The IPA’s Goth Little Brother: The Black IPA 

By: David Wren

David Wren is a Certified Cicerone (R) in Richmond, VA with a serious passion for great beer. When he is not drinking beer, he works as a Human Resources and Operations Consultant with a local firm. He can be reached at or 804-477-5481.

If you grew up anytime between the late 80s and now, or have seen famous coming-of-age movies like The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls or Dazed and Confused, you probably are familiar with how cliquey high school can be. To be completely cliché, there always seemed to be the jocks, the popular girls, the artsy kids, and among other groups, the self-proclaimed “goths.” For those not familiar, they were the group whose predominant wardrobe choice was some shade of black. I’ll be honest, there was a time when I donned a fair amount of black and sported the t-shirts of my favorite bands. There was also a time when I wore mostly polyester button downs and bell-bottoms, which my friends affectionately refer to as my “Disco Phase.” Coincidentally, that was also the phase when my older brother decided to let me walk into school a few minutes ahead of him each day, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that when I think of the Black IPA style, I can’t help but reminisce about my high school days and my short-lived affinity for the color black.

The American Black Ale, or Black IPA, is a peculiar style that is basically a standard IPA dressed in all black. It happily marries the dark, roasted flavors of a stout with the hop driven fruit, pine and citrus flavors of an IPA. The American Black Ale is a hybrid beer, invented and developed solely by American brewers. Taking inspiration from the German Schwarzbier, or Black Lager style, American brewers sought to create a beer that balanced two flavor counterpoints: roastiness and bitterness. First brewed at the Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Vermont, the brewers at San Diego’s (and now Richmond’s) Stone Brewing Company built upon and popularized the style with their Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. In an interview with famous beer journalist Joshua Bernstein, Stone’s former head brewer Mitch Steele commented on the creation of the brew, “We wanted it to drink like an IPA, but look like a stout.” He found that using dehusked black malt, the same variety used in German Schwarzbiers, “allowed the hops to come through.” When tasting an American Black Ale, expect a well-balanced beer with roasted overtones, but a bitter, citrusy and/or piney finish. When you think about it, a “Black IPA” is really an oxymoron, considering an IPA is an India Pale Ale. Ignoring these semantics and diving lips-first into any of the Black IPAs below is sure to both tickle your taste buds and expand your beer horizons.

Beer and Food Pairing
American Black Ales pair perfectly with grilled, smoked or roasted beef or pork, as well as charcuterie. As for dessert, rich, intense dark chocolate desserts like triple chocolate cake or chocolate truffles would pair well with the Black IPA, because the hoppy, bitter finish would help cut some of that richness. The roastiness and bitterness of these beers also complement meaty, earthy tasting cheeses like most Cheddars, Swiss, Gruyere and Parmesan. Most of all, German cuisine makes a delicious partner to the Black Ale, with its many grilled dark meats, roasted potatoes and overall heartiness of flavor. Because American Black Ales are medium to full bodied, they will be much better suited for entrees or desserts rather than appetizers.  

Beers to Try:

O’Connor Brewing : Great Dismal Black Ale
Easy drinking and well balanced, this namesake for Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp is a great representation of the style.

Castleburg : Black Knight IPA
Bold and aggressive, this Black Knight is much more potent than the one made famous by Monty Python.

Trapezium Brewing : Lucky 48 Imperial Black IPA
Hoppy stout or roasty D.I.P.A.? It’s labeled as an Imperial Black IPA, but will satisfy even the most discerning stout-sippers.

Isley Brewing : Need For Greed Black Double IPA
Like Jamaica at midnight, this Double IPA is dark and tropical. Luckily you won’t have to travel to the Caribbean to try one!