India Black Ale/Cascadian Dark Ale

One of the discussions flying around homebrewing and to an extent the craft beer world is how to define a beer that is dark in color (but not roasty in flavor) and heavy in hops. A few names thrown around have been India Black Ale, Black IPA, and Cascadian Dark Ale. Two of the beers that fall into this seemingly black hole of styles are Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous and Victory’s Yakima Twilight.The characteristics of these beers are exactly what seemingly would be implied by the name. The flavor and balance of an India Pale Ale with a dark or black appearance. The questions being discussed are two-fold. First, how should the style be defined/name? Secondly, should this be a new style as recognized by the BJCP or should these beers be relegated to the infamous “Category 23?”

Now before I get started I do want to say in full disclosure that I have not tried a beer that falls into the India Black Ale/Cascadian Dark Ale style. I mean to try one and will eventually, but I keep forgetting to pick one up when out.

My feelings in the matter are that in the craft beer and homebrewing worlds are becoming too style/category obsessed. Now don’t get me wrong, I love styles as they give the drinker an idea of what they will be drinking before hand, but I think the benefit of most styles is that they are vague enough to allow for broad interpretations within the style. The problem I see of late is that we are trying shrink the guidelines and make them too specific. This is my major problem with the term Cascadian Dark Ale. In my understanding of the style when defined as a Cascadian Dark Ale is too specific namely the requirement to only use PNW hops. What if I want to use English hops or maybe German Noble hops? Do those deserve their own styles as well? I think that the style really should be more open to interpretation by the brewer and thus the term I like is India Black Ale. If you talk with most craft beer drinks the term “India” will almost always be associated with heavy hops and “Black” differentiates this style from their “Pale” cousins.

I think the question of whether should this be a recognized style is not an easy question to answer as both sides have legitimate arguments. The best answer that I have seen is to add a “catch-all” sub-category to the India Pale Ale category called Specialty-IPA. This sub-category would include India Brown Ales, India Black Ales, Cascadian Dark Ales, Oak Aged IPAs, etc. I think this is the best compromise between the two positions.

Overall, I love the idea of India Black Ales. I think that one of the great things about craft beer is that brewers are always pushing outside the established categories of beer. The questions here are not a question of the beer, but rather a question of how specific style guidelines should be. I love the style and I can’t wait to get my hands on one, but I really think that craft beer does not need to sub-style every different trend in brewing.

Cheers!

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