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?