On Saturday, whilst craning my neck to see the Blazer game from a poorly-situated booth at the Laurelwood, I sipped "Arctic Apocalypse," Chad Kennedy's black imperial IPA. As he promised, it tasted more or less like a regular imperial IPA, though the dark malt(s) added what I'd call a malt-o-meal note (wholesome, rib-sticking, breakfasty). It's a neat trick, something to appreciate on the level of sleight of hand. But it raises more pertinent questions: why, for example, does the world need a black IPA? Are we similarly deprived for lack of a pale stout? Hmmm.
I have spent some time trawling the internets for an origin story for this trend (please, let's refrain from calling it a style just for the moment, shall we?), and came up empty. Someone thought of it, brewed it, and the meme was released. Now we have several dozen examples, and a few Oregon breweries have dabbled with stained IPAs. The idea doesn't appear to extend beyond coloring a standard style--sort of like green St. Patrick's Day beer--and the trick is to achieve darkness without changing the flavor.
This brings us to the why. Although I have commented dyspeptically in the past about style creep, I'm actually a big fan of innovation. Yet the idea isn't to change the nature of the beer, just its color--isn't that gimmickry, not innovation?
None of this is to slag Acrtic Apocalypse (though how about "Black Bombay" or "Dark Delhi" or somethinng?), which I enjoyed. Chad may have hit on one of the ways to accomplish the trick--add 100+ IBUs of hops and blast away all the maltiness. AA is a massive beer, and the hops come in a wall of brutish force, bouyed by a lot of thick, malt alcohol. If you're a fan of the imperial IPA style, you'll like this beer. (Although if you're more into nuance, try the British Daily Ale, which also just went on tap. It's a brown, full of flavor and aroma, but a session tipple. More of the Blazer-watching beer I was looking for.)
So how about your thoughts: black IPAs, gimmickry or grooviness?