Tag Archive: Black IPA


Odyssey: The Occult – New England India Black Ale (England: BIPA: 6.7% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. An inch of brown head that leaves suds.

Nose: Fresh. Slight vanilla, kiwi and grapes. Slightly milky. Slight creamy pineapple.

Body: Treacle. Milky chocolate. Creamy and milky. Kiwi and grapes. Milky coffee. Peach yogurt. Light tart notes – grapefruit.

Finish: Grapes. Malt chocolate. Low bitterness and moderate hop character. Peach yogurt to milkshake. Grapefruit. Treacle. Brown bread and brown sugar. Slightly yeastie.

Conclusion: Ok, as I’m still trying to work out where I stand on the whole New England IPA style thing, I have to contend with the fact that we now have a Black New England IPA. I swear I will never catch up with these things.

This is an odd mix – the creamy NE IPA style and the darker BIPA notes interact in unusual ways. When you take a sip it can be either a big boom of treacle, chocolate and coffee – or a soft milky thing that allows the fruit notes to roam more. Ok, in either one there are hints of the other, but it still gives a very different impression depending on which is ascendant at the time.

It is odd – the prevalent treacle reminds me of the notes used to give weight to lower abv dark beers, especially in how it seems to float over the lighter creamy flavours. It seems to be because of that creamy NE style that makes everything seem easier going than the abv or hop usage would otherwise suggest.

Possible because of the contrast between the two sides, the fruit hop flavours feel more evident than a standard NE IPA, and more than most BIPAs. They come across as a kind of fruity yogurt style and light tart grapefruit freshness. The bitterness level is still fairly low – which does make the BIPA style feel kind of odd – usually the higher hop bitterness I what makes a BIPA not just a higher abv dark ale, in my eyes anyway.

Overall – good – actually does more to make me get why people enjoy NE IPAs that most standard IPAs’ take on the style do. However the varied elements are good, but not really coherent. Each element works by itself, but they don’t feel like they all build a bigger whole, just working by themselves.

Still, there are much worse things to be – still interesting and enjoyable, just doesn’t 100% hang together.

Background: Offer me Odyssey Brewing and hops and you have my attention – their work has been pretty damn shiny so far. This one is an odd one – a black New England IPA – ok, someone was going to start spinning off variants of the new England style eventually – my first encounter may as well be from Odyssey. This one was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to B. Dolan – house of Bees vol 2.

st-austell-proper-black

St Austell: Proper Black (England: Black IPA: 6% ABV)

Visual: Black. Large browned creamy head. Still.

Nose: Milky coffee. Kiwi. Slight roasted air. Slight bitter chocolate. Key lime pie.

Body: Slight sour dough. Prickly hops. Key lime. Milky chocolate. Slight liquorice notes. Creamy. Chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Cocoa dust. Moderate bitterness. Light charring. Slight liquorice. Slight sour dough and milky coffee.

Conclusion: Ya know, I mentioned during my notes on “It’s All Propaganda” that it didn’t feel like a black IPA, despite being a good beer. This has similar issues with not feeling like the style, but in a different way. The base has the smoothness and feel of BIPA down pat, which is where IAP failed – it has the base coffee and chocolate, with slightly roasted bitterness in as well. Those base flavours are present but not dominating, leaving room for the hops to do their work. So it succeeds at that where IAP had its issues.

Unfortunately this beer, unlike IAP, doesn’t do enough with the hops to fill that space. It has the bitterness, but ends up feeling like a hoppier or more roasted stout. It doesn’t take full advantage of the flavour possibilities of a Black IPA. There are some green fruit notes, but far less than it deserves.

So, as a beer it is not bad – in fact if this was pitched as a hoppy stout I would probably find it pretty decent – so let’s look at it as that and ignore the whole Black IPA thing.

As that it has a solid chocolate base, subtly enhanced by a few green fruit notes that round it out and a slightly higher hop character than normal. Despite fairly heavy flavour and a 6% abv it is pretty easy to drink – albeit with a hop level that builds up over time.

It is a solid, fairly stout like, beer. The extra hops add some nice flavour, but not enough to make it special. I feel the need to damn it with faint praise, but every time I try it ends up sounding so bloody hipster. “A good try for a mainstream brewery” kind of thing. Bleh. Solid, no real bad points, but in doing so it takes no risks that would let it soar.

Background: Man, I haven’t done notes on St Austell beers for years – not since back when I relied on my cheap main camera and crappy phone camera. Now I have a far better camera, and the same lack of skill at using it. Anyway, this was part of a set of beer given to me as a Christmas present by a work colleague. Many thanks! Drunk while listening to History Of Guns: Mirror Pond – they used to have it up for free download, but I can’t find a link at the moment. Pity – they do lovely, unusual electronic meets gloom meets guitar work.

mad-dog-its-all-propaganda

Mad Dog: It’s All Propaganda (Wales: Black IPA: 5% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown. Large creamy heads. Not quite opaque in body.

Nose: Bitter cocoa. Light charred notes. Bitter hops. Lemongrass and a touch of key lime. Fresh wet lettuce. Roasted nuts and cashew nuts. Fresh doughnut dough. Coffee.

Body: Lemon sorbet. Malt chocolate and chocolate liqueur. Kiwi. Lemon milkshake.

Finish: Lemongrass. Bitter chocolate. Charring touch. Lemon sorbet. Kiwi. Light apricot. Bitter coffee.

Conclusion: Did you say Sorachi Ace was used in making this? Instant five stars. Would drink again! More seriously, these hops work much better in a Black IPA than I originally thought they would. I had bought this more out of whimsy than thinking it would actually work.

The malt base is definitely present, but not too heavy – kind of chocolate, bitter coffee and slightly doughnut dough like. Those elements show a lot more later on though, as the hops stop doing their thing. Thus the finish especially feels quite roasted stout like, sure, but the first sip is more than malt base mixed with fresh lemongrass and a kind of lemon milkshake creaminess, followed by a nice hop punch. You are always very much aware of the darker set of notes, so your tastebuds feel slightly confused as it tries to reconcile a lemon creamy notes with bitter chocolate and hoppiness. The conflict seems less as time goes on, with the savoury lemongrass as closer match to the black IPA base.

If I was to pick a main criticism it is that, based on expectations of the style, the base feels closer to a general British dark ale than specifically a Black IPA – probably due to the comparatively restrained abv for a BIPA of 5% ABV. So, best view it as a hopped dark ale than a BIPA if you are thinking about if you want to grab it.

Generally, taken as itself, taken as that British dark ale with a bit more hops, it gives a nice bunch of freshness early on, and a solid darker set of notes to dominate the back, with the savoury a line throughout.

So, fun for me, not dominated by Sorachi Ace, but enhanced by it. Not super refined as a beer, and not closely tied to BIPA expectations. However for general drinking I enjoyed the hell out of it. Could it be made more polished? Sure. As is it is a fun one though.

Background: I grabbed this from The Beer Emporium, it hit a few of the things that make a beer interesting to me -new brewery on me, sorachi ace hops, Black IPA. Nice mix of stuff to grab my eye. Especially as the hop choice is a very odd one for a BIPA. I try to grab beers from over in Wales as well – they don’t get much of a look out a lot of the time, but there is some very good stuff there. Drunk while listening to a mix of old school Offspring albums. Used to be a huge fan of them during my teen years, no so much a fan of their recent stuff. I may just be getting old.

Brewdog Black Hammer

Brewdog: Black Hammer (Scotland: Black IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Black, but merely very dark brown at the edges. Middle sized dark brown froth for a head.

Nose: Pine and resinous. Pineapple. Hops. Very milky coffee.

Body: Pine. Good hops and bitterness. Fresh. Slight charring back. Kiwi. Slight white grapes in a juicy fashion. Light toffee.

Finish: Charring, bitter chocolate and bitter hop character. Bitter coffee granules. Bitterness rises to kicking levels over time. Hop oils. Caramel.

Conclusion: This is possibly the most IPA like Black IPA I have ever had. That is neither intended as an insult, nor a complement, just an observation. Most BIPAs are a distinctly different thing from the IPA that they are influenced by -often feeling closer to stouts that the IPA they are named after. This, probably due to its Jack Hammer roots, feels more like a standard IPA that has a few BIPA trappings added on top.

It is very noticeable in the quite clean bitterness – coming in quite fresh, juicy, fruity, and definitely backed by that trademarked Jack Hammer hop kick. That is not to say that it does not show its BIPA side, but from early in the aroma to until late body they are very lightly done. During this time it feels very much like the straight fresh IPA with a mild dash of malt chocolate and charring as mellowing notes.

In the finish though – this is full on Black IPA, bitter coffee, chocolate, and hops, all kicking to hell. It is like the finish is trying to make up for all the previous lack of BIPA notes. It take all that missing BIPA style and hammers it home with Jack Hammer relentlessness.

Now, Brewdog may call this the best black IPA, but I have to admit I prefer my Black IPAs to make the most of the style trappings rather than the style that inspired it. I feel aiming for an IPA style is best left to IPAs. That said, this is very good. As an IPA it has lots of what made me love Jack Hammer – the bitterness, the big flavours. The BIPA alterations, while quote unquote restrained ( No I don’t know who I am quoting, probably myself) does add to the experience.

Not the best BIPA, but it is very good and I will admit interest in the mix of BIPA and standard IPA styles. A very worthwhile take.

Background: James from Brewdog has described this as “The best black IPA” he has ever tasted. However I feel he may be biased. Speaking of bias, as always I may not be an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This is a black IPA take on Jack Hammer, the second of the Jack Hammer variants out this year. This was the first tasting note I did after my roughly week long hiatus due to ballacks happenings in the UK. Sorry about the delay. The beer was grabbed straight from Brewdog’s store.

Beavertown Bellwoods Barrel Aged Moose Fang

Beavertown: Bellwoods: Barrel Aged Moose Fang (England: Black IPA: 9% ABV)

Visual: Black to very dark brown. Thick brown head that leaves mounds at the side.

Nose: Malt chocolate and cashew nuts. Ginger bread. Chunky marmalade. Spirity. Cocoa dust. Cream.

Body: Milk chocolate and cream. Zesty orange. Strawberry crème. Bitter cocoa. Slightly spirity.

Finish: White and milk chocolate mix. Marmalade. Lemon sherbet. Bitter cocoa. Strawberry crème.

Conclusion: Ok, orange zest and Armagnac aged – that is a mix that results in one chunky slice marmalade infused beer. Thankfully I like marmalade. I am like Paddington Bear, but less cute. And an alcohol fan. Well, Paddington Bear may have been an alcohol fan. We shall never know.

This tingles, spirity, yet with smooth character at the back end. Between the marmalade and the spirit character the barrel ageing really seems to have had its wicked way with this beer. Because of this the base beer is somewhat kept to the back – A creamy, chocolate base beer that mixes sweet white chocolate with bitter cocoa. Or so it seems; Considering how much an influence the barrel ageing has, it is hard to say exactly where that portion ends without drinking the unaged version. That isn’t a dig at the beer – that creamy characteristic gives great texture and backing and lets the beer slip down nicely, However it is very evident that the marmalade characteristics are the main thing.

It is very satisfying but a touch one note – at around 9% abv and 500ml I would say that it is a perfect beer for two people to share. The flavour otherwise gets a tad sickly by the end. I know this as I mistakenly thought it was a 375ml bottle so drank the whole thing myself. Oops.

Anyway, had in smaller, shared measures it is a bright, sugar sweet shock, delivered by a sweet yet mellow base. The base is sweet, but still less than the sugar shock high notes so still manages to drag the sweet barrel ageing back from the, well, edge.

I think that with shorter barrel ageing this would have been better balanced and so awesome. As is it is fun, but kind of like watching a guy get shot out of a cannon twenty times. Cool, but a tad repetitive. Still fun and well made.

Background: Bellwoods is a Canadian brewery, so of course they have Moose and hockey imagery on the bottle. I don’t know why I even had to google to find that out. I should just have known. I kind of gave up on beer style and went with ratebeer’s call of Black IPA. This sure as hell is not a standard Brown Ale, but I was kind of stumped on where to put it. Anyway, this is the final beer that I was given at Christmas, this one from Matt. Many thanks :-). This has been aged in Armgnac barrels, and made with cocoa nibs, vanilla pods and orange zest. So now you know.

Brewdog Arcade Nation

Brewdog: Arcade Nation (Scotland: Black IPA: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Black. Massive brown mounded froth.

Nose: Kiwi. Fluffy hop character. White grapes. Pineapple. Malt chocolate. Cloying note. Light bitterness. Barley. Strawberry.

Body: Bitter hop kick. Bitter chocolate. Cloying touch. Light, clean, fresh character – Grapes maybe? Roasted character. Nuts.

Finish: Bitter cocoa dust and hops. Sour dough. Grapes. Pineapple. Cashew nuts.

Conclusion: So, the revisited Black IPA, prototype no more. Well, I say revisited, it has been barely two months since the original came out. So, they obviously had plans for this, is it an improvement?

Meh. If anything it seems even more simple than the original – less sweet, more bitter and roasted. So, closer to the prototypical Black IPA style, with even less twists to it than before. Before things get too negative, I will look at what has improved. The aroma is now exceptional. It is very fruity and hints at a much more complex beer than we end up with, tart and kiwi heavy. This really had me expecting something very good after it.

The base loses that for a simple roasted and bitter backed BIPA – nutty in its roasted character but it feels like a base to build on, not the destination of the beer. A pity considering that this is the second iteration. It is odd as Brewdog have turned out some utterly excellent Black IPAs, yet this feels distinctly lacklustre. It could be the lower abv. I am happy for lower abv beers, but the IPA range pretty much demand a bit more weight if the hops are going to have a grip for flavour as well as bitterness. This seems to be aimed at the craft ale session range of an abv ( i.e. at way above what I would call a session abv, but lower than a lot of craft beers). Like session IPAs it seems to be drier and suffer badly for the lower abvs.

So very mediocre and barely above base expectations for a Black IPA. A rare swing and miss on beer quality from Brewdog.

Background; Ok, I did deliberately pour this quickly in an attempt to get a pretty big head for the photo. Mostly worked as well. This is a tweaked version of their prototype Black IPA – though based on how long it takes to get a beer made, I’m guessing this was being brewed before we had even tried the prototype, which seems to go against the whole point of the prototype release, no? Anyway, decided to give it a shot to see how it had changed. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Brewdog Prototype Black IPA

Brewdog: Prototype: Black IPA (Scotland: Black IPA: 5.3% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thin brown creamy head.

Nose: Fresh kiwi. Citrus. Vanilla. Strawberry. Clean.

Body: Toffee. Kiwi. Roasted nuts. Treacle. Chocolate liqueur. Peanuts. Caramel. Lemon sponge. Dried apricot.

Finish: Charred taste but clean feel. Cocoa. Some bitterness and hop character. Rougher hops as time goes on. Roasted nuts. Toffee. Dried apricot.

Conclusion: You know how the USA IPA style is kind of split between two main interpretations – the drier, more bitter take, and the actually quite sweet style that uses hops for fruit more than for bitterness? OK, yes I know that is over simplistic, I’m trying to set something up, it makes the point, right?

Anyway, this is a very sweet and fruity take on the black IPA which makes me think it is the dark cousin of that sweeter style. The actual bitterness is way down, instead giving a soothing toffee and chocolate base and a fresh kiwi burst from the hop character.

Bit unusual and doesn’t really shout BIPA to me, more a slightly higher hopped than usual black ale. Yes there is a difference. Honest.

It is pretty easy drinking – the texture is smooth as, and the flavours are bright on the hop side, and slightly roasted on the malt side. No real harsh hop notes, or overly bitter or charred base. Feels like it would session well, the abv is a bit high, and please don’t let anyone take this as a cue to start a trend of a session Black IPA style -we already have far too many misuses of India * beers.

As a beer it doesn’t shine and it doesn’t shout, however, also it doesn’t suck. The most easy going BIPA I have encountered, so much so that it doesn’t entirely seem to fit the style.

I don’t know if it is what Brewdog intended, but they have really reined in the dark hopped beer style to something you could kick back with for a while. At a tad lower abv it would be perfect for this. However if lowering the abv would hurt the flavour I say leave as is.

Background: Black IPA? I guess Brewdog are saving the decent names for whatever ones get chosen rather than using them up on prototypes. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers, though it is a complicated one. You may notice a shiny new glass? Craft Beer Sis gave me a Christmas Present of three specially designed glasses- this one designed for IPAs. Many thanks sis! Yes I know it isn’t Christmas yet. Regular readers may realise I don’t attach too much to keeping to correct timescales for Christmas. Anyway, glass seemed to work well at retained the head – without trying another bottle in a different glass I can’t say if it enhanced the beer, but it certainly didn’t seem to hurt. Drunk while listening to some of the excellent work by Akala.

To Øl Black Malts and Body Salts

To Øl: Black Malts and Body Salts (Denmark: Black IIPA: 9.99% ABV)

Visual: Black. Huge coffee froth and a tight bubbled mound of a head that leaves coffee sud rings.

Nose: Coffee granules. Light granite. Bitter character. Burnt wood. Earthy.

Body: Bitter coffee. Charcoal dust. Blended whisky undertones. Salt touch. Some thick chocolate notes.

Finish: Bitter, especially bitter coffee. Charcoal dust. Salt touch. Earthy and spicy. Light strawberry notes occasionally.

Conclusion: This is a harsher black IPA than most of the style. Against expectations it seems to go down the more earthy and straightforward hop bitterness of a British IPA rather than the more fruity use of the word IPAs. But with a Black IPA here obviously. Or a coffee BIPA as it turns out.

Strange as I don’t think they use British hops – could just be emphasising the early boil hops for bitterness maybe? Not really sure, but that is how it ends up feeling anyway.

Now the coffee makes up a very big part of the overall character – and very bitter coffee at that, easily matching the raw bitter hop character. It gets smoother mid body and is backed by some chocolate maltiness, but top and tail is very raw bitter coffee.

The harsher edges are emphasised, with the burnt wood into charcoal notes that make what would be an otherwise smooth beer come out as very drying into the earthy end. It is a very robust beer, so much so that – combined with the abv – there is a spirity kind of blended whisky undertone. Odd as the beer is so smooth texture wise, but there are definite signs of the alcohol in there.

I haven’t ran into many earthy based BIPAs, so this gets points for doing that well, and the coffee is used well – so much so it seems to be basically coffee beer half the time. Overall though – it is only an ok beer to me, and in the market of Black IPAs which is filled with greats. I like that it is a different take on the style but it doesn’t really excite – it has a few notes it does well, but doesn’t really seem to expand out.

A solid well made beer, but nothing that declares it a must drink.

Background: Ok, erm, I just looked this up on rate beer and it is their #1 rated Black IPA. I swear I don’t just write these things to be controversial. Anyway, I picked this up from Brewdog’s Guest Beer section as I had heard a good buzz about it. Anyway this is a Black IPA brewed with coffee, and, according to rate beer – body salts. I have to admit I thought that was just a clever name. Anyway, drunk while listening to a bit of 8 bit zoo – a nice bit of cheery light heartedness to get over the fact I had basically just watched a vast amount of Marble Hornets and I kind of wanted to sleep at some point this lifetime.

Buxton Battle Horse

Buxton: Battle Horse (England: Black IPA: 10.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Moderate loose bubbled beige head.

Nose: Pine cones. Resin and grapefruit. Apple pie. Hops. Malt drinks and roasted character. Light coffee.

Body: Sweet into bitter chocolate. Milky back. Apples. Charring. Shortbread. Light medicinal touch and slight smoked bacon back. Big hop bitterness. Grapes and peach undertones. Thick. Resinous.

Finish: Bitter, big hop character and roasted nuts. Toffee chocolate malt drink. Hop oils. Light apples and apricot. Grapes. Light smokes. Light medicinal and smoke.

Conclusion: Ah, the huge abv black IPA, the ever reliable beer style to go to when you want a beer to kick your teeth in and make you like it.

This one doesn’t push any of the core elements of a black IPA ahead of any of the other, instead it just lounges happily across the various opportunities of the style.

If you can dig down deep enough then at its base it has stout like bitter chocolate that leads out into sweeter notes, soothed over by toffee malt drinks. Combined with the creamy and thick texture I have the feeling that it would be fairly solid even as just a beer in itself without the other elements.

But you do have to dig deep to get that base beer – moving through a standard (Well, high quality, but within the standard range of a BIPA) mix of big resin and hop oils bitter introduction – which calls to the root IPA style much more clearly than most BIPAs. The use of the initially light, but quickly growing fruit hop flavours are sharp and clear.

There are alcohol influenced harsher elements – a touch of medicinal and salt – along which a peaty whisky feeling smoky bacon thickness to the body. Somehow despite the intensity of those flavours they quickly fall behind the creamy body and the big fruit hops. Even more so than that the rougher roasted notes seem to soon fall by the wayside, only resurging to add texture to the finish to underline the beer experience.

So, this beer is genuinely good – starts ok, like a good Black IPA but without a stand out quirk. Then the beer builds up layer by layer – the hop flavour comes out as it warms, it is such a contrast to the base malt and the combination of the two show how a Black IPA can be the best of both worlds.

Intensely sweet, fruity yet roasted and bitter – it is a BIPA up there with Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. It takes longer to show its greatness than that beer, but hits the high notes in a fresher, more call to standard IPA way. get this beer.

Background: Buxton’s 100th brew, a double black IPA. Buxton have a great reputation, I’ve only had a couple of their beers though. not sure why, just never really got around to having more. Picked up from Independent Spirit. Drunk while listening to some Sabaton, mainly Coat Of Arms.

Shindigger Black IPA

Shindigger: Black IPA (England: Black IPA: 5.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thin grey brown bubbled head.

Nose: Almonds and peach. Caramel.

Body: Peach syrups and white grapes. Kiwi. Toffee and caramel. Light gritty hops. Brown bread. Malt chocolate. Rye spice.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Charring and some bitter hops. Bread. Kiwi. Light earthy and paprika spice.

Conclusion: This is a bit different from what I expected from a Black IPA – the hop bitterness is way down, but the beer instead pushes the fruity hop flavours way higher than I would expect from most examples of the style.

Because of that it is also much sweeter than most BIPAs – the base caramel and chocolate isn’t massive, but since it is comparatively unchallenged it seems much bigger. Also since the hop flavours tend towards the sweet peach and grapes it combines for a quite big sweet punch to the beer.

The only place you get the harsher elements is the finish, and for a big American hopped beer the hop influence in that finish feels very British. It is slightly earthy and spicy, not that interesting but it works effectively to underline the sweeter main experience.

It is not a bad beer, but it does seem to lack a little in weight. The hops don’t kick, the malt doesn’t push or sooth. It does have a good balance in its flavour, and a very different balance to most BIPAs. In some ways it leans towards a fruit hopped sweet stout in how it comes across, but it needs to do it a bit bigger. As it is it feels like a fruity sweet stout, but also feels like it could be something more with a bit more effort.

An understated BIPA, which is not something I ever expected to say. Nice start, but needs some work to be great.

Background: Not much to say on this one, saw it at Independent Spirit and heard a general buzz there about it being a good brewery so I grabbed a bottle. Drunk while listening to some Hayseed Dixie, had seen them live recently so put me back in the mood for it.

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