If you’re like me, it’s easy to get stuck trying to find new beers. Part of you wants that delicious blend of sweet, creamy, roasted malts you find in heavy beers like stouts or porters, but the other half wants the clean, aromatic kick you get out of a great IPA. It’s a tough decision. Lucky for us, brewers across the globe have concocted a type of beer that allows you to have both: the Black IPA. These beers tend to fly under the radar for most folks, but they also provide some of the best and most complex drinking experiences available.
Just like any other beer, Black IPAs have a few hallmarks that are consistent throughout the genre. Their colors range from a deep mahogany to a completely opaque jet-black. Their grain profiles range between sweet and lightly toasted to a deep roast with touches of coffee and vanilla. In addition, these beers always sport a hearty hopping, typically of the American variety. The mouthfeel is usually quite dry; consistent with most IPAs. They are truly a magical experience, presenting a full-bodied malt; a distinct, flowery aroma; and kick of a good, old-fashioned hopping. Now that you have a brief introduction, let’s get down to business.
First up for my more focused study is the Grainstorm from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, Miss. A member of their legendary Smokestack Series, the Grainstorm is an exceptional brew and a perfect example of what a Black IPA should be. It pours jet black, so dark I couldn’t see the anything when I held my glass up to the sun. A stormy, caramel cloud of bubbles quickly rises to form a robust and persistent head. The off-white head lasted for the entire tasting, leaving me with a deliciously thick, beverage-induced mustache. I noticed new flavors in almost every sip. Grainstorm’s velvety, roasted flavor complements a soft, grainy taste that results from its bottle-conditioned nature. The nose had hints of citrus and reminded me of an open field of flowers—perfect for springtime sippin’. The Grainstorm doesn’t disappoint, a balanced onslaught of complex flavor worthy of anyone’s palate.
Next up is the Wookey Jack from Firestone Walker out of southern California. Like the bottle-conditioned Grainstorm, the Wookey is unfiltered, leaving just a tad of sediment at the bottom of each bottle and retaining all the texture and flavor accrued in the mash-tun. The Wookey is equally dark and foreboding – a beer to be reckoned with. Again, a persistent, caramel-colored head lasted throughout the drinking process. This beer had a slight nuttiness in addition to the heavy roast and vanilla flavors. The flavor of the hops steadily crescendoed until the malt flavors were gone and I was left with that slightly bitter, dry-mouth feel that leaves you wanting another taste. While gnarly and intimidating on the outside, this brew is refined and inviting on the inside – and won the gold medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.
Finally, a Colorado native: the Mountain Standard by Odell’s in Fort Collins. This is one of my all-time favorite beers and the only one of these three to be sold in a four-pack. Mountain Standard is a seasonal beer, released in late fall of each year, as we wind the clocks back for daylight savings. The Standard pours a slightly lighter color than the Wookey or Grainstorm, with a red-hue towards the bottom of the glass. The Mountain Standard’s more assertive hop profile underscores the fact that these hops are picked each year on the Western Slope – just a few hours drive away from CC. The flavor balance of the Mountain Standard sets it apart from the Wookey and Grainstorm, and makes it my favorite for this review. The Wookey and Grainstorm have a touch of hops towards the end, but this beer is closer to half and half – a true split of the stout and IPA that plays to the strengths of the Black IPAs. Odell’s has concocted a perfect blend of stouts and IPAs that satisfies lovers of both types. If you haven’t already, get out there and try a Black IPA for yourself – you may just find the solution to that age-old dilemma.