Up until fairly recently, fans of oxymoronic beverages were cast out into the cold. Treated like the proverbial lepers of the drinks industry. Told to get a grip – “oxymorons have no place in beer”, the haters would say.
But now those former beer outcasts are rejoicing: a new order has risen in the brewing scene – one that loves nonsensical beer style names and laughs in the face of, well, colour. Yes, this relatively new chap on the scene is known as Black India Pale Ale.
All piss-taking aside, this is actually a style of beer. If you can get past the ridiculous name (black and pale, is it?!) then it’s a style you can start to love. If you can’t then call it by its less-nonsensical moniker: Cascadian Dark Ale.
So, what is Black IPA? The beer geeks over at Ratebeer.com state that BIPAs are characterised by having a similar level of aromatic and flavoursome hop clout to American style IPAs, relatively high alcohol contents, and a toasted dark malt character. Ratebeer fails to state the bleeding obvious, though: BIPAs are as black as the night.
So, if you love the flavour and bitterness hit you get from the pine-and-grapefruit-heavy hops of the New World but also have a passion for chocolatey, coffee-tinged, toasty dark malts, then Black IPAs could be right up your street. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the sensory confusion of a pitch black ale smelling like no stout or porter you’ll ever have tried.
Right, onto the business end: what are the top three Black IPAs available in Ireland? You’ll not be too surprised to know that nobody in Ireland currently brews one, so imports are where it’s at. That said, these three are pretty damn good representations of the style and won’t break the bank:
3) Widmer Brothers Brewery Pitch Black IPA
So, in third spot we’ve got a tasty little number from Widmer Brothers Brewery in the brewing Mecca that is Portland, Oregon in the USA. Widmer (along with fellow American brewers Kona and Red Hook) is part of the Craft Brew Alliance, a company which is 32.2% owned by those stalwarts of the good beer scene, Anheuser-Busch InBev. I’ll be frank, the Craft Brew Alliance churns out a lot of middle-of-the-road muck – lots of their beers are like bottled, liquidised Cliff Richard records. Fortunately, Pitch Black IPA bucks the trend and is very good indeed. There’s lots of pine resin and spruce in the aroma, as well as light grapefruit and plenty of dark roast coffee. The taste coats the mouth with resinous piney hop oils and fairly juicy grapefruit, before the dark chocolate and slightly burnt coffee notes from the dark malt take hold. The finish is fairly dry and ashy. It’s maybe a tad messy, but there’s no doubt that it’s incredibly sinkable – completely belying its 6.5% ABV. You’ll find it in decent offies for around the three quid mark.
2) BrewDog Libertine Black Ale
As much as BrewDog do talk some shit, they also brew some great beers. Their 7% ABV Libertine Black Ale is now an integral part of their core range after receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback as a limited release special a few months back. This is top news, as it means that there’s plenty of it available to ship to their export markets and it’s currently in the fridges of lots of Ireland’s decent bottle shops and bars. Simcoe is the hop that’s used in this fella – and in copious amounts. This means there’s a seriously pungent, slightly dank, tropical fruit thing going on in the aroma, alongside pine resin, grapefruit, and some lightly smokey dark malt notes. The hop character in the taste is pretty assertive, with citrus, bitter grapefruit, tangerine and pine leading the way. There’s loads of dark malt character in there too, focused mainly on dark roast coffee, tobacco smoke, and dark chocolate. This chap is bitter, no doubt about that, making the Widmer offering seem half-arsed in that respect. It’s big, bold, and brash – not exactly a surprise coming from BrewDog. This beaut will cost somewhere between three-and-a-half and four quid in a good bottle shop near you.
1) Thornbridge Raven
Rightfully taking the crown in this collection of Black IPAs is a real gem from one of the best British breweries out there: Thornbridge. Raven (or Wild Raven as it’s recently been renamed due to apparent copyright infringements) showcases a wonderful balance between powerful New World hop goodness and deep, dark maltiness. The aroma on this one is unbelievable: tangerine, pineapple, grapefruit and pine all come together – you hardly pick up any trace of the dark malts at all. The taste is where the cocoa-driven malt base comes through, with added dark roast coffee and toasted grain notes for good measure. There’s still lots of juicy fruity hop character in the taste, with tangerine and a pithy grapefruit zing emerging from the dark malt flavours. Pine resin and grapefruit linger long into the aftertaste alongside some residual roasted notes. An assertive bitterness is there but it’s by no means overpowering. A crackingly balanced piece of brewing which goes down far too easily for 6.6% ABV: top marks Thornbridge. A 50cl bottle of this black nectar will set you back around a fiver in your local beer specialist.
So there you have it, three top notch dark and hoppy imports to get your teeth into. You know what they say, ‘once you go black…’