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Last week I took a trip from my temporary North Carolina home back to where I grew up—the Pacific Northwest. The weather in Seattle was cool and sunny, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains were "out" rather than hiding behind curtains of drizzle, and the beer was hoppy. Not East Coast hoppy. Northwest hoppy. The weather, the scenery, and the hoppy ales got me thinking about my next hoppy winter brew, a Black IPA (also known as a Cascadian Dark Ale.)
This relatively new style has suffered a tumultuous childhood because of a crisis of identity and contentious origins. Pacific Northwestern zymurgeo-egoists have dubbed the style Cascadian Dark Ale, often arguing that "black pale" ale makes no sense and, besides, this ale is dark and made with Northwest hops. Those outside the Northwest have argued that the style has no exclusive ties to the Northwest and that "Black IPA" tells a potential drinker what to expect: hoppy like an IPA, but dark.
Regardless of the name, American Black Ale (my preferred name for it) is on the rise and deservedly so. There are plenty of good commercial examples, some of which were recently reviewed on Serious Eats: Drinks by Nick Leiby. I think it is a nice style to brew for winter: its dark malt coffee and chocolate flavors and slightly elevated alcohol provide comfort in the cold, but the assertive hops contrast with other seasonal spiced or high-alcohol ales, which can become heavy and cloying as winter wears on.
American Black Ale is an easy style to brew with extract or all-grain. And the definitions of the style are still in flux, so you can feel free to get creative!