Snapshot: Black IPAs

Hopheads are turning to beer's new dark side.

"Black IPAs took one of the most popular beer styles, the IPA, and turned it on its ear," says Julia Herz, craft beer division director for the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, a non-profit organization to promote and protect the craft brewing industry.

The style is a variation of India Pale Ale, IPA for short, which is a light-hued, intensely bitter and assertively aromatic ale, originally designed by British brewers for export to its colonies, but now much embraced by American craft brewers and beer lovers alike. IPAs get their color from pale barley malt and characteristic bitterness and herbal aromas from lots and lots of hops, the flowers of a perennial bine (related, incidentally, to the cannabis family).

Black or Dark IPAs (as they're also termed) keep the hoppy bitterness and aroma but substitute dark malts for pale. Malted barley is toasted in kilns to develop dark color and roasty flavor. Dark roasted malts are commonly used to brew Stygian-hued stouts. Dark IPAs are a fascinating fusion of the two styles.

Added this year as a competitive category in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), American-Style India Black Ale attracted 53 entries—nearly a third of the entries drawn by the most popular category, IPAs.

"Dark IPAs are cutting edge, a new style getting a lot of play. It's indicative of what's going on in craft brewing today," says Herz. "There's more experimentation with ingredients, pushing the envelope and creating new styles."

Craft brewers around the country are experimenting with Black IPAs. Names are fanciful, formulas vary. Among the many examples are: 21st Amendment's Back in Black, Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, Widmer's Pitch Black and Victory's Yakima Twilight, to name just a few.

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