why we should cherish the term Black IPA

why we should cherish the term Black IPA

This is not a post about the history or origins of the black IPA style – others have researched that thoroughly. Suffice to say it’s a beer, which in its current guise became popular in America then in the UK and now across the world. I’ve had Danish, Dutch and Italian takes on it. I’m talking about Black IPA today. I’m also being selfishly place specific: Britain where the term has – up until now – trumped rival terms like Cascadian Black or India Black Ale.

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I first noticed a change in the vernacular at the recent St Albans Beer Festival. Staff T-shirts were branded with Farr Brew’s Blacklisted IBA – India Black Ale. I then clocked a bottle of the London Beer Lab’s India Black Ale in a beer shop. There’s also Wishbone Brewery’s Tartarus India Black Ale and a quick Google search has thrown up Vibrant Forest’s Metropolis India Black Ale. So I’m not going mad – the term is gaining currency in the U.K.

Cascadian Black sounds sexy and links to its ties in the Pacific Northwest of the States but the tale goes back further. India Black Ale also severs its connection with history by omitting IPA. Though Black IPAs have no modern link with India, this more contemporary American take on the style follows on from IPAs as brewed in the US – resurrected and reinvigorated from those of the days of the British Empire. It carries through a journey that leads to its current incarnation. Neither Cascadian Black nor India Black Ale do (though the former’s more legitimate to me).

Maybe this recent experience can help illustrate what I mean. When in doubt, always return to the pub:

20150223_171958Earlier in the year I was sat at the bar of The Verulam Arms which brews its own beer. On cask was Mediocria Firma – one of their cask bitters surmounted by a carved wooden badge. Mediocria Firma is the motto of the Bacon family (his inheritors the Verulam family own nearby Gorehambury Estate and get their title from Verulamium – the Roman name for St Albans). This motto has always puzzled me as it seems to say mediocrity is best, i.e: “be crap!”

A gentleman with a plummy voice entered and sat down to my right. He remarked on the pump clip.
“Oh. You can’t have done Latin at school!” he announced. Interesting opening line. It made me wonder how it would go down in other pubs. Fortunately, St Albans is quite posh so umbrage wasn’t taken. The man explained that he’d been a pupil at the prestigious St Albans Boys School (Stephen Hawking was a young student too) where he’d been taught Latin. Patronising arrogance aside, he did go on to cast light on the Latin motto: It was a common misapprehension that it was two words. Mediocria looks like it should mean mediocre but it doesn’t – it’s actually two words: Medioc and Ria – Middle and Road. It therefore means the middle road is best or keep to the straight path.

This puts a completely different spin on it and throws the motto open to being about doggedness, cutting the Gordian knot, compromising to achieve. It’s loads better than “be crap!”

I use this example as a very loose parallel with the term Black IPA: on the surface, it seems wrong and the bit that doesn’t make sense is based on an assumption. Black IPA is only an oxymoron through one sense: visually.

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But what’s in a colour? It’s the Buddha Beers, the Carlsbergs and the Bulmers that entice people via the eyes with colouring agents, head retention agents and now even hazing agents.

Oxymoron is rarely abuse of the English language but a clever use of it and by chance rather than by design, the term Black IPA is as sharp as the term “deafening silence”. We should be identifying Black IPAs with out palates not our eyes.

Just look at it this way: a beer style defined by the fact that a roast chocolate malt aroma – the black, is then overlaid by the fruity verdure of new world hops – the modern IPA. This means we’re identifying the style using the full capability of our sensory apparatus – an area where corporate brands whose recipes are predicated by spreadsheet brewing cannot reach. We have a distinct aromatic and gustatory sensation whereas they have a colour chart. We have a new chapter in an historical sequence that’s been developing for over a century. They have prime time advertising.

Black IPA divides beer lovers – a sign that it’s special. We could use another word for divides when it’s used in the context of separating discerning drinkers: reinvents.

How can a beer be both an India Pale Ale and black? Easily. Just taste it.

Session 117: look to the future

Session 117: look to the future

This month, beermeansbusiness.com is hosting session 117 of Beer Blogging Friday.

The Session 117 Announcement: More, more, more…

The aim is for bloggers to paint the following:

“The final picture of Beer Future will be based on what you think we will see MORE of”

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I’ve channelled my inner clairvoyant to look into the future of beer, breweries and pubs. For me, the stress on ripeness or freshness is a phenomenon which is proliferating in the food world and it’s spreading tendrils into the beer market too. Here it manifests itself in various ways – here are three of them:

1: Cloudwater Brew Co. Here’s an edited section from Cloudwater Brewery’s blog. It was about how they distribute their popular DIPAs:

Brewery Fresh – Promoting Cold Chain Distribution

“the biggest advantage to releasing a greater proportion DIPA, our hoppiest beer, direct from the brewery immediately after packaging is that you’ll be able to buy beer that hasn’t been above 5ºC.  After the end of fermentation our beers are crash chilled to 0ºC in FV, before being packaged as close to 0ºC from our brite tanks, and being transferred into our sub 5ºC cold store immediately after the packaging run finishes. Warmth and heat kill hoppiness (and other volatile flavour compounds) in beer, ageing and degrading it many times faster than when it’s held at a low and stable temperature”  

(……..)
 

“we’re going to do our bit to reflect what our peers and friends in the US do to get beer to their customers in the best shape possible.  From the East Coast to the West Coast, and from some of the largest craft breweries to the smallest neighbourhood micros, hoppy beer in the US enjoys more care through cold chain distribution and direct consumption at the breweries themselves than we currently afford hoppy beer here in the UK.”

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Cloud water thus depend on their customers (meaning retailers) to have the facilities to actually keep their beer under a certain temperature. Cellar cool won’t do anymore. The trade’s gone a long way from spiling, venting and tapping.

2: Green hopping

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this year’s green-hopped beer by Red Squirrel

With cask ale, a new old trend is becoming popular: fresh/wet/green hopped beers. These are ales where the hops have been taken from the bine, straight to a brewer and brewed within the fastest time possible – often within twelve hours. This was more of a regional event and obviously can only be a seasonal one. But for festivals around the end of September, these beers are beginning to appear on beer lists across the country – not just their Kent heartland. Because the hop flowers haven’t been freeze-dried, some of the oils that would’ve been lost through ageing and drying are still seeping when they get tossed in before or after the boil. It’s hard to regulate flavour and each batch is basically a leap in the dark. In my experience, these oils can produce lemony, vinous, citrus or chlorophyll-like tastes. Sometimes they’re zinging, sometimes they’re undetectable.

3: A simple Tweet by Brew By Numbers in Bermondsey:

Brew By Numbers @BrewByNumbers Oct 26

Our hoppy beers will now have pack dates on tap badges for draught and front-of-label for bottles. #DrinkFresh! –> http://www.brewbynumbers.com/drink-fresh/

The brewery is going to indicate when the beer was made both on the bottles (and I’m sure very soon – cans) and the actual point of sale on tap.

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Oddly enough, I recently Tweeted that I’d like to see a timer put on pump clips to show when a cask came on to avoid drinking a glass of balsamic vinegar. In its key keg equivalent, Brew By Numbers is doing just that!

Alec Latham @LathamAlec Aug 13
Here’s an idea – let’s make it law that all cask pump clips are fitted with a timer. This way you can see how long ago the cask was tapped

Often when I go into a pub and scan the row of beer engines, the tender will raise his/her hand above the hand pumps and let it land palm-down on one of the heads. “this went on twenty minutes ago and it’s going quickly”. This is a tribute to freshness and cask at its best as well as a good line to part me from my cash. Something just-breached is definitely a draw.

To summarise, I believe the stress on freshness will become more acute over the next few years. More and more of the beer will be kept from degrading technologically (Cloudwater), by an actual race from the harvest to the brewery, the drinkers will experience beer made using ingredients virtually still clinging to the bine (green hopping) and freshness will be maintained procedurally by serving to the customer as soon as possible (Brew By Numbers).

The London Beer Writers

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Left to right: Ben Sedgwick, Alec Latham and Csaba Babak attempt to look casual for the camera.

On Wednesday evening, the London Beer Writers Meetup took place at the Craft Beer Company, St Mary Axe in London’s financial district.

The Meetup consisted of a certified beer Sommelier who works for Fullers Brewery (Ben), the published author of Beer Means Business (Csaba) and a blogger and sometimes magazine contributor (me).

As texts to offer feedback on, Ben’s work was about the growing beer scene in northern Spain. Csaba presented part of a project he’s working on about the factors influencing consumer choice in the marketplace. I offered my piece about the debt the public owes to the nation’s bar staff and publicans. These three topics were as varied as the beers showcased along the bar a few feet away from where we sat.

It’s enlightening meeting up with other writers whether they be a simple enthusiasts, bloggers, vloggers or someone who works in brewing, marketing, development or in any other ale-related capacity. The beer and brewing culture has become such a wide magisterium – the insights come from backgrounds that are multiplying. Though all three of us write about beer, our own backgrounds are diverse: civil engineering, EU policy and regulation management and front line emergency services.

The way this Meetup works is we read each others’ work and then write down our thoughts. There are some useful little questions on pages I supply to function as whetters if you’re a little dry. It’s structured but far some scientific and it’s definitely a work in progress. When you read a text, there is no such thing as a right or wrong reaction to it. What kindles the flames for one reader might just snuff them out for another. All viewpoints are equally valid.

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At the London Beer Writers Meetup, you’ll hear praise and the criticism is constructive and friendly. It could be conflicting or you might see patterns emerging in the feedback. You simply mull it over and next time you sit down to write, it might well influence it. The point of this Meetup is to grow as a writer and help others to do so.

What’s impossible to do as an author is become another person reading your own work because as its creator, you can’t shed your own bias. Sometimes only getting someone else’s opinion will do. And it’s as simple as that. It makes you think about what you write about and how you write it.

Some brilliant sites and feeds to pursue:

You can follow Ben Sedgwick’s focus on beer at

www.maltmashboil.com
and follow him on Twitter:
@sedgehammers

Follow Csaba Babak’s work at:

www.beermeansbusiness.com
and his Twitter accounts:
@csabababak
@beermeansbiz

Apart from the three official topics, we also found time to discuss CAMRA’s softening stance on key kegs, the Pig’s Ear Festival, red kites, Sierra Nevada, Belgium, Zurich, Watlington and the Vicar of Dibley. Not only that but we honed our magical skills – namely by making pints of Dark Star, Beavertown, Kernel, Orbit, Weird Beard & Tiny Rebel disappear.

If you’re someone who writes about beer or is thinking about doing so, please join the group. It’s a relaxed environment in which to chew the spent grain with other beer writers:

London Beer Writers Meetup

London, GB
24 The London Beer Writers

Hi my name’s Alec. I love reading and writing about beer. I’ve had some success in being published but would like to improve my skills and help others to improve theirs. I wou…

Check out this Meetup Group →

everybody runs…………

“If you live in Boston, Samuel Adams draft beer (Summer Ale) and Dunkin’ Donuts are essentials of life. But I discovered to my delight that even these indulgences can be offset by persistent exercise.”

Haruki Murakami – What I talk about when I talk about running 2008

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The above excerpt is the first time I can recall hearing a connection between beer and running. It wasn’t even me reading the book at the time (though I have now). This was in 2009. My interest in craft beer was stirring and I was told of Murakami referencing Samuel Adams. Back then, I’d never seen their beer in Britain. In the book the author also talks about slaking his thirst after a lone marathon in Greece with glasses of Amstel.

That same year Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sports Relief. In the televised highlights, we saw him accompanied on his journey with his own ice cream van and making frequent stops for cake, chips and beer before ploughing on. Obviously the British diet was designed for long distance running – we just hadn’t realised its true purpose until then. He’s now done 27 marathons in 27 days. Liquid nourishment has played its part.

Sitting at the window shelf of the Craft Beer Co near Covent Garden last year, I watched a group of delivery people unwind after a busy shift. It was hot and their faces were still radioactive from exertion. They weren’t regular postal workers but courier runners that cut through the crowds of central London and get to their clients faster than any vehicle can. They wore cubic heat-insulated backpacks either to keep the goods cool, hot or just to convey them. Each member looked like an athlete and bore the company logo on their lycra outfits. Together, they made pints of Beavertown’s Neck Oil disappear.

My wife completed a half marathon around Hyde Park in 2013. Once past the finishing line, we went to Tattersalls Tavern on Raphael Street. I’m often scolded for drinking too quickly but on this occasion, her pint of Staropramen sluiced down her gullet like floodwater down a storm drain closely followed by a second. I couldn’t keep up.

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You can’t walk down a street or through a park in Britain without hearing that woman’s tinny voice off RunKeeper and the panting from her captive as he/she overtakes you on the pavement.

Running is such a challenge but beer’s so damned refreshing and tasty.

For running, my venue is not the outdoors but the temperature-controlled confines of the gym. This is my choice. I have zero patience for obstacles like prams, children, dogs, bikes, road labourers or, god forbid, other joggers who don’t move out of my way. I can’t bear pausing in my rhythm at pedestrian crossings or to be constantly looking behind my shoulder for speeding contractors’ vans. I prefer the gym.

I fix on my own corona’d eyes in the mirror opposite not through vanity but as a means of completing a circuit between me, my outward appearance and my body. It seems to improve posture. When the sweat starts dripping from my fringe to be subsumed by the conveyor belt, I start to picture a glass of beer. Normally my taste is for the cask beer engines but in these conditions, I envisage a cool glass of Kölsch, Pilsner or Saison – a bead of condensation tracing its way down the glass with the all the seduction of a shoulder strap being slipped off.

I seem to run better after an evening on the beer. There are carbs and fibre in there too. I’ve also noticed that on some occasions as I pound away under the tv screens, my sweat starts to smell like a brewery. I love red wine but it’s no good for running. There’s no body the day after – just a vinegar incision to the pit of the stomach, a feeling of emptiness, a mauve blot behind the retina and a muggy head which compromises balance. If you shut your eyes, you might fly off the equipment horizontally.

Everybody runs now. My wife and I run, our neighbours to the left run, our neighbours to the right run and our neighbours opposite run. All relatives of my generation run. Our dog runs.

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But what I’ve noticed in particular is the amount of people in London’s beer community (make of that what you will) who run. I’m aware of this primarily through Twitter updates but it’s listed as a passion on bloggers’ websites too. Also, under the brewery railway arches of Hackney and Bermondsey, there are always drinkers in running gear. Swillers of beer never used to do this.

All it takes is a visit to the Great British Beer Festival or any other CAMRA festival to see what might happen if the calories from ale (and the ensuing munchies for salty carbs) are never burned off. You see these humans and they’re impressive. There’s a Homo sapiens at the core of each of those giant baubles of adipose tissue but I kid you not, I’ve seen a man of this stamp scale three tiers of racking to tap a cask on the top level – the scene looked like it had been directed by Peter Jackson!

Here I stress only the feeling and association rather than the medical facts – I’m unqualified to write about such things and to be honest, I don’t want to spoil things by researching the underlying health risks. I’m not trying to say that beer is an important component of running, but it’s the best possible reward and seems able to feed it. This is about the sensory experiences – they’re conjoined in a complementary way: the beer gives the fuel for the run, the run gives the thirst for the beer.

should the GBBF just serve British beer?

further reflections on the GBBF 2016
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In the autumn issue of CAMRA’s Beer magazine, the item of debate was whether the GBBF should only sell British beer (with my assumed emphasis on tap rather than in bottle). The question was also put out as a poll on Twitter. I voted but without much thought or verve and as ever, it’s retrospectively I actually start thinking about the question in the first place – only once it’s been and gone!In the autumn issue of CAMRA’s Beer magazine, the item of debate was whether the GBBF should only sell British beer (with my assumed emphasis on tap rather than in bottle). The question was also put out as a poll on Twitter. I voted but without much thought or verve and as ever, it’s retrospectively I actually start thinking about the question in the first place – only once it’s been and gone!
 
The binary question, alas, gets no binary answer from me but a swinging hinged one – the kind of answers I give when I overthink things.
 
I visited the GBBF on wednesday and made sure to visit the Bieres Sans Frontieres bars. There were three general clusters: German & Czech, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy and American & Nordic (Nordic meaning Scandinavian). The odd thing is that these clusters do actually represent breeds in a way. The first isn’t surprising – Germany and the Czech Republic border each other and have a shared culture of Lager styles. I believe that if I had to shoehorn Italian beers in anywhere, it would indeed be with Belgium & the Netherlands. The last one’s harder to explain but is true with regard to the style – Scandinavian breweries definitely emulate hop-heavy aromatic American beers. 
 
I tried American cask beer for the first time – a toasted brown ale (Aeronaut Brewery) left very little impression but then I spied a mild (Into The Mild – Cambridge Brewing Co) and recalled that American yeast clarifies malt and hop profiles in higher definition. I rolled it around my tongue trying to work out whether this was in evidence or just the power of my own suggestion. It did seem a bit less murky than a lot of our British counterparts. So maybe.
 
There was also a cask take on a Kölsch hopped like an IPA (hard not to just write this off as an IPA). It hadn’t yet come on but I would’ve been intrigued to see if a cask Kölsch could manage either the Rhineland’s effervescent carbonation or its gentle apply flavours. I wish I could’ve slaked my curiosity but I remain highly sceptical until proved otherwise.
 
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If I really want to try something different, though, I’ll need to leave the comfort of cask.
 
My three favourite beers this year were Fullers Vintage Ale (cask), Prince of Denmark (Harvey’s – cask) and Alvinne Stout from Belgium – a beautiful tipple dispensed from an oak barrel. It was fruity and dark on the palate but smelt of red wine. It wasn’t particularly complex just a sensory joy. 
 
The Alvinne Stout was from the Belgian, Italian and Netherlands’ bar which offered to rinse out my glass each time – something very welcome, especially as I opted for Cantillon whilst a blanket of foam from a cask stout was still clinging to the inside of my vessel. This was mid afternoon however, so this service may have been “efficienced out” when it got busier. 
 
If I’d had more foreign beers – some Flemish red, Czech Pilsner or Belgian Gueuze, would the Alvinne Stout still rank as high? Or does it stand out just because it’s different to all the cask beers – a palate cleanser. And this is where I round on that overthought hinged answer I promised:
 
The best thing about the festival is it’s like a drinking banquet with as many overlaid dishes as possible. I want as much variety as possible to give my taste buds a comprehensive rogering and this can only be achieved through oases of beer – meaning different methods of dispense.
 
The question as to whether there should be foreign beers on tap at the festival is actually a Trojan horse. As far as I can see it was asked with no ulterior motive for a yes/no debate in the magazine but unwittingly, via the back door, it’s also the question about whether we should have craft keg in the festival. 
 
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The very same reason that Alvinne or Cantillon, Früh or Rodenbach might stand out is because of the difference in style and most importantly, like Kölsch, like Pilsner, like sours or Lambics they don’t particularly cask well and aren’t therefore “real ale”.
 
Yes there should be foreign beers served at the GBBF if all the British beers are cask only.
 
No there shouldn’t be (or at least, it would be less necessary) if the beer styles are represented by British brewers via keg and key keg as modern brewers take inspiration for their beer from all over the world.

Impermanence

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Is not having permanent beers the future for craft brewing?
 
Last night in the White Hart Tap in St Albans, I was drawn straight towards the abstract Mondrianesque artwork on a Cloudwater pump clip. I’d made the decision to order a pint of this beer based on its maker before even scrutinising the style. It was a 3.9 ABV pale ale and like their other offerings, they have the power to beam lucid hop profiles as if through the clarity of a plasma screen. 
Regarding the choice to opt for that hand pull based solely on the brewery it’s from is a concession I make to just a handful of British brewers – they’re the usual raved about culprits from Finchampstead, Evercreech, Huddersfield, Bakewell, Bristol and Buxton. There is another “B” I can add to this list – Bermondsey and Kernel – the region’s brewing pioneer. I’m just as drawn towards its cork tile simplicity when I see it on tap. Writing a piece in 2015, I was curious to know how come its Table Beer’s ABV keeps changing:
Hi Alec,
Thanks for the kind words and glad you enjoy the Table Beer.
The variation in abv on the beer is more a matter of our openness than 
anything technical.  We don’t vary the grist ingredients by much, but as 
brewing (in the manner that we do) is a manual process, we inevitably 
have some batch to batch variations (which we enjoy and celebrate), so 
the abv will always vary slightly.  I would reckon that all breweries of 
our scale (and certainly smaller, and probably bigger) would have as 
much variation in the abv of their beers as we have in ours.  It is just 
that technically and legally brewers are permitted a margin for error on 
the abv declared on the label/bottle/pumpclip of + or – 0.5%. So if you 
have Brewery X Pale Ale at a declared 5% abv, it could (and probably 
does) range from 4.5% to 5.5% – but as the labels have all been printed 
before hand with 5% abv, they have no need (or way) to mention that any 
particular batch of that beer is of a slightly different abv.  As I 
mentioned before, we like to celebrate the uniqueness of each batch, and 
so we print the labels for each batch specifically for that batch, with 
the particulars of that batch, including abv, on the label.  So the 
variation is there in most beers, I would reckon, it is just that we 
make it clear.
Let us know if you have any questions.
All the best,
Evin
Thus Evin O’Riordain not only brews some of the best beer in the world, but kindly took the time to write that informed reply. My point here is that though Kernel bring out regular styles or single hop varietals, each batch is different. There is no equivalent of a Bishop’s Finger, Doom Bar or Jaipur – titles that are sought out by the public (for good or bad) which are made consistently to a specific recipe.
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It’s a question I asked at the White Hart Tap when I saw the pale ale pump clip. Do Cloudwater have any permanents? It doesn’t seem so. I asked them on Twitter:

@cloudwaterbrew Quick question – as a brewery do you have any permanent beers?

 

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Cloudwater Brew Co
@cloudwaterbrew
@LathamAlec We have permanent styles, but lots of variation within our range.
So, a similar story. Cloudwater also tie their beers in to reflect seasonality.
 
 
There are benefits to not having permanents. Arguably, you make the brewery the focus rather than the beer. Eyeing the brewery name almost becomes a chef’s recommendation – you just trust the expertise whether it’s a Chinook porter or a Columbus IPA. 
I also dwell on the acquisition of breweries by brewing giants. How could you ingest a brewery that doesn’t “do” permanents unless you give the head brewer 100% control over production? How could you make business predictions based on shimmering variables where each product is a one-off? If a brewery is successful without a regular portfolio, you can’t homogenise a range except by completely removing the reason people buy its beer and therefore, lose them. Camden Brewery is the opposite – easily taken on as it brews a handful of tried, tested and consistent good beers.
 
So could this impermanence (I don’t mean it in the Buddhist sense – but then maybe I do) be the future for craft brewing? A situation whereby a business’ fortune is based on its skill and reputation alone?