Black and white are the newest shades of pale ale

  • Updated: May 1, 2013 - 1:24 PM

White Cap's White India Pale Ale for beer050213

India pale ale (IPA) is third on the list of most popular beer styles in America. I would be willing to wager that it’s the top pick of craft beer drinkers in the Twin Cities. We do love our hops, and these bitter brews are where they see their ultimate expression. India pale ales brim with the resinous, spicy and juicy citrus flavors of this vine-grown flower.

The copper color of India pale ale isn’t what most people accustomed to light-yellow lagers would consider pale. I’ve even heard them described as dark. The pallid designation goes back to an earlier time when amber was a shade lighter than the brown and black beers that were more common.

Now two new iterations of the style — one black and one white — are stretching the concept of pale even further.

Black IPA presents a dilemma. How can something be both black and pale? This has led to a bicoastal competition for naming rights. Some call it Cascadian dark ale, referencing Washington’s Cascade River Valley, where they say it was invented. Others argue for an East Coast origination and call it simply American black ale.

Whichever name you prefer, black IPAs are typically American-style India pale ales with a measure of roasted malt added to give them color. This results in a dark-hued, bitter brew that features a tantalizing blend of chocolate and citrus flavors. The roasty character of the dark malts ranges from subtle to relatively intense.

There are several good Minnesota-made options to try:

Douglas Cascadian Dark Ale is a limited release beer available right now from Steel Toe Brewing Co. It’s a layered and complex brew that presents a definite IPA-like profile. Hops lead the way with aggressive bitterness and juicy tangerine and melon notes. Roasted malts stay mostly in the background with dry, chocolaty flavors reminiscent of Oreo cookies.

The full-bodied Midnight Ryder from Indeed Brewing Co. verges on being a hopped-up porter or stout. Leaning heavily on roasted malt, its bittersweet chocolate and slightly acrid coffee flavors nearly overwhelm the hoppy citrus and pine. The beer might leave a ponderous impression were it not for the high level of bitterness and semi-dry finish.

Bitter Neighbor from Cold Spring’s Third Street Brewhouse falls on the sweeter side with almost syrupy chocolate and subtle caramel tones. But assertive bitterness appears midway to remind you that this is still an IPA. Sprightly tangerine and orange highlights complete a confectionary impression.

White IPAs are a cross between American India pale ale and witbier, a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with coriander and orange peel. This style brings together the sharp, bready taste of wheat with fruity and spicy flavors from hops, yeast and actual spices. Light and refreshing yet still brisk, white IPAs are great springtime beers.

From outside Minnesota:

Hinterland White Cap White India Pale Ale captures the combination perfectly. Malted wheat and Belgian yeast provide a doughy scaffold for sunny lemon and bitter orange flavors. Lingering bitterness is low for an IPA but high for a witbier, landing it smack in the middle of the two styles. This is a wonderful warm-weather beer. White Cap will make its appearance in the Twin Cities in the middle of this month.

Deschutes Brewery’s Chainbreaker White IPA is one of the originators of the style. It is a clearly Belgian-inspired brew with prominent pepper and cotton-candy flavors from fermentation with Belgian yeast. Stone fruit and citrus ride on top of a sturdy, wheat-malt base. Medium-high bitterness provides balance and is emphasized by a crisp, dry finish.

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at michael@aperfectpint.net.

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