Craft Beer: What's the difference between a black IPA and a stout?

Sierra Nevada's Blindfold is a good example of a Cascadian Dark Ale
Paul McConville

WHAT'S in a name? There is a school of thought which suggests that brewers should brew beers not styles. Indeed, defining a beer is a much less enjoyable pursuit than actually drinking it and seeing for yourself what's going on.

But sometimes it can depend on what you're in the mood for or what time of year it is – as a general rule of thumb for me, it's dark ales and stouts in the autumn/winter and, when the sun is high in spring and summer, all pale ales and IPAs (with the occasional lager if I'm really stuck).

So what to make of the beer connoisseur's head scratcher that is the black IPA? Well, for a start, the first mistake to make is assume that everything that dark is a porter. And yet, many brewers of black IPAs intentionally cram it with the dark, roasted malt which characterises a stout. The difference is they also pile on the hops later on, which results in the more the familiar fruity and bitter taste of an IPA.

Modern craft brewing is all about innovation so it's no surprise to see brewers experiment with crossover styles, but where many seem to find this style tricky is naming it. You'll often see a black IPA referred to as a Cascadian Dark Ale as it follows a style that originated in the Cascadia region, which takes in parts of the north-west United States and part of Canada.

Blindfold, by Sierra Nevada, is a good example of a Cascadian Dark Ale. It weighs in at 6.8 per cent abv and 70 IBUs, so is a fairly hoppy, bitter version of a black IPA.

Closer to home, Blacks of Kinsale (the name is merely a coincidence) have a lovely, accessible black IPA in their roster.

It's not as far along the bitterness scale as our Californian friend, coming in around 45 IBUs and is an almost sessionable 5 per cent.

For me, it's the best of both worlds. It fronts up with all that malty, roastiness, with a hint of chocolate, that you get from a stout before giving way to peachy, grapefruit flavour of an IPA and the familiar dry bitter finish.

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