For weeks now I've opened my fridge and looked at the bottle of Deschutes Hop in the Dark, a beer they proudly tout as Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA). For weeks, I've said, "maybe later." Last night, I said, "oh, all right."
My relationship with the style is not wildly positive (see here and here), which is a shame for someone as baldly parochial as I. And it's not for lack of trying--I do want to like the CDAs. The clash of flavors, roast and hop bite, have heretofore been too much to overcome, however, so I regard them with the reviewer's eye, never enjoying them with the drinker's tongue.
I have to confess: Hop in the Dark isn't quite as far outside my wheelhouse as I expected. According to the website, it took Larry Sidor and Cam O'Connor 22 batches to perfect the recipe. (That's one of the reasons I think breweries need to get the yeast for Cheers to Belgian Beers as soon as possible--but let's not get off into the weeds.) One stroke of brilliance is oats, which gives the beer an impressive creaminess. You'd think this would further confuse matters for an already schizophrenic style, but it actually helps bridge the gap between coffee bitterness of the darker malts and hop bite. Like a friend who tries to smooth things over between adversaries.
Deschutes also decided to just go for it with the hops; they're a nuclear 75 BUs, and taste every inch of it. Generally CDAs try to find the balance point (which is like finding a balance between orange juice and toothpaste), but not Hop in the Dark. It's a hop bomb. One other thing I've finally tumbled to: somehow the combination of lots of hops and noticeable roasty malt creates the impression of pine. And not mildly. I have previously believed this to be a function of hops, but with Cascade, Citra, and Centennial, the pine clearly comes from elsewhere. My guess is that two compounds--one from malt, one from hop--conspire to fool the tongue. (Sally detects it only if I prod.)
I can't really judge these things on the "good" to "bad" scale, but I can say I would drink another pint if offered one. For me, that's saying something. No doubt the brewery will hasten to add that to their promotional materials.