Make Your Best Black IPA
The Black IPA is a relatively new style of IPA borne of several well-loved styles of beer. Josh Weikert walks you through the ins and outs of this style so you can make it your best!
“I challenge you to a duel.”
In my club, the Stoney Creek Homebrewers, these are serious words: they formally begin a brew-off. Any member can issue the challenge, and the challenged member must accept if (s)he isn’t currently engaged in a duel. Our duels have included things such as a Tamarind Witbier duel, a Baltic Porter Three-Way duel (which sounds a lot better than it was), and a Malt Liquor duel that yielded what I’ve come to call my “Dr. Frankenstein’s Malt Schnapps” (and, yes, it’s pronounced “Frahn-ken-shteen”), a 10 percent ABV brown sugar−fueled monster. At the end of the year, the two or three members with the best duel “win-loss” record enter a final “Duel Master Challenge” duel, and the membership picks the beer to be brewed. This year, it was Black IPA—and this is the recipe that won me a trophy with handles made from double-barreled shotguns (see “In Closing”).
Some people—okay, I—have complained in the past that “Black IPA” isn’t really a style. I’ve accused it of being a beer style masquerading as new, but that’s really just reflecting versions of robust porter, American stout, and/or American brown ale. While I stand by that assertion in principle, in reality, I do recognize that it’s not unique in that regard (lots of beers fit in more than one style) and that the marketplace and homebrewers have made it real. Black IPA, if nothing else, clarifies those other styles and creates a place for the hoppier and/or darker versions of them to land, so it does serve a purpose. And I was being forced to make one.
Long story short: this is a dark ale, usually of fairly modest strength (6−7 percent ABV), that features significant hops bitterness (more than 50 IBUs) and medium-to-high hops flavor/aroma, but not overly aggressive roast. The challenge (to you, and to me) is in finding the right volume and balance of these flavors, so like a lot of beer styles, it’s simple…but complicated.
We want lots of malt flavor, but not a lot of roast, so this grist is a little unconventional for a “black” beer (it’s much more like a Schwarzbier than a stout). Start with 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of Maris Otter (love that biscuit), then add one pound (454 g) each of Munich, rye malt, crystal rye, Carafa III, and flaked barley. The Munich is a nice complement to the Maris, while the rye and crystal rye add some spice and toffee flavors. The Carafa III adds a bit of “dark” flavor (some chocolate), and the flaked barley promotes head retention and adds smoothness to the mouthfeel. In fact, this whole grist says “smooth.” Note that the rye and Carafa malts are all huskless, which will reduce any potential astringency. One last addition, if you like, is 4−8 ounces (113–227 g)—depending on your preference—of Midnight Wheat, for color. You could also get there by increasing the Carafa III, but I don’t like the risk of an overly oily feel (which I sometimes notice in beers heavy in the darker Carafa malts); you could also add a small addition of Black Patent, roasted barley, or other conventional chocolate malts, but those seem risky if we want to avoid acrid roast. Even the pale chocolates can create a distinct roasted-coffee flavor. And so, for me, it’s Midnight Wheat. Your OG should be in the 1.070 realm.
Now for the fun stuff: hops. This beer is a showcase of Citra and Amarillo, and they go in late. Add 1.5 ounces (42 g) of each at 20 minutes, then an ounce (28 g) of each at flame-out/whirlpool. That should get you to about 62 IBUs. Then, post-fermentation, add an additional ounce (28 g) of each, wait three days, add another ounce (28 g) of each, and wait four days, then cold-crash and package.
We had only six weeks to brew our duel beers, and I asked my friend, who has more experience with hoppy beers than I do, “I want a clean fermentation, but I don’t have time to lager, and I don’t like the super-clean American Ale yeasts―what can I do?” (S)he (no names, to protect the innocent) recommended Wyeast 1098 (British Ale). It worked beautifully—quick and clean finish, a reasonable level of flocculation, with a crisp-but-not-naked flavor.
At the top, it’s the usual mash, boil, chill, oxygenate, and pitch. Then it’s time to ferment! I always say this—because I think it protects us from all kinds of bad things in brewing—but don’t ferment this beer too warm. Although you might get a bit of ester out of your yeast, it hardly seems worth the risk of heat-induced off-flavors when the goal is a hops-forward beer that won’t show off the esters but will be wrecked by “hot” flavors. Save the heat for your saisons. This one ferments out within 2 weeks at 64°F (18°C), and then it’s time to dry hop!
I just dump my pellet hops directly into the fermentor and let them float on top, then rack from underneath whichever few don’t drop to the bottom at cold-crashing time. I did notice a little touch of diacetyl (an artifact of the British yeast or the semi-rushed fermentation, or both), but it actually added a nice softening element in the flavor and helped prevent it from being too biting or roasty. If you’re particularly sensitive to diacetyl, maybe add a diacetyl rest (a 3−4°F/1−2°C increase in the temperature), just before dry-hopping.
This beer definitely shouts, “hoppy!” The nice part is that as it ages, this will become a bit more muted, so for a hoppy beer, it should be quite persistent. I’ve set aside a few bottles to enjoy after some cellaring (6−12 months). This beer faced stern competition in that final duel, but the hops carried it through to the win. And, in the spirit of the SCH duel…consider yourself challenged.