These days, new beer styles and sub-styles seem to pop up every few months, especially if you include barrel-aged variants. The Black IPA has enjoyed a current wave of trendiness but there's nothing new about the style. The first batch of Black IPA was brewed on December 4, 1994 by Greg Noonan and Glenn Walter, at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT. Despite a West Coast attempt to appropriate the style and name it "Cascadian Dark Ale," we're calling our expression of the style what it is- a black IPA.
We've named Short Batch #12 "Noonan," in memory of Greg, who passed away on October 11, 2009 of lung cancer. Greg was many things in the brewing community; teacher, author, grassroots activist and founder of three New England brewpubs, The Vermont Pub and Brewery, Seven Barrel Brewery, and Amherst Brewing Company. Greg literally wrote the books on Scotch Ale and Lager Brewing and was part of the earliest, pioneering generation of New England brewers (which includes Greg's friend, our own Peter Egelston), opening the VPB with business partner Steve Polewacyk in 1988. The brewing community was genuinely shocked when news of Greg's passing hit. He hadn't told anyone about his lung cancer diagnosis, so it all seemed very jarring and sudden. Our staff had always enjoyed talking with Greg during trips to Burlington each summer for Vermont Brewers Fest, so the decision to name our Black IPA after Greg was made without objection. Over the last few years, the Black IPA has begun to appear everywhere from San Diego to Copenhagen. Now we're ready to share our expression at this paradoxically-named beer style.
The main challenge when formulating a Black IPA is how to get the black color without making the beer too heavy and acrid. Dark color in beer is often derived from additions of heavily roasted, and sometimes burnt, malt. The darker the beer, the more dark malt you need, but you also run the risk of making the beer too astringent. We knew we could get the hopping right, we just had to get enough color in the beer without turning it into a really hoppy porter. We brewed a few test batches (one of which even made it on tap in our tour nook) before we got the color/flavor balance where it needed to be.