The Cascadian Dark Ale, also known as a Black IPA or an India Black Ale, is a style of beer recently growing in popularity. The region of Cascadia refers to the area of North America housing the Cascade mountain range--from Canada down through Washington, Oregon, Western Idaho, and Northern California.
While the debate rages on about who first invented the Black IPA style, brewers from the Cascade region were the first ones to submit the Cascadian Dark Ale to the Brewer's Association as a new category at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The Brewer's Association approved their request, but changed the name to American-Style India Black Ale, so as not to discourage brewers from other regions than Cascadia. Notable versions of the Cascadian Dark Ale include Deschutes Brewery's Hop in the Dark and Widmer Brothers Brewery's Black IPA, while the winner of the category from this years' GABF was New Glarus Brewing Co.'s Blacktop IPA.
But what makes this beer so different, you ask? It is pretty much a combination of the classic IPA style with the Porter or Stout variety, the Black IPA landing somewhere in the middle. Black IPAs use the same bittering, flavor, and aroma hops as classic IPAs, which characteristically have pine, resin, and citrus notes. However, unlike classic IPAs, the use of darker malts brings more of a mouth-feel to the beer and provides a smoother texture.
That's not to say that the malts used are the same as those used with Porters and Stouts, which have a burnt or roasted quality to them. The Black IPA uses black malts that aren't roasted, so that this burnt quality doesn't show up. Generally, the rule is that if you close your eyes while drinking a Black IPA, you shouldn't be able to tell that there are black malts used--they just provide a smoothness not present in classic IPAs. One other key difference involves the dryness of the finish. Classic IPAs usually have a very dry finish, while Porters and Stouts can be sweet, semi-sweet, or dry.
The Black IPA generally has a finish that is more dry than traditional Porters and Stouts, but with less astringency and more of a sweetness than classic IPAs. LIke I said, the Black IPA generally falls somewhere in the middle between a classic IPA and a Porter or Stout.
This style is my absolute favorite--a combination of the best of both worlds. At first sip, the dark malts and creamy head provide the substance and smooth texture that I love about Stouts. As I continue to drink, the hops provide a flavorful punch in aroma and flavor. Finally, the light dry finish provides a crisp mouth-feel that keeps me drinking. If you have not yet tasted one of these precious gems of craft breweries, Deschutes Brewery's Hop in the Dark is widely available in 22 oz bottles.
If you live in on the Eastern half of the United States, don't worry. Due to the popularity of this new style, Black IPAs are popping up all across the country. So find your local brewery and find out what the West Coast is clamoring about.