Saturday night saw the culmination of months of discussion, research, secrecy and of course actual brewing. A small group of brewers submitted their take on the elusive but much-discussed new style, Black IPA or, as we decided to call it that night, the IBA (India Black Ale). The idea for this event started back in July when several of us attended the Vermont Brewers Festival and tasted a few breweries’ interpretation of the style. There followed the realization that no one had really yet defined it, and, although there were commercial examples out there, there was no consensus on its parameters. I decided to brew one, which led a few of my friends, colleagues and customers to also try their hand at it. We decided to pick a date and come together, IBA’s in hand, to compare, taste, judge, critique, etc.
In the end, seven different brewers rose to the challenge, and fourteen people, including six of those brewers, got together for pizza and snacks, and proceeded to judge the beers. I “ran” the event, being the only BJCP trained judge on hand. I started by explaining a little bit about the BJCP program, the exam, and how competitions are run. I handed out a judging procedural and scoresheets, and away we went. The seven entries, brewed by Rick, Ben, Aaron, Tom, Jake, Adam and me, were expertly poured and served to the waiting judges by steward extraordinaire Mollie. We took a few minutes with each beer, looking at its color, clarity and head, sniffing the hop and malt aromas, sipping, swirling, chewing and generally appreciating the complex flavors. We had divided the group up into a brewers’ panel (Rick, Aaron, Jake, Tom, Ben and me, Adam being absent), and a “people’s panel”, with Rich, Carol, Sarah, Evan, Adrienne, Walter and Anne. The idea was to choose a Brewers’ Choice, based on technical merit (i.e closest to style, authentic) and a People’s Choice, based on which beer was most drinkable.
Discussion at both tables was lively. With several different cups in front of each of us, we realized quickly that all seven were quite good. There were minor “flaws” – a couple were too light to be “black”, a couple seemed to lack in hop aroma, one had coffee in it, one had a molasses/vanilla taste… in the end, both tables agreed on the same three as their top choices. After a break to eat a little more, we came back to work and pitted those top three head-to-head, and argued the merits of one against the other. We finally settled on our top choice, second and third.
The Brewers’ Choice and People’s Choice were both awarded to the same beer, by a narrow margin, a brew called “Black Jacques Shellac”, proudly presented by Ben. He also brought along a keg of the same beer conditioned and dispensed with a nitrogen mix – completely different texture, aroma and taste. My IBA placed second with both panels, and Tom’s was the third choice. A bottle swap ensued, and Ben was asked to choose the next target brew – looks like we will be tasting American IPA’s some time in March! Before we split up and went home, we were treated to a taste of Adrienne’s Holiday Porter, aromatic with vanilla… Yum!