My friend Chris Fleisher writes a bi-weekly beer column (On Tap) in our local paper, the Valley News. I get quoted about every third article. This week’s article was about my late great friend Greg Noonan and the imminent release of Smuttynose Brewing’s “Noonan” Black IPA… Well done, Chris, and thanks!
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!
One of the lasting impressions of the Vermont Brewers Festival a couple weekends ago was the spirit of innovation that still pervades the craft beer scene. You’d think that after all these centuries of brewing, there would be nothing left untried. But walking around the grounds of Waterfront Park in Burlington, I noticed so many new and different takes on standard and traditional beers, that I couldn’t help but be optimistic about the industry.
A notable example: several breweries were offering what they termed a “Black IPA”. I tried a couple of them, and heard about a couple others. What was this beer, a new style or a hybrid? Where was the line between it and a “regular” IPA, between it and a robust porter? While the style itself hasn’t yet been officially sanctioned by the BJCP, as far as I know, it’s clear it’s a style worth pursuing. The examples I had were very dark, with lots of dark/roasted malt flavor (more chocolate and black than roasted barley, but there was that too…) and a lot of caramel sweetness. Oh, and hops too – one was very American-style – Chinook, Cascade, Willamette, in some combination, another was very English – Fuggles, Bramling Cross, Goldings, etc… I heard afterward that some brewers are referring to the American version as “Cascadian Ale”, largely because that’s the hop they are using predominantly, but also because it is being brewed by Pacific Northwest breweries, in sight of (more or less) the Cascades…
I decided on the spot that I wanted to try my hand at this beer. So did a couple of brewing friends. I think there are 5 or 6 of us currently brewing it or about to, hopefully we can get together in a few months and compare our efforts.
Rust Never Sleeps IPA
5 gallons, all grain
- 8.5 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
- 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
- 1/4 lb. black malt
- 1/4 lb. chocolate malt
- 1/8 lb. roasted barley
- 1 oz. Phoenix hop pellets (10% aa)
- 1 oz. Whitbread Gold Varietal hop pellets (6% aa)
- 1 oz. Fuggles whole hops (5.7% aa)
- White Labs Pacific Ale yeast (WLP041)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming
Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 166°F. Mash in grains and hold at 153°F for 60 minutes. Heat 15 quarts water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge, collecting 26 quarts sweet wort. Heat to boiling, add Phoenix hops. Boil 30 minutes, add WGV hops. Boil 30 minutes, remove from heat. Add Fuggles hops, let stand covered 15 minutes. Remove Fuggles hops, chill to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 70°F for 7 – 10 days, or until active fermentation stops. Rack to secondary, age cooler (58 – 60°F) for 14 – 20 days. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition 4 to 6 weeks at cellar temperature.
Notes on style: In the end I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to brew the American version or the English, so I compromised. English hops, American yeast.
Notes on yeast: The Pacific Ale Yeast is reputed to be derived from the strain used by Rogue Brewing, Newport, Oregon, which Rogue’s brewer John Maier labeled “PacMan”, because it fermented everything in sight… I find it well suited for hoppy beers.
Notes on hops: WGV and Fuggles are, of course, classic English flavor and aroma hops. Phoenix is a relatively new high-alpha bittering hop, and this is the first time I have brewed with it. And yes, I consider what I did with the Fuggles to be a kind of dry-hopping…