What is a Black IPA?

In a world of endless beer innovation, everyone wants to be different. There’s traditional brewing that goes back hundreds of years, and there’s microbreweries like us that have been bending the “rules” for fun and figuring out what works, what tastes great, and what’s so out of left field that our customers can’t help but look twice. And there are those of us who will tell you there are actually no rules in brewing. With all due respect for tradition, this is where the Black IPA comes in. 

It’s an oxymoron in itself, most beer connoisseurs (and even amateurs) acknowledging the fact that a typical IPA is at least light in color. One thing we can all agree upon: The IPA is everywhere because it’s an opportunity for microbreweries to get creative with their hops and additive flavors, and their alcohol percentage is higher. What’s not to like? 

Black Beers: A History 

Black beers have been brewed in Germany since the 14th century, but these are lagers, not ales. (These two have a few key differences as well, and we go into more detail on those here). 

The dark ales we are most familiar with are the stouts, aka porters, which date to 18th century England. These beers became popular among London porters, a profession among the working class that entailed carrying and delivering various items throughout the city. Portering could be extremely labor-intensive, and the high calorie content of the stouts made a good source of energy and nutrition. Stouts were also affordable and reliable because they took longer to go bad than most beers. 

It was also during this time that Arthur Guinness opened his own stout brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and the rest was history. 

Fast-forward a couple centuries, Greg Noon and Glenn Walter in the early 1990s were the catalysts for the modern American “Black IPA.” Owners of Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, they first created Blackwatch, which is considered the first Black IPA ever created in the microbrewery scene. 

How is a Black IPA Made?

What’s different about a Black IPA isn’t as complicated as you might think. As with all dark beers, the malt is what gives a beer its darker color, and the opacity of that color depends on how long the malt is roasted. ​​This process is called the Maillard Reaction or “browning.” 

In the case of black IPAs, a greater amount of roasted malt is added than in a traditional pale ale to produce that dark color. In the meantime, a high amount of hops is incorporated to achieve the typical IPA zing. The result is a hops-forward taste with subtle malt flavor and a deep brown or black color. 

Achieving this harmony between malt and hops is easier said than done, which is probably why brewers like to try their hand at a black IPA (someone Triple Dog Dared us). You have to monitor the roasted grains carefully, which can take on an unpleasant bitterness if you’re not careful. You also need just the right amount of malt to achieve the desired color without overpowering the hops flavors. 

Hops Used in Black IPAs

Talking of hops, the ones used in a black IPA are often of the Northwest variety. In particular, Cascade hops are popular in dark pale ales. In fact, the term “Cascadian Dark Ale” is often used interchangeably with “black IPA.”

The reason for Cascade hops in black IPAs is because of that quest for balance, which often entails a little contrast. Cascade hops are famous for their floral scent and citrus taste. Pair that with the cereal notes of roasted malt, and you have a literal meal. Picture baked grapefruit with a cup of black coffee. It just works. 

Of course, Cascades aren’t the only players in the game. In Diebolt’s “Party on Darth,” for example, we also added heaps of Amarillo hops. They taste and smell like spiced oranges. FRESH. 

<strong><em>Diebolts Party on Darth Black IPA is made with flaked oats for a light roast flavor and one metric butt tonne of Cascade and Amarillo hops 70 IBU my friends You wont forget this is an IPA trust us <em><strong>

Black IPA vs Stout

So if a Black IPA is what it is because of how long the malt has been roasted, how is it any different than a stout? Well, a stout is richer in flavor, using smooth barley malt that will give it a flavor closer to the caramel side of things. And, of course, a stout falls short on the hop front. 

Stout beers have been around since the 17th century. They are considered more traditional, but the IPA only came shortly after in the 18th century. Supposedly, it was first brewed in the UK and became a favorite among British soldiers in India, hence the name “Indian Pale Ale.” It’s funny that the two were first brewed so close in time, yet the IPA bears such controversy on just how hoppy it has to be to earn the label. 

What Does a Black India Pale Ale Taste Like?

The key to a perfected Black IPA is in its subtlety: it should never be too heavy on the roasted flavor, nor should it have to fight for attention with the hop profile that comes with any IPA. Again, it’s all about balance. 

Black IPAs should be pretty high on the bitterness scale and medium to low on the malt flavors. You should be able to clearly taste the floral, citrusy notes of the hops. In some cases, you may also detect a piney flavor. This is usually an indication that the black IPA was dry-hopped. 

A good black IPA has medium carbonation and a smooth, almost creamy mouthfeel. As with a standard IPA, a darker one should have a lingering bitterness that is pleasant, not acrid. 

How to Enjoy a Black IPA at the Appropriate Level

To enjoy a Black IPA to the greatest of its potential, it should be served at around 46-54°F in an IPA or Tulip glass. It should also preferably be drunk in the Most Fun Brewery in the World, which is located at 3855 Mariposa Street in Denver. If you take some home, store it in a cool, dry place and consume within 3-6 months. We triple dog dare you to wait that long. 

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Heather Kleinman

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