Style Guide: What is a Black IPA?

While the world of craft beer and its many styles can be a confusing place on approach, there’s perhaps no style more worthy of a head scratch than the Black IPA. Though you may never have heard of a grisette, a geuze, a gose or a zwickelbier, the oxymoronic prefix in Black IPA challenges what you probably already knew about craft beer’s most common style: “I thought the P stood for pale,” you may cry. And you’d be right. It does. But it’s still black.

The origins of the style is largely rooted in the modern American craft beer revolution, thought to have first been brewed in the ‘90s and only really appearing on shelves and in fridges with any regularity in the late ‘00s. By the early 2010s, the Black IPA had become the in vogue style with just about every brewer under the sun bringing their version to the table; think New England IPAs in 2017/18 and you’ll have an adequate picture.

While the naming of the style and its paradoxical qualities has been a point of contention over the years – with advocates of India Black Ale, American-style Black Ale and Cascadian Dark Ale all making their cases – we have come to know these brews as Black IPAs, mostly. In any case, it presents an accurate description of what these beers actually are.

So, what exactly is a Black IPA? First of all, it’s a dark beer if you hadn’t already guessed; the malt bill will lend itself to a liquid that’s anywhere from very dark brown to jet black. That’s the black bit. The IPA part comes from the generally hoppy quality of the beer, often from the use of American hop varieties, like your typical modern IPA. It really is as simple as that.

The Black IPA is more than just a hoppy beer that’s dark in colour, though. The darker malts lend roasted flavours that often work in contrast with the floral, citric and piney flavours of the hops. It can be a bizarre experience but a unique and delicious one when executed well.

A stunning example of the style is Loch Lomond Brewery’s Bravehop Dark, a companion to their Amber IPA Bravehop. As managing director Fiona Maceachern explains: “If you actually sit and drink the Bravehop and the Bravehop Dark side by side, it’s exactly the same recipe except it’s got chocolate malt in it and it completely changes the flavour profile. It’s beautiful.”

While the style may be less popular and much less common than it was five or six years ago, there’s absolutely still a place on the craft beer landscape for the unusual-but-delicious Black IPA.

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