As we’re sure you recall, we named August as IPA month, and we’re showcasing BJCP Category 21.
IPAs come in a variety of styles, colors and types. It can be difficult to find one article or website to help you wade through it all but BTL is here to walk you through each and every style of IPA! Over the next two weeks, we will be showcasing the best beers from each BJCP style, plus Session IPA.
We start below with the darkest specialties of the IPA – Black IPA and Brown IPA
First, don’t be fooled by the darker tones of these styles. These are still hop forward beers with the appropriate amount of the bitterness you commonly associate with most IPAs. At first glance, it might be easy to confuse either of these styles with an Amber Ale, a Stout or a Porter but once you smell and taste them, it is clear that they belong to IPA Category 21.
What is a Black IPA? What should it actually taste like? It looks like a stout or porter but the standout flavors of the darker malts should be in the background in a Black IPA. The burnt roasty malt characteristics should play a supportive role in a Black IPA and it should always remain very drinkable, much like an American IPA. Otherwise, the bitterness from the dark malt and the hops could interfere with one another and clash. A Black IPA should be dry with moderate bitterness. Despite the color, the hops should still dominate the aroma with all the right notes of stone fruit, citrus, berry, melon, pine, or resin notes.
Wookey Jack Black IPA, 8.3% ABV, Firestone Walker Brewery, California
Personally, I think of these styles as “Beginner IPAs” for the beer drinker who might have the tendency to always grab the same beer style at the store. If Stouts are your go-to beer style of choice, try a black IPA the next time you are looking for a beer. The same can be said with ESBs, Ambers, or Brown Ale drinkers and the Brown IPA. You might find something unexpected from a new beer style.
I went through a phase last year where I tried a lot of Black IPAs, I mean I pretty much bought and tried anything available in the Chicago market, plus whatever else I could get ahold of while traveling and nothing opened all of my taste buds like Wookey. It was bitter, spicy, citrusy, resinous, creamy and toasty all at the same time. This beer is highly rated and it deserves all of the praise it has received. It is not only a world class Black IPA, it is a world class IPA in general.
Alpha Klaus, 6% ABV, Three Floyds, Indiana
I remember the first time I tried Three Floyds’ Alpha Klaus and being surprised by the hop presence. I was expecting a more traditional porter but this was very hoppy. At the time there were no Black IPAs and I had never heard of Cascadian Dark Ale, which is another term for Black IPA. I couldn’t get enough of Alpha Klaus and when it’s season was over, I found myself craving the subtle dark malt notes with citrus and pine from the hops. The flavors worked wonderfully together for my palette. I ended up brewing a hoppy porter (black IPA) and a brown IPA that winter and proceeded to drink the Hell out of both beers.
Sidenote – Three Floyds lists Alpha Klaus as a Christmas Porter. Once you taste it you will see why I made this my favorite choice for Black IPA. If you’re in Wisconsin you can try Black Top from New Glarus. It’s a wonderful example of a Black IPA.
The Brown IPA has the chocolate and caramel notes, sometimes with subtle coffee and dark fruit flavors, of the American Brown Ale but with huge hop notes. The Brown IPA usually features New World or American hops with notes of tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry,melon, citrus, and can also be piney or resinous. Grassiness should be kept to a minimum. Generally a dry beer. A drinkable, lightly roasted take on the traditional American IPA.
Indian Brown Ale, 7.2% ABV, Dogfish Head Brewery, Delaware
There are so many combinations that sound like a spectacular idea, until you try them and you fail miserably. On the other hand, some combinations sound like bad ideas, until you find the perfect match…like Dogfish Head and their Indian Brown Ale! Why would anyone want to mix these styles?! Well, it ended up being the perfect mix. This beer has the easy drinking feel of a Brown Ale with a great hop bitterness and just enough of a caramel presence to tie it all together.
Durty, 8.4% ABV, Smuttynose Brewing, New Hampshire
Brown IPA’s are possibly the most elusive of all the IPA’s. Not too many breweries have jumped on this sub-style yet. If you look hard enough you will find some great examples. Durty from Smuttynose is one of the first Brown IPA’s I had ever tried. The aroma is resiny and hoppy. The chocolate and caramel notes from the malt are not drowned out but balanced with the bitterness and flavor from the hops. It’s a balanced beer that accentuates the hops well. Look for it in the spring, or "mud season" as Smuttynose calls it.
If you home brew, you can always check out the famous Tasty McDole Brown IPA recipe, Janet’s Brown Ale. Or, if you happen to be in the Northern California, you can stop by Russian River Brewery since they make a seasonal commercial version of Janet’s Brown. I can’t promise you it’ll be on tap so you might want to check their site first.