Tag Archive: Black IPA

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.

Brewdog To Øl Hardcore Maelk

Brewdog: To Øl: Hardcore Maelk (Denmark: Black IPA: 10.1% ABV)

Visual: Black. Good sized creamy brown head that leaves suds.

Nose: Grapes. Champagne. Light spritzy apple juice. Vanilla slice. Light hoppiness. Gooseberry. Slight gin.

Body: Milk chocolate. Apple spritzer. Whisky infused sponge. Gooseberry. White wine. Light roasted back. Cherries. Creamy texture. Light milk coffee notes. Some bitterness.

Finish: Bourbon. Rye crackers. Apples. Elderberry. Gin. Pineapple. Light but rising bitter chocolate. Cognac.

Conclusion: Ok, not what I expected. At all. It is a dark beer. A very dark beer. I know it is half IIPA, but it is still half Imperial Stout. Yet what I get first is tastes like apples and elderberry mixed in with white wine. The fuck? Now I know what an IPA stout mix is, but I have never experienced one that comes through so fruity and fresh.

Behind that fresh fruit comes the more expected dark beer notes that show through with dark and velvety chocolate. It is a beer that suits perfectly being chilled down, where all those lovely fresh notes comes out, then being allowed to warm with dark rich fruit, cognac and chocolate. Even as it warms it shifts back and forth, allowing different elements to come to the fore – at times fresh and spritzy with hop notes, and at others dark and rich.

It is a lovely blend of hops and malt, making for a rich complex ale. Through that you get the feeling it has been soaked through in spirit like a tiramisu base – the balance is impeccable. By the end of the beer you are steeped in classy cognac notes, and quality chocolate delights – the elements before having built to this crescendo, which soothes you down after that high, relaxing from the fresh hops and fruit. This is a beer that is not just good in individual moments but throughout a well progressed life-cycle.

Utter class, in a glass.

Background: A mix of Hardcore IPA and Jule Maelk aged in whisky barrels. Before I had broken it open I was already hearing a positive buzz about it. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This was drunk while having a pre Christmas catch up with friends. This should be going up on Christmas day, so hope everyone is having a great time. This mix of IPA and stout is often called a black and tan in the USA, it is sometimes called that in England, but less so, and never in Ireland. Because over here Black and Tan was also the name of a British quasi military group used in Ireland which, well, performed a shitload of atrocities. Never order a Black and Tan in Ireland. This was a public service announcement.

Brewdog Pressure Drop Syd Strongs

Brewdog: Pressure Drop: Syd Strong’s (England: Black IPA: 7.1 % ABV)

Visual: Black. Inch of tight bubbled brown froth.

Nose: Rye spice. Pineapple. Brown bread. Paprika. Resin and white grapes. Elderberry.

Body: Gooseberry jam. Dried beef. Smoke. Rye spice. Vanilla. Malt chocolate. Nicely bitter.

Finish: Bitter hops and charring. malt drinks. Dried beef. Light vanilla toffee.

Conclusion: This is a dangerously easy going 7.1% ABV, and a pretty good Black IPA along with that. I wonder if the two elements are linked? It has got a smooth texture, with a nicely rising bitterness against softening jamminess that brings a dose of hop fruitiness with it. Despite the big flavours within the beer just slides down. Admittedly it is no Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, but then again what is?

Apart from Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, obviously.

The rye influence is subtle, adding a light spiciness to an already big beer, but it is more used to accentuate rather than dominate the beer. Which I approve. Big rye fans may disagree, but I feel the lighter touch works well here, it never disrupts the smoothness of texture, just gives a bit of extra pep and kick.

The main body, behind the weight, is actually quite restrained. There is chocolate, which is a great base to work from, but such is the weight of the other flavours that it is never more than a background note. Still well done when you see it.

Overall, while not the best, this is a very solid entry in the BIPA range, and has its own style in what can oft be a field of closely linked high end clones of each other.

A welcome brew.

Background: A Black Rye IPA and beer number, erm, 14 I think in Collabfest 2014. This was the last beer of day two as I was taking it quite easy by this point. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer.

Brewdog Quantum Hop Kettle Black

Brewdog: Quantum: Hop. Kettle. Black. (England: Black IPA: 4.8% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Loose bubbled small brown head.

Nose: Roasted. Hoppy. Lime. Rye crackers and spice. Beef stew. Brown bread. Smoke.

Body: Bitter. Malt chocolate. Roasted character and hoppy. Lime sorbet notes and kiwi. Pepper. Muesli and chocolate.

Finish: Roasted. Mild bitter chocolate and malt drinks. Wheat. Bitter coffee.

Conclusion: Ok, looking for a word. Standard is definitely not the word I am looking for here. This is also not just interesting, though it is that. It is almost the blueprint for a very good beer that is yet to come, while not quite yet being that ale.

That is the conundrum I have here. It is an odd style it defines for itself, but yet, despite being the innovator it feels like it isn’t taking full advantage of the potential it is setting in play. Does that make sense?

It has the wheat character from, well, a wheat beer – the bitterness and hops of a black IPA, and roasted with it, the dark malt characteristics of a dunkel, lots going in. Yet, when combined, if feels like it is only taking the base elements of each style to combine them, not the heights and twists they can bring.

Which brings me back to the word I am looking for, which is not “Standard” – this beer definitely is not standard, but it combines the standard of each of the styles that created it. It is an interesting and enjoyable roasted bitter wheat beer, but doesn’t really shine. It feels like it could be much more. A solid base for others to build upon.

Background: Beer style, is it a black IPA? I will admit I am kind of throwing my hands up in the air and going with rate beer here. Officially it is a Hopfenschwarzweisse (Hoppy Black Wheat Beer). So, erm, yeah I’m not making a category of one for that, and yeah a dark hoppy roasted beer. Kind of BIPA like. Anyway, beer five of COLLABFEST! As mentioned a Brewdog bar event where each bar teamed up with a brewery to make a new beer, and each trying to outdo each other in weirdness. Sixteen new beers. This will hurt.

Brewdog Cap - Cap Dog

Brewdog: CAP: Cap Dog (Scotland: BIPA: 9% ABV)

Visual: Black, with very dark red hints if held to the light. Inch of charcoal dashed brown frothy head.

Nose: Ash. Bitterness and hops. Smoked dried beef and peppercorn. Light kumquat touch.

Body: Good bitterness. Smoked bacon. Peppercorn sauce. Treacle into chocolate syrup. Sour cream twist and chives.

Finish: Peppercorn sauce. Steak. Bitter malt chocolate. Ice cream chocolate syrup. Digestives

Conclusion: You know, I was beginning to get disillusioned with Black IPAs. Ok, that is a lie, or at least disillusioned is the wrong word. Maybe more I was getting worn out by them. While they were generally high quality, the range of takes you got seemed very small compared to IPAs. So many did such similar hop kicks, possibly because fewer hops worked well against the darker malt.

This then, is interesting – the hop bitterness is there, with that prickly hop feel, but the flavour of the beer, the base it works from, is much more towards the malt. It is more meaty, and more a mix of treacle and smoke than it is the hop flavours. It wavers precariously close to the stout styling, which admittedly is a style BIPAs are often not entirely far from, but here it really lets go with the syrup texture, and the sweet touch against the raw hop bitterness.

However, make no mistake, this is definitely a BIPA. Here is that different, drier, mouthfeel, and the bitterness. You can’t mistake it for anything else, but it does seem to trust the hops to be needed primarily as a bittering agent, so to create the spirit of an IPA, then let the malt handle the complexity.

It seems like it should be rough – it has bitter hops, smoked meat, and a slight sour twist. So, it should be rough, but is smooth – the texture may be slightly dry as to be drinkable, but they lace it with touches of syrup sweetness that brings a smooth feel with it. A contradiction? Maybe, but then so is the idea of a Black Pale Ale, so I’ll roll with it. This embraces the contradiction and makes it work for it. It is about how it feels as much as how it tastes – dry up front, prickly as it goes down, seeps onto the tongue and then rises into a smoked air. The flavours are simpler than most, but still the beer manages to have character with those textures.

So, definitely something different and something quality. A very good BIPA.

Background: Yes I’m still listening to the Guilty Gear XX soundtrack while doing beer reviews. That stuff is serious pumped up 80’s style rock. Anyway. Beer. This is a collaboration with CAP. Shocking I know, or Curious Audacious Products, as it goes. CAP was one of the first two Breweries to benefit from the “Brewdog Development Fund” which is cool. This is a black IPA made with Coffee Berry. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Hoppy Feet
Clown Shoes: Hoppy Feet (USA: Black IPA: 7% ABV)

Visual: Black. Inch of chocolate ice cream froth. Looks like a still coke float.

Nose: Bitter chocolate dust. Vanilla chocolate. Custard. Wheaty hops. Milky coffee and milk. Choc orange. Hop oils. Vanilla fudge.

Body: Good bitterness. Treacle. Kumquat. Chocolate ice cream. Rough hop feels in the centre, smooth at the edges. Coffee. Condensed cream. Roasted notes.

Finish: Kiwi. Bitter. Chunk of hop feel. Bitter cocoa. Long lasting growling bitterness and charring. Passion fruit. Earthy.

Conclusion: There is a always a balance to be brokered with Black IPAs. What is gained from the hops pitted against what is contributed by the malt. On first impressions I would say that the seesaw of balance has plopped down pretty heavily on the malt side of things.

That isn’t to say it lacks hops. Well, mostly not. I will get back to that. This thing has a bracingly bitter finish, very long lasting and kicking. Before that you get a hop oil layer brought down upon the body, with a lighter, but still present bitterness. So, lots of hop bitterness, but not much of the hop flavour. You get a touch of earthy character, maybe a small amount of fruit around the edges, but for the most part the hops seem to be just dedicated to the bitterness.

The malt on the other hand, well I’m guessing it brings the full chocolaty taste, the milky character, and the fudge notes. Lots of smooth condensed cream like sweetness as well. It is a weird clash of texture, the bitter core feels rough, but the rest of the beer is very creamy.

So, anyway, back to the “Mostly not”. The malt does have a huge influence, which means that the bitterness in the aroma is very muted, and while you get the hop oils late on in the body, the early part tends to be dominated by the rising sweetness. This can lead to the beer tasting like a hoppy stout rather than a black IPA at times. It needs a bit more give and take between the two halves.

Now, the resulting beer holds your attention, but oddly, despite the bitterness. It doesn’t feel like a hop head’s drink. and I would know, I am a hop head.

It is a solid beer, and that finish is bitter as hell, but it seems to lack the wow or range of the great Black IPAs. They have the malt down perfect and the chocolate and toffee flavours are delivered in a luxurious fashion. It just needs a but more flavour rather than just bitterness from the hops.

Still not bad, but Black IPA is where so many beers soar, so the competition is harsh, and this just doesn’t measure up.

Background: This is the second time I have typed up this review. The first time I did it was just before I tried to play watch dogs. The game crashed, and crashed so badly that I had to restore from system image as windows would no longer boot. Thankfully I back up regularly so all I lost was that review. Watchdogs is bugged to shit. Ironically, this beer was first drunk while setting up that self same computer as I’ve invested in a new box. Anyway, I have heard good things about Clown Shoes, and I decided to give them a try. Playing it safe I went with their black IPA, a beer style that has rarely been done badly in my experience. Drunk while listening to Metallica: Justice for all. Because some times you just feel like some classic metal.

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