A Black Beer Revolution is slowly draining colours from the myriad taps and fridges. Silky Porters, robust Stouts and complex Black IPAs are battling to reclaim space in the bar from the heady, hoppy, golden brews which dominated the West Coast Challenge. These crepuscular revolutionaries have called in heavy duty reinforcements, some have already arrived while others will deploy in coming weeks.

Leading the charge is a quartet of Black IPAs, a hotly debated style in the beer world today. [1] Defining what makes a Black IPA is one of the trickier questions any beer writer can be asked.  When it happens, I always use the patented WWGGS Mantra – I ask myself “What Would Geoff Griggs Say?”

If that does not work, my next strategy is to consult the Oxford Companion to Beer.  Sadly however, this weighty tome is completely silent on Black IPAs, reflecting perhaps their relative modernity.  The India Pale Ale entry is also written by Pete Brown, author of Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer that Built the British Empire, and, as a bit of a traditionalist, he is not a big fan of the Black IPA moniker. 

If Griggs and Brown let me down, I consult Dr Google. There is an excellent discussion on Beer Scribe Dot Com by Andy Crouch called “The Black IPA Problem”. To begin, he includes the American Brewers Association definition of American-style India Black Ales:

“American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavour and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavour and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavour.”

In other words, it should both highlight dark grain characteristics and be generously hopped.  He then really gets stuck into the Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale nomenclature:

“But in looking at the present names for the style, the deficiencies are as obvious as they are myriad.  The style… has no connection to India.  It is also in no way pale.  So a Black India Pale Ale or Black Pale Ale makes no conceivable sense except for the connections to the hops. But we use American hops in a substantial number of other styles without the need of bringing the South Asian sub-continent into the debate, so why apply it here?  So what are we left with, except three or four different and confusing ways of saying the same thing?”

Crouch then risks being thrown out of the International Bloggers Union by putting forward a number of considered options and solutions, instead of endlessly complaining about the problem or personally attacking his detractors. Taking the high ground, he writes:

“Well, I believe that styles are important, if for no other reason than consumers can have some reasonable understanding of what they might be getting when they select a certain beer.  It is in the hopes of creating some logical détente that I humbly [2] offer the following suggestions for resolving this seemingly intractable debate:

– Dark Bitter Ale (DBA)
– Black Bitter Ale (BBA)
– Black Hoppy Ale (BHA)”

Worthy suggestions indeed, though we know in New Zealand that calling a beer DBA will get some immediate attention from a very large brewing corporation… My pick would be Black Hoppy Ale.

Currently available at Malthouse are the twin Black IPAs Yeastie Boys Motueka Raven (6.5%) and Liberty Brewing Yakima Raven (6.5%). Yakima Raven took third place at the recent West Coast IPA Challenge, the only dark beer on the podium.  It is joined by Croucher Brewery’s popular Croucher Patriot Black IPA (5.5%).  Taking a slightly different twist on the style, as brewer Joseph Wood is wont to do, Liberty Brewing Le Corbeau [3] is a 7% Black Belgian IPA. All these big beers should not totally over shadow the well crafted Tuatara Porter (5%).
Over the coming weeks, the first wave of inky reinforcements will arrive. This comprises two porters from Steam Brewery in Auckland. [4] Grumpy Boyz is a hoppy American Porter while Steam Porter is a more traditional offering.  

The final push will come from across the Tasman with three dark Ozzie brews looking to complete the revolution.  Holgate Temptress (6%) is a robust porter with a dash of Dutch cocoa and an addition of whole vanilla beans. From Tasmania, [5] Moo Brew Stout (8%) is nicknamed “the velvet hammer” by the brewers themselves. Finally, the 2009 edition of the rightly renowned Coopers Vintage Ale (7.5%) will be available.

While I will be continuing my long association with the Hop Resistance, it is appropriate that dark beers and roasted malts have their moment in the rain.

[1] This should not be a surprise for a beer which is supposedly both “Black” and “Pale” at the same time.

[2] Some of Crouch’s blogging integrity is restored here by using “humbly” when he clearly does not mean it.

[3] This spelling was provided by Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor.  While Col has done well to learn English since arriving on these shores, his French language skills remain questionable.

[4] They will have more capacity after Nourish Group made the sad decision to end the Cock & Bull range and turn all the C & B pubs into Lion bars. 

[5] State Motto: The Hamilton of the Australian Commonwealth.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


The Black IPA Problem – http://www.beerscribe.com/2010/09/01/the-black-ipa-problem/
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