Friday 5 March 2010

Black IPA, India Brown, Imperial Brown, Cascadian Dark Ale...

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...


  1. I think if you went to a pub and ordered an IBA it would be confused with an IPA. It would be too much of a mess, which I think is a really good reason to not call it an IBA. However, with that said, I like the ring to "India Black Ale"

  2. Eric, I agree, IPA and IBA are too similar sounding, but it's inevitable that an India Black/Imperial Brown would become IBA. Maybe it'll just be more helpful written, on the bottle or on a beer tap, just to give the drinker a hint of the style.

    Plus, the beer would probably have another name before the IPA/IBA so that should clear any confusion. Of course, it comes down to accent too - when I was in the US I tried to order a water and was told that there were no porters on :)

  3. Thornbridge Raven is excellent - enjoyed a few at the Sheffield Tap (on Sheffield railway station platform 1) last weekend.

    Didn't Dark Star do a heavily-hopped dark beer at one point (although I guess it was more of a Mild than IPA). Two other dark beers with a large hop injection I've enjoyed lately have been Leeds "Midnight Bell" and Fyne Ales "Vital Spark". Both very, very good indeed.

  4. Good piece that Mark, though peripheral to my drinking life. I don't care what Yanks call anything and don't really bother reading their blogs, as I just haven't the time and they aren't my main inteest. My preference is just to take their beers as I find them when I go there and not to be too worried by style.

    As an aside, my Yankee beer chums and me have a private list where beer gets mentioned a fair bit and they don't obsess about style either.

  5. Aah, the aim is to lay this in the cold, dead hand of the BJCP. That should be good for another 5 gold medals at GABF...

  6. IBA sounds like a particularly nasty illness too.

    Acrid, roasted malts and citrusy/piney hops don't work on my taste buds. I've never met anyone who honestly enjoys the combination. I think if I were brewing a black IPA it would be like the Köstritzer of black IPAs, black in colour but not in taste; carafa special malts instead of chocolate/black.

    I'm just waiting for the India Pale Gueuze or smoked Berliner Weisse.

  7. I quite like the term Cascadian Dark Ale, partly because it gives you an idea of what to expect (plus it doesn't do yet more damage to an established beer style).

    If offered something "Cascadian", I would immediately expect the citrus kick that you get from using C-hops.

    I guess I would still not particularly like the beer itself, the Black IPAs (sic) I have had so far have been nothing short of foul, but hey that's the job of marketing I presume!

  8. JC, yeah, I know, must be a US thing...

    Scissorkicks, I need to find Raven, I keep missing it. Dark Star did Over the Moon (I think) which was a hoppy, brown ale and it was very nice.

    Tandleman, I understand your points but there must be some consideration of style, surely? Even just a 'what will this beer be then?' question. It is nice not to worry about style though and just take a beer for what it is.

    Sid, I'm hoping the BJCP can make it to 200 styles this year to make it a nice, round figure.

    Geoff, I'm with you on that one. It's the very roasty, full bodied flavour which clashes with the hops for me. Stone's Sublimely Self-Richeous was just too much. I think if there isn't too heavy roastiness then it could be very nice. IPA geuze sounds incredible ;)

    Al, something 'Cascadian' does have a certain ring to it... it's still vague though, I think, and too limited to a small area. But like you say, they need to make the beer nice first!

  9. Mark,

    perhaps you have got the whole style thing the wrong way round?

    Arthur Guinness didn't set out to invent stout, he made a "stout porter" which eventually became a style in its own right.

    Josef Groll didn't set out to invent Pilsner as a style, he took the ingredients local to him and used his knowledge of Bavarian lager techniques a hey presto, a new style was born.

    Whoever first shipped pale ale to India wasn't thinking about inventing IPA, but rather about making a beer than would last the seas journey.

    Styles are an afterthought to making good beer. Leave the style obsession to the Ratebeer/Beer Advocate brigade, and get on the beer drinking. Down the pub.

  10. Tom, 'hoppy dark ale' sounds like a terrible tasting note. Hoppy is just too vague, don't you think? Plus it's a style description, not a style...

    Al, interesting thought... I still don't think Cascadian though :) I do think that 'Black IPA' has been specifically crafted, probably as some 'marketing' to begin, not because that's what ingredients were around. The Guinness, Pilsner and IPA stories have a lot more sepia romance to them than some renegade brewer wanting to write some new rules.

    And I don't think styles are an afterthought any more... surely one of the first thoughts you have when you want to make a new homebrew is the style you want to go for?

  11. Of course, when I brew the majority of my beers I look to do an existing style - however sometimes I brew just whatever happens to be in my head.

    My Christmas beer, for example, which had lots of spices in it, was fermented with a Belgian yeast and used amber extract with caramel specialty grains. My thought was about colour, flavour and aroma, not what style it would fit into.

  12. Then your style is a Christmas Beer ;) That sounds really good, by the way!

  13. It certainly was a nice beer, the Strisselspalt hops are very mild, but add a blackcurranty flavour, that and the spices almost hide the fact that it was 7.5% abv.

    That gives me half an idea, a French Mild! A classic dark mild, but hopped with Strisselspalt - strokey chin time.

  14. Black IPA as a style is, frankly, bollocks. Cascadian Dark is bollocks too, just a way of making the same thing sound slightly more sensible (as mentioned above, perhaps with an eye on BJCP). Hoppy dark beers have been brewed for years, they don't need another invented category to sit in.

    Before my sabbatical I planned an article on this - research included a nine-pint cask of Thornbridge Raven. I came to the conclusion that the beer was awesome and the style was non-existent.

  15. Ron P isn't a fan of black beers with citrus hops -- he says that coffee and grapefruit don't mix. Me and Boak are partial, though -- what's wrong with a bit of chocolate orange?

    Don't care how beers like this are classified especially, but calling something a dark or black pale ale is a bit silly.

  16. Mark,

    After my first slighty flip comment, I thought I'd venture something a little more considered. The advent of these strong (say 6%-plus) dark AND hoppy beers was perhaps always going to present something of a dilemma to those who like to neatly bracket beers into one style or another.

    I know that "Black IPA" does sound oxymoronic but it does at least do the job of nicely describing what you are going to get in the glass. Of course whether you like the concept of "dark'n'hoppy" is another matter entirely.

    I think I may agree with Ron Pattinson that an imperial stout brewed with a ton of C hops might not be as much fun as you might think (but see my coments re Hoppin' Frog Black & Tan below), but the new breed of Black IPAs are I think put together with that specific concept in mind and certainly do work for me.

    Thornbridge Raven is a case in point. Another is Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, which I had the good fortune to sample last weekend at a joint Marble/ Stone tasting (the Stone brewere are on a UK tour and they, the Marble team, Alex Barlow from AllBeer and lucky old me sat down for a tasting of Marble Special, the three Decadences and Old Ruination plus the aforementioned the SSRA).

    So - Black IPA it is, both as a "style" and a name. Both seem to work.

    As an aside, though, one of the best beers I had last year was Hoppin' Frog Black & Tan - a blend of 67% IPA (6.8% ABV, 68IBU) and 33% Imperial Oatmeal Stout (9.4%, 60IBU). Lovely stuff.

    I wonder what a similar blend of Marble Decadance and Dobber would be like?



  17. Bailey, the coffe/grapefruit is what doesn't work for me but if it's smoother with less roasted bitterness (and more chocolatey flavour) then I think it can work very well.

    JC, Decadence and Dobber?! When an Imperial version of Dobber comes out then we'll have a look! Talking of Black n Tans, the De Molen Amarillo and Rasputin mix for Pigs Year last year was fantastic and it's around at London Drinker this week too.

    Black IPA does work as a style and a name, I agree. I don't mind it and there's a tongue in cheek quality to it as well, which works for the beers.

    That sounds like a great little tasting evening there. What's the Old Ruination? Just an aged version or a different brew?

  18. Mark

    It was just plain ordinary(!) Ruination - the rogue "old" was just me gatting carried away.

    I think De Molen have now formalised that blend as Lood & Oud IJzer (according to their website - here's the address of the page:



  19. As the Brewer who brought this beer to mainstream DOGZILLA BLACK IPA I think Cascadian dark SUCKS why should the Oregon brewers guild get to name something they jumped on the bandwagon late about
    Its BLACK IPA and I think I get to name it end of subject
    Fred Colby
    Laughing dog Brewing