The Problem With Black IPA

I just don’t like those Black IPAs. In all seriousness, I love beer. I love it more than most people. I love it enough to make it my career. Hell, I love it enough to devote an entire website that could otherwise be filled with cat gifs to it.

Like this one... BOOP! *scamper*

Like this one… BOOP! *scamper*

Anyway, my point is, you’d struggle to find someone who likes beer more than I do, but I don’t like all beer. There are some styles that just don’t do it for me and Black IPA has to be just about top of the list.

It sounds good on paper: a black hoppy pale ale. Actually, outside beer-geekdom that sounds ridiculous (how can something be black and pale at the same time?), but to a Beer Geek, it not only makes sense but actually sounds great. A beer with the sexy-dark body of a Stout, but also the fresh and zesty hop flavour and bitterness of an IPA. Oh hell-yeah! I’m all over that!

But the reality? That’s not how it works out. I find that most BIPAs, instead of being ‘the best of both worlds’ are more often ‘less than the sum of their parts’. It comes down to integration: In my opinion, delicate hop characters don’t interact well with strong roasty malt characters. The flavours get muddied and the finished beer is neither deliciously hoppy, or lovely and dark. It’s an unsatisfying compromise all round.

And there’s a good reason for this, which a prominent brewer (who makes an excellent BIPA, which I don’t like) once explained to me: Dark roasted malts tend kill hop character. Frequently, the moment you add black malts to an IPA it overrides the hop flavour. Likewise if you try to add hops to a Stout or Porter, it’s very difficult to get a hop-forward beer.

The trick then is to darken up a light-bodied beer so that can let the hops come forward, or strip out the malt body and flavour of a dark beer and add a lot more hops. Apparently a favourite brewing trick to do this is to mash in what would essentially be a pale beer, and then mill dark malts on top of the grain bed before lautering. This way you rinse all the colour out of the malt, without gaining too much body or roastyness. And thus you have created a classic Black IPA: a beer that looks dark, but has the body and flavour of an IPA.

Now it seems to me that someone who wants to make or drink a beer like that is having a hard time separating baby from bathwater. Subjectively (and this is entirely subjective) I find the moment we make our IPAs dark or strip out the stoutness from our Stouts, the beer enters a grey zone. It’s neither wonderfully hoppy, nor lovely and malty.

An illustration of this grey zone might look a little like this.*


*N.B. Not to scale. Beer and style placements are suggestive only. Click to enlarge.

Alternatively, a graphical depiction would look a little like this:

Also not to scale. Also click to enlarge.

Also not to scale. Also click to enlarge.

To summarise with a little less graphical levity: I just don’t like BIPAs. And that’s fine, that’s my subjective opinion. You don’t have to regard it.

“Are you telling me I should stop making my Black IPA!?” exclaims a passing brewer, outraged.

No, I’m not saying that at all. A brewer should remain true to themselves, and if they want to make a BIPA they totally should. If they’re relying on me to tell them what to make, they’re in trouble. But conversely, I know I’m not alone in disliking BIPAs.

When we put them on tap at Golding’s, they move slower than regular dark beers, and a lot slower than IPAs. Classic dark beer drinkers are put off them because they’re too hoppy and not malty enough, and classic IPA drinkers are put off them because they’re too dark and malty. It’s a loss-loss situation for both kinds of drinkers.

“Are you telling me I shouldn’t drink Black IPAs?!” exclaims a lurking Beer Geek, offended.

Again, no. You should drink what you like, that’s the point of the whole ‘craft’ beer movement. BIPAs certainly do have a niche market amongst other beer styles. And if drinking a weird, not-quite-hoppy-not-quite-black-beer is your idea of a perfect pint, then Godspeed (you mad bastard). Certainly I’ve enjoyed the occasional BIPA. Once. A long time ago (actually, it was Speakeasy Butchertown a couple of months ago).

My point is, we’re all entitled to like or dislike whatever beers or beer styles we want.

* * *

This article was originally published under the title “I’m not Racist, But…”. It was a satirical title, poking fun a clickbaity racism and far-right hysteria. As the world has changed, that title seemed less and less amusing. It has since been changed.



1 thought on “The Problem With Black IPA

  1. Pingback: The Six-Pack – June 27, 2014 | beer is your friend

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