Like IPAs? Then Turn to the Dark Side

How do you like your India Pale Ales, or IPAs? “Hoppy”? Yes. “Brisk and bitter”? You bet. “Strong”? Me, too! “Dark”? Whoa — I dunno. That sounds kinda weird, and scary.

A little "dark" humor from Stone.

Well, that’s what I thought, until I met “Sublimely Self-Righteous,” the newest member of Stone Brewing’s “Year ‘Round Limited Releases.” This new-to-me brew may also be the harbinger of a new beer style, the enigmatically termed dark, or black, IPA.

Technically, this beer ranks as an “American strong ale,” which is really just a catch-all term for — you guessed it — any kind of strong ale (7% alcohol and up) made in the USA. Plenty of other beers fall into this class, including Stone’s very own “Arrogant Bastard Ale” and “Double Bastard Ale,” as well as “Immort Ale” from Dogfish Head and “Eye of the Hawk” from Mendocino Brewing, to name a few. All of these are very hoppy, flavorful, and quite bold — some classmates, such as the Cuvee Series Two from Southern Tier Brewing, clock in at upwards of 10% alcohol or more.

But it’s the “dark” element that makes this relative newcomer so appealing. In addition to the bracing, hops-infused fruity aromas and tangy, resiny bitterness that you would expect from a typically strong India Pale, each mouthful of “Self-Righteous” provides unexpected waves of dark-roasted malt flavors, like caramel and chocolate. And these are bitter- not candy-sweet flavors, dry and earthy, that resemble something like an extremely hoppy porter.

All in all, it’s a super winter sipper, to enjoy before or after supper. I thought it tasted sublime with a slice of a hard Vintage Irish Cheddar, drawing out both the saltiness and creaminess locked in the cheese. It also blended well with homemade chocolate cake topped with Cool Whip (because, why not?), though I suspect it would be great with a grilled steak, too.

Since my encounter with the “Self-Righteous,” I’ve begun to notice other beers, either on the shelf or on the Web, that are similar in nature (and that I want to try), including:

  • “Black Perle,” RJ Rockers Brewing Company. The folks at label this an “American Double/Imperial IPA.” Double the pleasure, double the fun, right?
  • “Yakima Twilight,” Victory Brewing Company. The brewery uses words like “harmonious,” “bright,” and “warm” to describe its dark IPA entrant. Ahhh.
  • “DogZilla Black IPA,” Laughing Dog Brewing. This Northern Idaho-based brewery says its mutt is “a big, bold, hoppy, IPA that finishes with a dark twist.” That should get the tails wagging, for sure!

As always, tell us what you think. Have you tried any of these beers yet, or others like them? What do you think about this newly emerging beer style? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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