There’s a bit of controversy brewing over an emerging beer style.
The style? Well, it’s dark in color, with a prominent “Northwest” hoppy aroma – citrusy, piney and resinous – with sweet malt, hints of roastiness and toasted malt. The flavors strike a beautiful balance between citrusy-resinous Northwest hops and, to a lesser degree, roasted, chocolate malt or caramel notes. The body is reminiscent of an India Pale Ale, not heavy like a porter or stout.
This is not an easy balance to strike: It takes a very deft hand to make these flavors play well with each other together so they don’t fight one another; and the flavors must work in a way that they don’t resemble another beer style – such as a hoppy porter or American brown. But when that perfect balance is struck, something sublime happens; the result becomes more than the sum of its parts and another, completely different beer style is created.
So, what’s the brouhaha that’s brewing? Well, it’s about what to name this new beer style. Because of the basic, underlying style and its unusual color for such a style, there’s a natural inclination to call it the oxymoronic Black India Pale Ale or Black IPA. Others think it should be called India Black Ale or India Dark Ale. But a growing faction wants to call the style Cascadian Dark Ale.
Let me explain: Cascadia is a term derived from the Cascade Mountain Range; it is often used to describe the Pacific Northwest region that runs from British Columbia through Washington, Oregon, parts of Idaho and down into Northern California. That is where this style originated, thanks to brewers such as Rogue’s John Maeir, of Newport, Ore., Jacob Leanord and Bob Craig at Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, Wash., and Matt Phillips of Phillips Brewing in Victoria, BC – to name a few.
After Maier debuted Skullsplitter, basically a dark version of his ever-popular Brutal Bitter, at the Oregon Brewers Festival in 2003, other Northwest brewers started playing around with making a dark, roasty IPA. The style has been found in the Northwest at a growing number of breweries, often as a specialty beer created for a festival. Widmer brewed a version as part of its Collaborator series – a program where homebrewers from the Oregon Brew Crew get to go pro and brew their winning beer on Widmer’s pilot system for distribution throughout Portland (proceeds of the beers go back to the homebrew club). And then, Widmer won gold in the experimental beer category at the GABF last year with W’10, a beer that is just now being released across the country – also called Pitch Black IPA, even though on the back of the label, the beer is referred to as a Cascadian Dark Ale.
Thanks to the additional exposure from Widmer and other larger breweries, other regions are jumping on the Cascadian Dark bandwagon. And that has inspired a group of Northwest brewers, beer journalists, experts and enthusiasts to jump at not only trying to get this new style sanctioned by the Beer Judge Certification Program, but to make sure the nomenclature appropriately fits the style’s original appellation. Hence, the push to call it Cascadian Dark Ale.
Full disclosure: I am among that group. And here’s why (in no particular order):
1. Black IPA and Dark IPA are oxymoronic. Black Pale Ale? Dark Pale Ale?
2. India Black Ale would, no doubt, become IBA. India Dark Ale would be shortened to IDA And Black IPA would become BIPA. Imagine the poor bartender at a busy, noisy pub trying to determine if you just ordered an IPA or an IBA or IDA. The term CDA would, no doubt, become the preferred nomenclature for Cascadian Dark Ale. CDA is a great bar call.
3. One of the things that endears people to a beer or beer style is the story and history behind it. While Cascadia isn’t a term familiar to the general population, it would prompt curious beer drinkers to learn more about the beer in front of them and the story behind the style.
4. Cascadian Dark ale celebrates the appellation and also the Northwest hops that give the style its unique hop character.
Last Saturday, I attended a symposium on Cascadian Dark Ales last weekend (thanks to Belmont Station Bottle Shop & Bier Cafe for hosting) designed to help get the style in front of the BJCP so it can become an actual sanctioned beer style.
What do you think? Is Cascadian Dark Ale a good name for the style? Do you prefer Black IPA? Can you think of a better name? Should the style even be categorized?
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