It feels like every time I’ve read through the American beer blogs or looked at twitter this week I’ve been faced with the term Cascadian Dark Ale. Adrian Tierney-Jones wrote about it this week, linking back to a Hop Press post by Lisa Morrison, since then it’s popped up repeatedly (including another Hop Press post from Josh Oakes) with the name slipping casually into place as if everyone accepts, knows and understands what it is already... but I don’t like it.
I’ve grown to like ‘Black IPA’ as the name for a dark beer lustily bittered and flavoured with US hops. Yes, it’s an oxymoron if you look at it as being an India Pale Ale, but I’d sit down opposite you in the pub and happily argue the point (which I’ve written about here) that ‘IPA’ and ‘India Pale Ale’ are terms which can be used separately and that ‘IPA’ has become its own noun with different meanings to ‘India Pale Ale’ to today’s drinker. I’d argue this because the evolution of an IPA, in nearly all modern examples, separates it from its historical connotations in many ways: different hop varieties used; different mentality behind the brewing; the now-redundant use of ships and barrel-aging; the necessity to drink these beers super fresh rather than brewing them to taste one way and appreciating that it will change into a more drinkable beer. New-skool IPAs are not Pale Ales brewed to be exported to the Indian market in the 19th century, they are something completely new.
IPA has become the staple of US brewing and it’s almost a benchmark of how good a brewery is – if your IPA isn’t up to it then neither is the rest of it. Black IPA is a US thing, which is now being picked up by British brewers. As it’s a US thing, you need to look at the US understanding of an IPA, which for me, when suffixed onto a beer name, tells me I’ll be getting something pale in colour (usually golden, through caramels and into an orange hue) with a lot of vibrant, fruity, citrusy, piny hops and a bold bitterness. There is no link to a beer which has made a long sea journey to be enjoyed in India. A Black IPA tells me I’m getting a dark beer with the hop quality of a ‘regular’ IPA and I think it works. Plus the oxymoronic quality of the name somehow adds something, as if this style were a little bit naughty and rule breaking, which transfers into the taste.
But some people don’t like ‘Black IPA’, hence the push for Cascadian Dark Ale to be the style name. I would guess that this push is mainly coming from the Pacific Northwest, specifically in the Cascade region... To me, CDA means nothing. Sure that’s where most of the hops grow, but that’s not enough and the area is too specific for a ‘world style’. Lisa Morrison lists four reasons why she likes the name Cascadian Dark Ale. I’d argue against all of them. One, Black IPA and Dark IPA are oxymoronic, but I’m fine with that, as I’ve said, because the style is challenging and different, so the name fits. Two, she thinks CDA is a great bar call, as in “Two CDAs please”. I think it’s a terrible bar call. It sounds like a drug or an illness. Three, the story and history behind a beer style endear people to it, which is true, but you can’t magic up history in a couple of months, slap a new name on it and expect people to be interested. That’s called marketing and I don’t think the story behind it is interesting enough (‘Oh, that’s just where a lot of hops grow, then?’ I can hear them saying, but engage them in a discussion of Black/Dark IPA, the history of IPA, the evolution of style and the use of the Black/Dark misnomer and that’s interesting). Four, it celebrates an appellation, but would this stop hops grown outside of the Cascade area from going into a CDA? Does the water and barley need to be from there too? I will also add that Cascadian Dark Ale sounds like the name of a brew, not a style.
If the term Black IPA isn’t liked, and Cascadian Dark Ale doesn’t do it for me, then what about alternatives? Dark IPA is a gentler version of Black IPA, and I like that. ‘Dark’ doesn’t crash in like ‘Black’, instead it suggests that the beer is just a little darker than usual. What about India Brown? Or is this just a strange linking of styles between an IPA and a Brown Ale? Does the addition of ‘India’ to a name immediately suggest that lots of hops have been added? If so, why? What about Imperial Brown Ale, just like red ales have been Imperialised (and they taste like Red IPAs...), why not just intensify the Brown Ale?
I do think we need to have a name for this emerging style of beer but I hope Cascadian Dark Ale doesn’t stick. It seems to me that Black IPA is working so far, so I don’t see a need to change it, but if it’s going to change then my vote goes with Dark IPA or Imperial/India Brown Ale (IBA).
What do you think works as a name? And as a side note, which dark IPAs are good? I haven’t found Thornbridge’s Raven, which sounds like a winner, but I’m not a huge fan of the style yet as for me there’s something which collides somewhere between the heavy roasted bitterness and the citrusy hop bitterness...