CDA Week: The style, the name

Cascadian Dark Ale WeekSo some of you might be wondering, “Just what is this ‘Cascadian Dark Ale’ anyway?” Well, there’s a couple of ways to answer this. First, let’s get an overview of the style… although that gets into the name issue as well.

In a soundbite, the style is a “Black IPA” (forget for a moment that “IPA” is short for India Pale Ale). Think of taking something like a Schwarzbier or a Porter and hopping it to American IPA levels… or conversely, taking an American IPA and adding dark malts for the color and roasty/chocolate flavors.

It’s a fairly new style—brewers have only been producing it commercially for the past several years—but interestingly, for such a new (young) style, it was this year “officially” noted as a style by the Brewers Association guidelines:

American-style India black ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.
Original Gravity (ºPlato) 1.056-1.075 (14-18.2 ºPlato) ● Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato) 1.012-1.018 (3-4.5 ºPlato) ● Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5-6% (6 -7.5%) ● Bitterness (IBU) 50-70 ● Color SRM (EBC) 25+ (50+ EBC)

The trick to the style is getting the dark malts and the copious amounts of hops to essentially not clash—no easy feat considering the high degree of astringency and burnt characters that many roasted malts exhibit do not pair well with strong hops. It’s a balancing act that’s tricky to get right, as Deschutes Brewery can attest—they experimented with something like 22 recipes before settling on their interpretation of the style coming out soon (their Hop in the Dark CDA).

So what about this name? Black IPA? India Black Ale? Cascadian Dark Ale? There’s a movement here in the Pacific Northwest to name the style—you guessed it—the latter, for reasons other bloggers have already enumerated much better than I could myself: Lisa Morrison published a well-rounded article highlighting the issues, and Ezra over at The New School put forth a persuasive article advocating the CDA name not long ago as well.

The gist: “Black IPA” is an oxymoron, “India Black Ale” only makes sense in the context of IPA (and “IBA” and “IPA” might be confusingly similar when spoken aloud), and “Cascadian Dark Ale” best describes the beer in context of it’s style and where it has been really taking off (as well as a tip of the hat to the prototypical American hop, Cascade, which is what a lot of American IPAs were built on).

Obviously I’m in the “Cascadian” camp, but I’m certainly not above going with the other names if it helps get a point across.

Though I don’t know that I would go with the Brewers Association guidelines name of “American-Style India Black Ale”; doesn’t that imply that there is a non-American style of India Black Ale?

4 Responses to CDA Week: The style, the name

  1. BrewDog Bashah, a black IPA brewed with Stone with Belgian yeast, a non-American India Black Ale ;)

  2. Jon says:

    Though technically they’re calling that a “Black Belgian Double IPA.” I don’t think that really applies here. :)

  3. dave says:

    I actually think the Brewers Association name of “American-Style India Black Ale” is the way to go. The Brewers Association name is a forward thinking name. Sure there is currently no non-American India Black Ale, but due to the pace of beer progression, it is not hard to believe that in the future (one, five, ten, plus years from now) there will be one. (I believe Basha would qualify as a “Begian-Style Imperial or Double India Black Ale”.) Also thinking ahead, what if an American Mid-Western brewer comes up with a Black IPA that has American hops, and has the “stylistic American hoppyness”, but does not utilize Cascade hops? Would that still qualify as a Cascadian Dark Ale? Or would another style have to be designated?

    Also the whole Cascadian Dark Ale sounds very “wine-esque” to me. Are we going to follow the route of Champagne (only Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France, the rest is sparkling white wine) and start micro-region-ing all new beer styles due to where they were first popularized (I can only imagine the beer geek fights now… “that isn’t a real Cascadian Dark Ale b/c it is not made in the Cascades!” ) ? (I realize certain styles, especially German, deal with region, but that was before beers could be shipped around the world and still retain most of their flavor (I also realize getting a beer from its source is always best, though not always possible).) Or start naming beer styles by the predominant variety of ingredient used (“no this isn’t a weisse beer, it is a Sinton beer” … from a quick google Sinton is a heritage wheat variety still grown, not sure if this is actually brewable, it is just an example)? It seems all of that would make the styles needlessly complex.

  4. Jon says:

    Dave, good comments. I will point out that brewing with Cascade hops isn’t any kind of requirement for the style, but it is I believe an homage (I did write “tip of the hat” to Cascade hops in the post)—but keep in mind that “Cascadian” and “Cascadia” actually refer more to the region of the Pacific Northwest (think “Cascade Mountains”) where the style seems to be taking a strong hold.

    So I don’t see any problem with calling it a CDA as long as it has “IPA levels” of hops to it, regardless of what hops are used.

    And, I don’t see any more regionalism (or “wine-esqueness”) with calling these “Cascadian,” any more than any other beer style named after a specific region: Pilsners from Pilsen in the Czech Republic, California Common beers, Scotch and Scottish Ales from Scotland, or any of the German beers (Berliner Weisse, Dortmunder, Munich Dunkel, etc.). It would just be silly to say a Pilsner isn’t really a Pilsner because it wasn’t brewed in the Czech Republic. If we can all get along with those regional-specific names, where’s the love? :)