The American Black Ale, or Black IPA, is a sly and peculiar style that happily marries the dark, roasty flavors of a stout with the hoppy, bitter flavors of an IPA. The American Black ale is a hybrid beer, invented and developed solely by American brewers. Taking inspiration from the German Schwarzbier, or Black Lager, style, American brewers sought to create a beer that balanced two flavor counterpoints: roastiness and bitterness. First brewed at the Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Vermont, the style was built upon and popularized by the brewers at San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company with their Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. In an interview with famous beer journalist Joshua Bernstein, Stone’s head brewer Mitch Steele commented on the creation of the brew, “We wanted it to drink like an IPA but look like a stout.” He found that using dehusked black malt, the same variety used in German Schwarzbiers, “allowed the hops to come through.” When tasting an American Black Ale, expect a well balanced beer with roasty overtones but a bitter, citrusy, and/or piney finish.
When you think about it, a “Black IPA” is really an oxymoron, considering an IPA is an India PALE Ale. But ignoring these semantics and diving lips-first into any of the Black IPAs below is sure to both tickle your taste buds and expand your beer horizons.
Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
One of the originals of the style, the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale combines citrusy hop flavors with smooth roasty maltiness. A must try for anyone interested in the American Black Ale.
21st Amendment’s Back In Black
Utilizing more piney hop flavor than citrus, the Black In Black balances the hoppy bitterness with dark roastiness and a creamier mouthfeel that is more similar to a stout than Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. All these elements combine for a bitter and long finish that could leave even snobbiest of drinkers satisfied.
Uinta Brewing Company’s Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
Probably the maltiest and heaviest of the four beers listed here, the Dubhe manages to be both very malt forward, as well as very hop forward, a rare and commendable feat in beer brewing. By being so strong in both polar opposite beer qualities, the Dubhe ends up being overall quite balanced. A roasty, malty drink that finishes citrusy and bitter with some significant alcoholic strength (9.2% ABV) makes this a beer to be reckoned with.
Bear Republic Black Racer
Probably my favorite of these listed, but only by a little. The Black Racer differs from the 21st Amendment Back In Black in that it drinks much more like an IPA than a stout, with a mouthfeel that is much more refreshing and thirst quenching than a creamy and thick. Balancing citrus with roasty flavors, the Black Racer is a beer that would be good in almost any season.
Beer and Food Pairing
American Black Ales pair perfectly with grilled, smoked, or roasted beef or pork, as well as charcuterie. As for dessert, rich, intense dark chocolate desserts like triple chocolate cake or chocolate truffles would pair well with the Black IPA because the hoppy, bitter finish would help cut some of that richness. The roastiness and bitterness of these beers also complement meaty, earthy tasting cheeses like most Cheddars, Swiss, Gruyere, and Parmesan. Most of all, German cuisine makes a delicious partner to the Black Ale with its many grilled dark meats, roasted potatoes, and overall heartiness of flavor. Because American Black Ales are medium to full bodied, they will be much better suited for entrees or desserts rather than appetizers.