I have always been uneasy with both the term and style of Black IPA; a misnomer if ever there was one, and an oxymoron to boot! How can a beer which, according to its name, should be pale at the same time also be black?
Well obviously it can’t, and I think those brewers across the pond, who first came up with this idea back in 2011, have done the world of beer a grave disservice. Black IPA can rightly be described as a gimmick and a definite example of “style over substance”. But hey, wait a minute; no such style exists so let’s invent one.
Now you can just imagine the scene, it’s late at night and a few “over-refreshed” American craft-brewers are sitting in a bar, and quite naturally are discussing beer. Nothing wrong so far, but as the night draws on and the beer continues to flow, our brewers move on to comparing how many different styles of beers they’ve tried, and how this compares with their own portfolios.
One of them mentions the Great American Beer Festival and the 90 odd different styles which are used to categorise, and then judge, beers exhibited at the festival. One brewer then brings the GABF site up on his phone/tablet and they run through the various styles, and sub-styles of beer. Virtually every type of beer imaginable is covered, but wait, one brewer has an idea and after several moments of beer-fuelled discussion they decide to come up with a completely new style.
“Be good for business”, says one member of the company. “One in the eye for those stuck-up sticky-beaks running the show”, says another. And so you can see how, without too much imagination, the concept of Black IPA was born. So one brewery’s off-beat idea, conceived in a moment of over-indulgence, is soon copied by other breweries and before long the whole thing snowballs.
It doesn’t take long for the concept to cross the Atlantic, and before you know it, breweries in the UK are falling over themselves to rush out their own Black IPA, and trendy beer-writers are trying to outdo each other by singing its praises. Not one of them has bothered to pause for thought and think, this really is nonsense”. However, it is much more than nonsense, and a classic example of the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
I’ve tasted a few Black IPA’s and quite frankly they all disappoint. At best they taste like an overly-hopped porter, whilst at worst they resemble nothing more than a stout; and a poor one at that! Here are some notes I made after sampling a couple of different bottles of Black IPA, which I was given for Christmas.
Meantime Greenwich Black IPA 5.7% - This is a beer brewed exclusively for Marks & Spencer. Described on the label as “A rich caramel Black IPA inspired by American craft-beers”, it does what it says on the tin. Not unpleasant at all, but still rather confusing. A good beer, as might be expected from Meantime, and packed full of flavour, but I would have preferred to see it labelled as a porter or a stout.
|Collaboration brew from Oddbins|
AleChemy Brewing Co & Oddbins No. 3 Black IPA 5.0% - another Black IPA, this time a collaboration brew between AleChemy of Livingston of West Lothian & Oddbins (the off-licence people).
Unpleasantly bitter and harsh-tasting to my palate; probably from the over-use of roasted barley. Jet black in colour, with a thin, pale-yellow head. Not much more I can say about this beer, apart from an unusual and slightly sinister-looking label. Oh, I nearly forgot to add, I won’t be buying it again!
These experiences, combined with those from tasting cask Black IPA in pubs, have been enough to put me off this totally contrived style for life. I doubt whether I am alone in this.
Footnote: take a look at the Great American Beer Festival site here, and the list of beer styles recognised by the organisation. You will find no mention of Black IPA.