We, the Average Joes at ACB, may not have full-time jobs brewing, selling or judging beer, yet if you knew just how AWESOME some of our real jobs are, you’d better understand why we spend so much of our free time drinking beer. It all goes to show that we take our research quite seriously and wish to impart the wisdom we’ve stumbled upon, in the hopes of making your free time as rich as ours.
Without further ado, let’s drink in yet another chapter in our series, “What the Hell is a Cascadian Dark Ale?”
Usually when we write about beer styles it requires quite a dig into the anthology of Brewing history, often jumping the pond to get the low down on some obscure style that’s been brewed for hundreds of years. This is not one of those beers and it really isn’t that obscure, so just what is this Cascadian thingamajig we speak of?
With the re-emergence and world-wide popularity of the India Pale Ale style, it only seemed natural that a dark version of the same style would emerge. While there are stories of a heavily hopped black ale being brewed by Vermont Brewer Greg Noonan in the 90’s, this claim is widely unsubstantiated. In 2003 Rogue Ales in Newport, OR created their Skull Splitter, a darker version of their Brutal Bitter IPA. It exhibited most of the traits of what was determined to be the Cascadian Dark Ale (or CDA, Black IPA or American Black Ale) Style in 2010: roasted malt with coffee or chocolate overtones and citrusy hop flavors, often from Cascade hops, among others.
In late January 2010, a group of NW brewers coined this CDA term and recommended it to the BJCP and GABF for judging going forward, yet they ultimately settled on “American-Style Black Ale.” The original CDA name not only jives with the hop of the same name, it’s also the major land feature that links together Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Idaho as well as the Columbia River watershed, collectively called Cascadia and synonymous with a Secessionist movement.
More details on the cool history of this unique style and how to brew at home it can be found here. For the lazy clickers, this Black IPA (the more common national name) generally weighs in at 6 to 8.5% ABV and a lofty bitterness between 60 and 90 IBU.
CDA’s We Like and You Should Try:
Hopworks Urban Brewery, Secession CDA (Portland, OR) – For those who know the CDA style, this is THE penultimate version from Cascadia itself. Brewed with all organic ingredients, its dark roasted malts impart a slight chocolate flavor which are then countered by big citrus and pine flavors from a tremendous hop presence. If you want to truly know this style, start here. Available March-June; 6.5% ABV. 70 IBU.
New Glarus Brewing, Black Top (New Glarus, WI) – While WI inhabits neither region that may claim fame to this new style, they certainly nailed it, backing it up with a Gold Medal at GABF in 2011. True to the style it sports chocolate malt overtones and black molasses coming up against big citrus and pine hop flavor. Available Now; 6.9% ABV.
Clown Shoes Beer, Hoppy Feet Black IPA (Ipswitch, MA) – One of the best regarded Black IPA’s outside of the PNW, our fun-loving friends at Clown Shoes take their beer seriously and didn’t miss on this one. Spiced with an abundance of Amarillo and Columbus Hops and balanced out with roasty, chocolately and nutty dark malts, this is one not to be missed! Now in production; 7% ABV, 80 IBU.
These days everybody makes IPAs as it’s become the American replacement for mass-produced lagers, seen by its rabid popularity in the Southwest and other warm climes. So it only makes sense that the damp Northwest would want to claim fame to such a unique and distinct ale of a darker variety. Not only is it one of the few new styles to emerge from the American Brewing Renaissance of the past 30 years, it’s also best purchased from breweries who’ve perfected the style: those found in the Pacific Northwest.