Wednesday, March 6, 2013

American Black Ale (Black IPA) Tasting Notes

Even though I can drink, and even enjoy, a well-made American Black Ale (Cascadian Dark Ale, Black IPA, etc.), it's a rare day that I order one given a number of options to choose from. I find myself picking a quaffable APA/IPA if I am in the mood for hops, or selecting a porter/stout if I'm craving a dark, malt-driven beer. Roasted malts and hop aroma/flavors can be made to work together, but the whole isn't necessarily better than the sum of its parts.

Here are tasting notes from my American Black Ale that had 17 oz of hops in the flameout and whirlpool, and another 14 oz of dry hops. The recipe was designed as a 12 gallon batch, but I only netted about 9 gallons of beer, thanks to those thirsty hops.

My goal was to make an American Black Ale that accentuated the hop characteristics and downplayed the dark malts as much as possible. For the recipe, read the original post. Here's how my version turned out:


It pours from the tap with frothy, cappuccino-like head that fills half the glass and then persists for over 10 minutes, leaving behind sticky tan lacing and a thick ring of foam that persists until the glass is empty. The beer is deep brown to black. When held up to a light it remains opaque except for a reflection that makes its way through the bottom of the glass, highlighting the beer's clarity. I don't typically think of dark beers in terms of their haziness, but this beer has none.


Even after 2-1/2 months in the keg, a big hop presence leads the way, first with pine and cedar, then followed quickly with orange rind, dank and catty notes. Getting past the hops, a hint of fruity dark chocolate is present, but I'm reaching for it. The color makes me look for aroma characteristics that correspond to a dark beer. No sign of roast or toast in the nose.


Bright citrus hops are the first thing coating the front and sides of the tongue, followed by a flavor that I can only describe as reminiscent of a dark chocolate bar infused with pieces of orange. There's a lingering bitterness (more than I care for).


Medium body and dry, with a slightly oily presence, which I'm assuming is from the massive amount of late addition hops in the recipe. The hops cling to the back of the tongue, leaving behind a lingering dry astringency that substantially adds to the perceived bitterness. 

Overall Impressions/Final Thoughts

For the style, I'm happy with how this beer turned out. There is more hop aroma wafting out of the glass than I have ever encountered in an American Black Ale. The Midnight Wheat has done its job in adding color while contributing little to no roasted malt flavor. It still provides some dark chocolate undertones, but they are more muted than the commercial examples of the style that I have tried.

If it is possible to go overboard with hops, this recipe is living proof of it. Changes I would consider for the next attempt would be to reduce the total volume of hops (0.75-1.0 oz/gal), raise the original gravity (1.077-1.085), or both. The malt balance is great, but the astringency on the finish contributed from polyphenols in the hops is a bit over-the-top for my taste for a beer of this gravity.