the Brew Your Own article, I plumped for the clone of Widmer's W-10 Pitch Black IPA, and choose Admiral and Goldings as my hops, deciding in the end to stick with Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast, the recipe for a single gallon was as follows:
  • 2lbs light DME
  • 6oz Caramel 10
  • 3oz Carafa II de-husked
  • 2.5oz Briess Special Roast
  • 0.4oz 10.5% AAU Admiral @ 75
  • 0.3oz 10.5% AAU Admiral @ 2
  • 1oz 4.5% Goldings @ 2
The original gravity was exactly the same as for the Widmer Clone, hitting 1.064 or 16° Plato. With regard to IBUs, the calculator I use showed that again I hit the mark by getting 65 IBUs - just an aside, the site with this IBU calculator has all manner of fun tools which I find very, very useful and heartily recommend. I brewed while Mrs Velkyal was out at rowing, just finishing cleaning up as she walked in the door and dragged me out to the shops, by the time we got back, about 4 hours later, the airlock was bubbling away happily.

I plan to bottle the beer on Sunday morning, before heading off for a shift at the Starr Hill tasting room, and sampling the collaboration Black IPA by the four brewers of the Brew Ridge Trail. If my version is at least drinkable, part of me is prepared to hate it and ditch the lot, thus the very small batch, I will enter the beer in the next homebrew competition I plan to enter, in September. Though in quite what category, I have no idea.

As for the name of my new beer? Red Coat India Black Ale, for fairly obvious reasons I am sure.

Monday, July 12, 2010

British Sedition

In the current edition of Brew Your Own magazine there is an interesting article about the birth of a new beer style, at various times the style in question has been called Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale or in my ever so eloquent term when I first had the style, "crap". Having got together an eminently qualified collection of experts, it was decided to set the parameters for the new style, which at the Great American Beer Festival will be known as "American Style India Black Ale". The parameters for the GABF are as follows:
  • Color = 25+ SRM
  • Original Gravity = 1.056–1.075
  • Final Gravity = 1.012–1.018
  • Bitterness = 50–70 IBU
  • Alcohol by volume = 6–7.5%
In terms of mouthfeel and so on, the parameters have been set as follows (and I have taken these directly from the Brew Your Own website):

Aroma – Prominent Northwest variety hop aromas – resinous pine, citrus, sweet malt, hints of roast malt, chocolate and/or Carafa®, can include mild coffee notes, dry hopped character is often present.

Appearance – Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Head varies from white to tan/khaki.

Flavor – A balance between citrus like and spicy Northwest hop flavor, bitterness, caramel and roast, chocolate, or Carafa® type malts. Any roast character should be subdued. Black malt is acceptable at low levels but should not be astringent. Any burnt character is not appropriate. The finish should be dry with caramel malt as a secondary flavor. Diacetyl should not be present. The main emphasis should be on hop flavor.

Mouthfeel – Light to medium, hop bitterness and tannins from roast malts combine to create a dry mouthfeel. Resinous character from high levels of dry hopping may create a tongue coating sensation.

Comments – Some brewers prefer to cold steep the dark grains to achieve a very dark beer without the tannin contribution of adding these grains to the mash. The use of Sinamar® color extract to enhance the color is common.


The article itself, which you can read here, then goes on to explain how ASIBA is different from a hoppy stout or porter, but I personally am unconvinced. Therefore I have decided to try an experiment with an upcoming homebrew project. I am going to take one of the clone recipes provided with the article, leave the malts alone by and large, but substitute the hops with British varieties such as Challenger, Target and Northdown. As of this moment I am undecided as to whether to stick with an American yeast or use a British ale strain of some kind.

If I discover that indeed ASIBA is significantly different from a traditional porter, then I would like to believe that I will have developed a new beer style to revolutionise the world of brewing, the British Style American Style India Black Ale! I am sure the world waits with bated breath.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Erm, no.

I am all for making new beer styles, and for the creative fusion of existing beer styles. Some call it innovation, others call it messing about, but sometimes it works perfectly and the end product is simply a delight. Sometimes though, the end product looks great but tastes crap, and I have to wonder if the brewer in question has forgotten the power of colour in the perception of how a beer should taste.

Take for example the oxymoronic "Black IPA" that all of a sudden appears to be the latest beer rage. I had a pint of Laughing Dog's Dogzilla Black IPA at Beer Run here in Charlottesville last night, it was my first trip as I am celebrating soon to be an employed person! The beer was certainly dark, indeed it put me in mind of a good porter, especially given the tan head, however the nose was the classic American IPA citrus. Taste wise the hops simply overpowered everything else in the beer, I may as well have been drinking a standard IPA.

This got me to thinking exactly what the point of a style bastardisation such as Black IPA would be? Judging by the colour and body of the beer, I got the feeling it was basically a porter hopped with C-hops, but without the body and malt that would balance out the hops sufficiently. Also, why try to coin such an oxymoronic beer style? Black India Pale Ale? How can black be pale? India Black Ale maybe, India Porter maybe more so, but an ale that is black and pale at the same time? Please, come on!

Colour is an important signifier of what is likely to be in the glass, to get that colour makes use of crystal malts, maybe some chocolate malt, maybe some roasted barley or even black malt, so you expect a certain sweetness to the beer that was simply absent in the one I had last night.

On a positive note, the Bluegrass Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout was magnificent!

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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