What Is a Black IPA Beer (and Is It Still Here)?

If your first guess was a dark beer, you’re not wrong. A Black IPA is a dark beer with the hoppiness similar to a light American IPA with toast, light chocolate, or coffee notes.
What Is a Black IPA Beer?

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Some even described a Black IPA to have a piney, forest fire flavor.

But the biggest question of all is, is it still here? And how can you tell it’s a black IPA apart from the label? This guide will tell you everything you need to know about Black IPA and more.

What Does Black IPA Mean?

How is a pale ale black? Your mind must be playing tricks on you. It’s not every day you order an IPA and expect to see a dark brown to black bodied beer.

Insult to IPA, perhaps? Not quite. Although, some would agree.

The reason behind a Black IPAs dark color is the type of malt used. As you’ll find out later below, some of the malts used to brew a Black IPA are Caramunich malts and dark grain malts like chocolate and black malt.

What Kind of Beer Is Black IPA?

Black IPAs belong to the long list of India Pale Ales, and they closely resemble West Coast IPAs. Unlike traditional IPAs, a Black IPA isn’t as bitter or hoppy. You won’t notice a lot of floral notes either.

It’s not wrong to think that a Black IPA still has hop characteristics present, but it’s not super hoppy either.

Is a Black IPA a Stout?

It’s important to remember that what makes a Stout shine is the presence of roasted malts in it, and not the hoppiness of the beer.

Although Black IPAs share a similar appearance as Stouts or Porters, it’s a mistake to think that everything dark is a Porter or Stout.

Another important detail of what sets a Black IPA apart from a Stout is mouthfeel. Stouts have the thickest mouthfeel. Compare that to a Black IPA and its mouthfeel is a lot thinner.

Finally, the flavor of a Black IPA compared to a Stout has noticeable taste differences. Stouts have semisweet malty flavors with some nuttiness, while Black IPAs have piney hop flavors with a dry, bitter finish.

What Makes It a Black IPA?

If your brain’s starting to feel a little mush, here’s a quick recap about Black IPAs:

  • Black IPAs aren’t as hoppy as traditional IPAs but still have hoppy characteristics
  • Has a thinner mouthfeel than a Stout
  • Dark brown or dark bodied appearance
  • Flavor notes are piney, light chocolate, and coffee with roasted or toasted notes
  • Closely resemble West Coast IPAs

But what makes an IPA a Black IPA? Are there other flavor notes to expect? What about ABV and IBU? The table below describes an ideal Black from flavor and appearance down to its ABV, IBU, and EBC.

Qualities of a Black IPA Description
Appearance Dark brown to black body with a good head color of light tan to tan
Aroma Moderate dark malt aroma (coffee, light chocolate, or toast notes). Light caramel malty sweetness with berry, piney, citrusy, and dark fruit characteristics. Some versions have fruity aromas
Mouthfeel Medium-light to medium mouthfeel and medium carbonation
Flavor The base malt is clean with low to medium intensity and some have caramel flavors. Expect low medium to high hop flavors including chocolate or coffee notes and a dry, bitter finish. The bitterness of a Black IPA lingers, but it’s not harsh.
IBU 50 to 90
EBC 49 to 79
ABV 5.5% to 9%
OG 1.05 to 1.085
FG 1.010 to 1.018

What Makes a Black IPA Dark?

What makes a Black IPA dark is the dark malts present or used in brewing. It’s the reason why a Black IPA’s flavor notes are piney, caramel, resin, coffee, chocolate, and even forest fire.

What Does Black IPA Taste Like?

A typical Black IPA will have a clean base malt profile with low to medium intensity along with coffee, chocolate, caramel, or light toffee notes.

Although Black IPAs have a noticeable maltiness, they shouldn’t clash with the hop flavor or profile. Roasted or toasted notes are expected, but not so high you would taste ashy or burnt flavors.

The hop flavor may also bring in some fruitiness or fruit notes like stone fruit, melon, citrus, berry, resinous, and piney characters.

Finally, Black IPAs have a bitter aftertaste with a dry to slightly off-dry finish, but it should never be a harsh bitterness.

What Hops Are Used for Black IPA?

Simcoe, Northern Brewer, Cascade Centennial, and Chinook are all great hop options to use and provide great citrus flavor notes.

Citra, mosaic, and comet are also good options. It’s worth noting that the pine elements found in Chinook and Northern brewer work really well with dark malts.

If you plan to add rye to your grain bill, Mosaic is a great hop addition too.

What Grains Are Used for Black IPA?

The main fermentable used for Black IPA is a Pale Ale at a rate of 70% to 75%. Munich malt is also often added at a rate of 5% to 15% to achieve maltiness in the result.

For toffee and caramel flavors, you can add Caramunich at a rate of 1% to 5%. Some recipes will use Rye as an added malt to the grain bill; however, keep in mind you should keep it at 1% to 3%.

Bonus tip: Choose Hustle Rye to reduce the astringency of your finished result

Other malts to add to your grain bill include the following:

  • 3% to 5% Wheat malt
  • 4% to 6% Chocolate malt (This adds coffee and chocolate notes along with color to your Black IPA)
  • 3% to 7% Crystal malt (You can use lower EBC crystal for head retention and sweeter notes, and higher EBC crystal for color)
  • 1% to 2% Black malt (Useful for adding color)

Who Invented Black IPA?

Some credit Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub and Brewery as the original inventor of the Black IPA in the early 1990s. However, the hopped-up version of Porter and IPA made its way to India back in the 1800s.

In Frank Faulkner’s book The Theory and Practice of Modern Brewing, Faulkner mentions a black beer brewed by Burton.

In the book, a certain passage describes how a Black IPA is regarded today, “though black in color, its palate taste reminds one very strongly of the pale beer produced by Burton firms.”

What does this mean, then? Although Greg Noonan is recognized as the inventor of the Black IPA, Frank Faulkner’s book shows that Black IPA already came to be in the 1800s.  

Who Makes Black IPA?

Nearly every brewery was brewing Black IPA when it became a viral craze back in 2008. Some even became award-winning styles of Black IPA such as:

Award-Winning Black IPA Beers Brewery
Midnight Moonlight Fat Head’s Brewery
Carlton Black Melvin Brewing Company
Hoppa Emeritius Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Company
Turmoil Barley Brown’s Brew Pub
Black 28 Cannonball Creek Brewing Company

The viral craze of Black IPA was short-lived, though. From 2008 to 2014, Black IPA was a global phenomenon. After that, a large majority of breweries kept Black IPAs on a seasonal release.

Only 1 brewery in Columbus, Ohio has kept the Black IPA going annually: Land-Grant Brewing Company.

Where to Buy Mothman Black IPA

Because Black IPAs are seasonal, it’s rare to find a Black IPA on your everyday beer store shelf. However, there are a few places where you can buy a Greenbrier Valley Mothman Black IPA, such as:

  • Snowshoe Mountain located in West Virginia
  • Foxfire Grille located at 10 Snowshoe Dr, West Virginia
  • Buffalo Wild Wings located at 214 Crossroads Dr, Mount Hope, West Virginia
  • Cold Spot located at 4005 Washington St W, Charleston, West Virginia

You can also buy Mothman Black IPA either from their official website or through various online stores like Drizly.

What Happened to the Black IPA?

Black IPAs used to be an all-year-round offering for many breweries. But after 2016, Black IPAs started disappearing from the shelves.

Now, you’re probably wondering how a global phenomenon could disappear all of a sudden. And there are a lot of reasons as to why this happened:

Reason #1: Black IPAs Had an Image Problem

How could an India Pale Ale even be black? As much as a viral craze as it was, people couldn’t wrap their heads around a black- or dark-colored IPA.

Furthermore, Black IPAs were the black sheep of traditional IPAs. People expected that the roasted malts would clash with the hop profile and create excessive bitterness. As a result, it only made Black IPAs look worse.

Reason #2: Too Much Deviation From the Path

A lot of breweries deviated from the original path of how to brew a Black IPA. Several breweries came up with their own recipes and it backfired twofold.

The so-called recipes and experiments to create a “better” Black IPA only lead to a Black IPA that tasted bad.

Reason #3: Not Ideal for the Warmer Months

Most Black IPAs don’t last during the warmer months. It’s worth noting that Black IPAs aren’t designed for drinking during the summer.

Reason #4: Consumer Confusion

The name itself became a heated debate and caused an even bigger image problem.

Some refer to Black IPAs as India Black Ale, while others prefer Cascadian Dark Ale. The problem with these names is that they confuse consumers a lot. For one, Black IPAs aren’t pale and it’s not related to India either.

All these reasons now beg the question — is Black IPA still here? And the answer is… yes it is! But seasonally.

If you’re looking for a good Black IPA worth trying, these two Black IPAs are worth having on the weekend:

  1. Jukebox-Hero Black IPA by Revolution Brewing
  2. Wookey Jack Black IPA by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Give these two a hop (pun intended) and who knows, you just might even forget all the mistakes and dark history of Black IPAs.

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