You've all heard the term black IPA. It's pretty common these days. Just hearing the name, you pretty much know what to expect, and there are many great examples that live up to those expectations. But there is another style that is often confused with black IPA. It's not as well known, but it's the style from which black IPA originated. It tends to be a bit more balanced and complex and is viewed by many as being a superior brew. Even the name sounds more awesome - Cascadian Dark Ale.
Deschutes Brewery's Hop in the Dark is an excellent example of the CDA style. It's got a huge grain bill that includes pale, crystal, chocolate and black malt, as well as chocolate wheat and flaked and toasted oats which not only impart their toasty flavors but also help create a smooth, creamy body and mouthfeel. The blend of six hops adds a nice burst of pine and citrus, and you get notes of chocolate and coffee towards the end. The body is surprisingly light, and it finishes semi-dry. It's a delicious beer, with all the flavors that a Cascadian Dark Ale should have. I picked this up at Saraveza Bottle Shop in Portland, OR. Deschutes doesn't distribute any farther East than Missouri right now, but if you want to try something similar check out Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, which you can find almost anywhere.
Black IPA vs. Cascadian Dark Ale
The idea of making darker versions of traditionally lighter-colored styles isn't new, but when it comes to Cascadian Dark Ale, there's no doubt that West Coast brewers embraced the idea and pioneered something unique despite its ties to other styles. The term black IPA gets used pretty often, but the name is not interchangeable with CDA. In many cases, black IPA is as simple as what the name implies; an IPA that's black in color. The right amount of black or chocolate malt can darken any beer without drastically changing the flavor. And so it is that some, but not all black IPA's miss out on the deeper flavors of CDA.
Cascadian Dark Ale should be characterized by medium to strong dark roasted malt flavors including caramel, chocolate and coffee, balanced by a prominent Northwest hop presence in aroma, flavor and bitterness. That's really the key; the hops. You'll see lots of Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, Nugget and Simcoe used, and possibly several others. Black IPA does not require the same malt flavors or hops to be used, and that's where the two styles become distinct. Both Cascadian Dark Ale and black IPA were recognized as part of a new category, American-style India Black Ale at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. The name is a little ambiguous, but they needed something that would include both styles but not pinpoint one in particular. There's still a bit of gray area, but once you try a few of each kind you'll start to notice the differences.
And while we're on the subject of things that aren't normally black, you can also check out the Heavy Seas/Devil's Backbone Land Ho! collaboration, or BrewDog/Cambridge/Stone Juxtaposition, which are both referred to as "black pilsners", otherwise known as Schwarzbier in traditional terminology. Ah, semantics...