That Which We Call A Rose: The Black IPA Name Debate 17


What’s in a name? Apparently a lot, as evidenced by the seemingly endless debate over the name of one of the newest style categories of beer.

Black India Pale Ale

India Black Ale

American-style India Black Ale

American-style Black Ale

Cascadian Dark Ale

All names for what is, at its most basic, a really hoppy dark ale with North American origins. And the name is not the only thing being questioned, its exact region of origin is also something hotly debated. Depending on what side of the country you hold allegiance, or your own personal school of thought, the not-going-to-name-it-at-this-point hoppy black ale originated in either Vermont or Cascadia (a bioregion in the Pacific Northwest named for the Cascadian watersheds that define its borders). Both arguments hold weight, in my opinion. But we will go into that later…

 

Although the style isn’t entirely “new” and dates back to the early 90’s, the rapid rise of these beers in the marketplace and the inability for them to fit into any proper judging style category for competitions created a demand for the Brewer’s Association to name and define them.

The first official BA designated name was American-style India Black Ale, probably one of the most confusing and contradictory names in the history of beer. Criticism quickly surrounded the new name — how could something be both American and Indian? And how could a beer be both Pale and Black?

American-style India Black Ale was quickly replaced with American-style Black Ale, which, despite logical reasoning from the BA, was still widely criticized and rejected. Which is why the argument has not ended, and the style category still lacks a proper name.

And before we go into my opinions on the matter, there are two very well-written articles on CraftBeer.com that I would like to turn your attention to:

Cascadian Dark Ale: A Rose By Any Other Name

By Matt Van Wyk, Oakshire Brewing

In Defense of Language: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Black IPA

By Greg Koch, Stone Brewing

It was actually Greg’s recent article that inspired this current response to the style debate, which obviously, despite desperate attempts, has not been put to bed. Since both the Black IPA and CDA arguments have been well articulated by the two articles above, I do not feel the need to go into depth about them now.

 

While both my colleagues/comrades make an excellent case for each name, I cannot help but find myself supporting neither as the official style name. Now, it is important to note that I’m 100% supportive of the name Cascadian Dark Ale, which by its definition is exactly on point. However, I do not necessarily think that the name can be applied to a much more broad category of dark hoppy beers. Essentially, without going too far in depth, the CDA is a dark ale brewed almost entirely with ingredients, hops being primary, that originate in the Pacific Northwest. This style, by definition, excludes dark ales brewed with noble hop varietals and other varietals not originating from Cascadia, i.e.: New Zealand etc. So whereas the name CDA is completely legit, it is entirely too exclusive to cover an entire spectrum of dark hoppy beers.

In the history of beer, most style names were born from the region in which they were developed: Kolsh, from Cologne (Koln). Pilsner from Pilsen. Irish Red from Ireland. Scotch Ale from Scotland. I find nothing wrong with Americans taking pride in the development of a new style of beer, and naming it accordingly. After all, most if not all of these beers use native American hops — which makes the style even more distinctly American.

 

At its most basic, the still-not-going-to-give-it-a-name hoppy dark ale is an ale brewed with dark roasted malts and the alcohol and bittering units (IBUs) similar to that of an IPA. And although renditions of this style can be dated back to England, it is pretty much agreed upon by most that this style is, in fact, American. Which brings us to my thoughts on the matter.

________________________________________

Ashley’s Argument AGAINST the American Black IPA: The name has a double contradiction, no real roots to India, and is crazy confusing. As I mention below, confusing consumers is not a smart tactic in the overall plan to convert people to craft beer.

Ashley’s Argument FOR the Black IPA: The IPA is the most brewed style and the name IPA is one that consumers find familiar. Adding the word “Black” to the name implies dark beer that tastes like an IPA — a concept which might be fairly easy for consumers to grasp.

Ashley’s Argument AGAINST the Cascadian Dark Ale: Outside of Cascadia and maybe the beer industry, most consumers do not know what a CDA is and probably don’t even know what/where Cascadia is. Confusion leads to insecurity and it is harder to convert beer drinkers to craft beer when they are confused and insecure.

Ashley’s Argument FOR the Cascadian Dark Ale: By its definition, this is the perfect name for the beer. It is named for the region of origin, which is also the region from which the ingredients are sourced.

________________________________________

So what do we call it? For starters, the word American is good.  But, for fear that the Canadian Cascadians (try saying that 5 times fast) might feel some sort of insult in using only American, perhaps the name North American would be more appreciated. It is important to note that the Brewer’s Association describes the hop character of this style as “fruity, floral and herbal from hops of all origins.” Which means that designating the style as North American does not necessarily imply that the ingredients are exclusively from the North American continent.

But before we go on, it is important to address the argument that against using the word American to signify “hoppy.” Well, let’s look at other American styles, shall we? Adding the term American in front of Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Red Ale, IPA, Barleywine etc. does in fact mean that these beers have higher IBUs than their English counterparts and that the hop profile of said beers tends to reflect the nature of native American hops. So yes, since past examples illustrate that using the term American does constitute beers that are significantly more hoppy than their European cousins,  I do believe that using the term American is appropriate in this situation.

And then there is the matter of color. The style guidelines, according the the Brewer’s Association, describes the beer as anything above 25 SRM. This means that the beer does not, in fact, have to be black. For comparison, the porter, which  is typically ruby brown in color, falls in between 20-40 SRM.

 

Now, since the SRM requirements are not exclusively black, and include darker brown shades, using the term black does not seem appropriate. And thus I propose the term dark as a replacement. And since the beer is brewed with ale yeast, we will go ahead and call it an ale.

In summary, I think that the name “North American Dark Ale” would be an appropriate name for the style category. It details the region of origin, without excluding all of Cascadia, speaks correctly to the color of the beer as described in the official style guidelines, and is not contradictory or confusing. And the moniker? NADA? As in niente, nada, nothing, can we please stop talking about this issue and just settle it already? Besides, I have bigger bones to pick… (do not get me started on some of the ludicrous categories judged at the GABF…)

And if NADA doesn’t strike anyone’s fancy, let it be known that my vote is for  returning to the American-style Black Ale category name.

Cheers!

 

 


About The Beer Wench

Ashley is a self-proclaimed craft beer evangelist & social media maven on a mission to advance the craft beer industry through education, inspiration and advocacy. She is currently the “Director of Awesomeness” at Bison Brewing in Berkeley, CA — where her responsibilities include everything from marketing, sales, PR, social media & events. Ashley is also a freelance consultant and professional speaker on the subjects of social media, beer mixology, food & beverage pairings. She is the founder of DrinkWithTheWench.com & BeerMixology.com as well as a regular contributor to CraftBeer.com.


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17 thoughts on “That Which We Call A Rose: The Black IPA Name Debate

  • In With Bacchus

    Have to disagree on this one. To me, North American Dark Ale is far too generic of a term. By the title alone, it could cover a vast variety of subcategories within the judging circuit. While beer nerds such as ourselves would be able to understand “Oh, that’s the renaming of what used to be a Black IPA”, you also have to realize how confusing that would be for consumers that don’t live and breathe beer categorization. Let alone what kinds of beers would be submitted to judging panels mistakenly for a NADA. That could cover every stout, porter, nut brown, what have you.

    I think that the most readily adaptable is the Black IPA because the title pretty much lets the consumer know what they’re in for. It’s an IPA and it’s gonna be dark, probably with a toastier background. Cool stuff. If you wanted to get really technical, calling it a Dark IPA would be more suitable but that would force people to change the Double IPA abbreviation (DIPA) to something like IIPA (Imperial IPA). I do think there is a place for the Cascadian Dark Ale, however, as a subcategory of the Black IPA line. Much like there is Cognac to Brandy, a Cascadian Dark Ale would be a more localized, regional product within the overarching category.

    My two cents though.

  • Wenchie Post author

    I agree with the CDA being a sub category within the overall style. And yes NADA is way too general, but then so are the style guidelines. We brew an “Imperial Brown Ale” that has the color and IBUs of said category (it’s not black like the category name suggests) and I’m sure we could submit it in competition just based on the style description… but is it really a Black IPA? Not really…

  • Mat McGee

    I feel that American Style India Black Ale (IBA) or black IPA is the best descriptor for the style. American-style indicates that yeah, it’s gonna be hoppy, which is accurate for everything labeled american-style as you pointed out. cascadia just happens to be sorta where the majority of hops are grown, so I’d like to throw CDA out the window as the overarching style, but it could be more of a substyle. You do raise the question early on, “how could something be both American and Indian? And how could a beer be both Pale and Black?,” which seems kinda silly to me because nobody questions ‘american style india pale ale’ even though we have nothing to do with india (yes, technically its just our take on a historic english style, but work with me here), so why should “american style india black ale” raise questions?

    for those who question the blackness of a ‘pale’ beer it (american india black ale) certainly is a better contender than black IPA, although grammatically black IPA is just as correct as anything else, black being the adjective that modifies the noun IPA. but you do still get the people who would ask, “how can you have a black-colored pale beer?” to which I counter, “how the hell do we have something like four pale and india pale ale categories, the color of which varies from the lightest yellow to the deepest amber-red?” in the end, I don’t think many people will get what they want. the cascadians want their recognition, stone wants theirs, and vermont? well, fuck vermont.

    to be serious though, why hasn’t anyone at the BA just told all of these breweries and beer nerds to get their panties out of a wad and agree to call the style “hoppy-but-not-roasty black ale”. yeah, it’s stupid but nobody gets their toes (or appelation) stepped on and people understand what the beer is instantly.

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  • Steve Parkes

    Considering that the first modern commercial example was an extremely hoppy porter brewed by Greg Noonan in Vermont I think Vermont Porter is an equally valid name. Also consider that just as much British brewed porter was shipped to India at the same time as IPA the idea that this style is simply a hoppy porter is also true.

  • beercommdood

    Great write-up, Ashley. As we discussed on Twitter previously, naming this brew is certainly not without contention, but in the end, it simply needs a place. “Black IPA” may not be correct due to the contradictions in the name itself, but is certainly a marketable moniker. Certainly any brewer would be free to use such a phrase on their bottles, cans, etc. Cascadian Dark also would work for an official style, but would require education among the masses. Of course, kolsch, helles, lambic and other styles that would cause the typical beer consumer to look perplexed have now become widely understood thanks to a blend of successful marketing, popular brand adoption, and the production of damn tasty beer.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter to me what they ultimately decide to officially name this style on the books. We need this put to rest for judging ad proper categorization for brewing. My black cascadian hoppy IPA whatever you want to call it was judged in with porters and (oddly) stouts last fall. I think the shock factor alone gave my beer an edge over the others as the profile is so vastly different from a porter or stout. While I’d like to think my beer held its own and earned its awards on its own merits, I can’t help but think the striking difference in the style from the other entries gave it an edge with the judges. Granted it was submitted under “Specialty (23)”, and it was the competition staff/judges who chose to lump it in with porters and stouts for tasting.

    It is funny how big a a deal this name debate has become. Did Pilsner or Kolsch go through similar debate back in the day, or was there an understanding of the beer’s uniqueness with regard to point of origin that allowed for smooth adoption? It’d be interesting to find out. But more than that, these regionally-named beers have since been modified and brewed using non-regional ingredients and still hold true to their name. It seems it’s become more about the overall profile and not about origin of ingredients. Pilsners are defined in part by use of noble hops, not regionally-specific yields of such hops. And they have subcategories of Bohemian and American variations where some modifications of the style have taken place, albeit fairly consistently (American may stray from noble hops, Bohemian dial specifically into Saaz). Perhaps such a sub-categorization could be used for this new black hoppy beast to note specific variations on the style, whatever it may be called?

  • Wenchie Post author

    Steve: Agreed with hoppy porter concept as well. That’s another reason this style is becoming so ambiguous. What is it? Is is a Black Ale? A porter? It is English? Is it American? Maybe we need 2 categories? Ugh… And WHAT is up with the aged ale? LOL.

  • Anders Nilbrink

    Interesting article and well written. I think in the end the consumers and the breweries will determines the name. I think it will be something recognizable that describes the flavor of the beer the best way. The brewers will chose a name for their beer that will sell the best. Some will initially choose the “wrong” name. The consumers will go for simplicity and recognition. People know (or think they know) that a dark beer can have a roasted flavor and an IPA/AIPA is hoppy, thus I think in the end it will be Black IPA. Simple, recognizable and sellable.
    I don’t think the consumer will be confused about contradictions in the name- black vs. pale (or America/North America vs. India in the other name suggestions).There are plenty of contradictions in names and expressions in our language and people don’t think much about it.

    Here is my name suggestion.
    PA=malty with hop flavors, IPA=hoppy, American IPA=very hoppy. It seems like American and India is the hop-level indicator in the name. Porter=roasty.
    So, hoppy and roasted beer=India Porter and a very hoppy, roasted beer= American Porter. Simple, recognizable and sellable? (With my logic it should probably be American India Porter (AIP) but that just sounds stupid).

  • WallyG3

    I’m all for American Dark Ale. We already have American Amber Ale, why should this be any different?

  • Chris Lewis

    I think of “IPA” as a generic term. Kinda like Kleenex. People know when asking for one they get a tissue, not the brand of tissue they are inquiring about. I think most people know the storied history behind the term India Pale Ale but the term “IPA” has become a standard beer labeling for a hoppy style beer. If you were to call it Black India Pale Ale I think this would be wrong. But a Black IPA in my opinion would work. Taking in the modern acceptance of the “IPA” as a hoppy beer.

    Anyways….

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  • Patrick Boegel

    NADA is good, basically anything that puts this in a defined class is good. I have disagreed with Greg Koch before, but I could not disagree with him more vehemently and think the argument he attempts to build for labeling these Black IPAs is fraught with error and opinion.

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  • Angelo

    I say call a beer what you wish. It’s all quite subjective. And while I understand…um sorta…those like Stone who deny Cascadia as the main force behind the style and the region where their hops come from, I can imagine the confusion that India Pale Ale must have caused when the style name first emerged. Still, education should supersede dumbing down things for easy immediacy. Just my two cents. Great article, Ash. I like how you take various sides of the argument into account.

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