Serious Beer: Black IPA
Black IPAs are either a rising trend or already on their way out, depending on who you talk to. A few years ago they were nowhere to be found, now many breweries make a version. The novelty of black IPAs to the beer scene is highlighted by a total lack of agreement about what to call them—you may see them described as Cascadian Dark Ales or American Black Ales, and the American Brewer's Association pithily calls them American-Style India Black Ales. (ASIBAs? Yeah, that'll stick...)
Black IPAs get their color from the addition of roasted and dark malted barley—the same ingredients that color a stout or a porter. It's no surprise, then, that a black IPA borrows some of its flavors from these other styles as well.
We were looking for examples that showcased and balanced the hop flavors of an IPA with darker malt flavors like coffee and chocolate. We tasted a dozen of beers, all solid, and very diverse.
We've divided them up into two categories—heavier and intense, or lighter and more quaffable. There are many more black IPAs out there, and new releases popping up all the time. What's your favorite?
Serious Beer Ratings5/5 Mindblowing; a new favorite
4/5 Awesome, stock up on this
3/5 Around average for the style
2/5 There are probably better options
1/5 No, thanks, I'll have water.
Seriously Rich Black IPAs
Southern Tier Iniquity, New York 9.0% ABV
Iniquity is sinfully black, with a billowing coffee-colored head. Floral and honey aromas provide highlights to bold pine and citrus in the nose. The bitterness is front-loaded, fading to sweeter chocolate, caramel, and roasted flavors in the finish, livened up by mint and rye spiciness. This is an exceptionally balanced beer, fairly dry despite an oily and creamy body. Even with loads of hops and burnt flavors, there's no astringency, and the 9% ABV is subtle.
Uinta Crooked Line Labyrinth Black Ale, Utah 13.2% ABV
Labyrinth is creamy and decadent, falling squarely into my dessert beer category. Sweet smells of toasted bread, raisins, and licorice join bittersweet chocolate, oak, and vanilla. Rich flavors linger, with lightly-roasted coffee and oak married with the chocolate, toasted bread and licorice from the aroma. The body is thick and syrupy, and keeps the sky-high ABV on the down low. This beer could hold its own with chocolate cake for dessert and might even let you skip the cake.
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, California 8.7% ABV
The aroma is all pine and cinnamon, which is carried through to the flavor. I've promised myself I would never use the word 'bouquet' in a review, but without it I have a hard time describing the burst of floral, citrus, pine, and spicy hop flavors in Sublimely Self-Righteous. If you were blindfolded while drinking this, you'd have no hint that it was black until the finish, where burnt brown sugar and chocolate appear and distinguish this beer from a double IPA.
Uinta Dubhe, Utah 9.2% ABV
Tongue coating, oily citrus and evergreen hops punch up mild and sweet dark chocolate and hickory flavors. Dubhe (pronounced doobee) is brewed with hemp seeds, which manifest in the sharp, peppery flavors in the finish. This is a solid beer, but the hemp flavor was divisive among our tasters.
Peak Organic Hop Noir, Maine 8.2% ABV
Lychee and citrus in the aroma don't give many hints about the flavor. We tasted citrus pith, but an aggressive burnt character brings most of the bitterness. Uberdark chocolate, toffee, and coffee linger in a long finish. The aftertaste was made less pleasant by a faint, chalky astringency.
Seriously Smooth Black IPAs
Clipper City Heavy Seas Black Cannon, Maryland 7.25% ABV
The nose is a perfume of floral hops. The flavor opens sour and dry, with lime, pine and caramel, while roasted, smoky flavors kick in on the finish. The smokiness and smooth, balanced dryness reminded us of a porter—I'll revisit this when the weather gets colder.
Deschutes Hop In the Dark, Oregon 6.9% ABV
The flavor is well-balanced between warm toasted flavors and punchy orange and pine hops. The mouthfeel is excellent—a medium thick body, with carbonation dialed in for maximum creaminess. I could have more than one of these.
Tommyknocker Hopstrike, Colorado 7.0% ABV
Rye whiskey spice in the flavor highlights brown bread, chocolate, coffee, and citrus. A hefty dose of toast and earthy, pine bitterness make the finish the strongest, most notable characteristic of the beer.
Widmer Brothers Pitch Black IPA, Oregon 6.5% ABV
Floral and citrus aromas, caramel, and a mild nuttiness are the hallmarks of this subtle beer. Traditional roasted black malt flavors, like chocolate and coffee, are present, but take back seat to the hops. Pitch Black IPA is more IPA than black.
Otter Creek Black IPA, Vermont 6.0% ABV
Smoky aromas race around neck and neck with pine and citrus, vanilla hiding underneath. There isn't a bitter wallop, the flavor is even-keeled and creamy, with vanilla and a hint of smokiness. Some tropical, oily citrus hops shine through the finish, but otherwise this is a lot like a porter.
Fish Brewing Company Swordfish, Washington 7.5% ABV
Grapefruit and pine aromas, chocolate and roast feature heavily. This beer has a medium flavor intensity- but nothing too extreme. Chocolate and coffee in the flavor were dialed down, with lighter nutty and cocoa flavors more dominant. A mild brew.
21st Amendment Back In Black, California 6.8% ABV
The sweet and oily hop resin flavors are nice, but there isn't enough malty sweetness here to back them up. The finish is interesting- pine needles and campfire smoke remind me very much of backpacking. The body is thin, and there's less carbonation than I'd like, knocking Back in Black down a notch.
All beers except Deschutes and Peak Organic were provided as samples for review.
About the Author: Nick Leiby is a Boston-based scientist and homebrewer. When he's not drinking yeast, he's probably studying it in lab.