Brewing a Black IPA
Black IPA as a style is a tough one to fathom. On paper, it seems like an ungodly balance between two things that shouldn’t really mix. Many even argue over what a true Black IPA should be. Some want a more hoppy stout, others prefer an IPA with just the black colouring, while a few just call it straight-up absurd. But for me, this style comes into its own when that hint of roasted malt marries the pale base and pungent hops in a really intriguing and delicious way.
After a win at the London and South East Homebrew Competition earlier this year, I had the opportunity to brew my homebrew ‘Sasquatch Black IPA’ again on a bigger scale at Anspach & Hobday Brewery in Bermondsey on their 100 litre pilot kit.
My initial homebrew was inspired by some of the recipes I read in Mitch Steele’s excellent “IPA” book, which documents some of the original incarnations of the style, notably The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead’s early experiments. The other obvious beer to look to for inspiration was Firestone Walker’s incredible Wookey Jack, the gold standard of Black IPA in my eyes. Matt Brynildson, Head Brewery at Firestone Walker, has even guided homebrewers wanting to make a clone of the beer at home.
Then there is To Øl’s enigmatic Black Malts and Body Salts, an Imperial Black IPA with a coffee kick that is as unique as it is delicious. Having recently chatted to Tobias, one half of the To Øl duo, I asked him about creating the beer, and any general tips for Black IPAs.
Tobias wrote, “First of all, we use french press coffee and add it just before bottling. No coffee in the mash, kettle, fermentors, whatever. Just straight to the bottling tank. It keeps the aroma the best in our regard. And secondly, I think that black IPA should remember that it’s an IPA. Too many are hoppy stouts. So go easy, use pilsner malt instead of pale and the coloured malts to a minimum of the high flavoured one. So just a bit of chocolate and roasted wheat perhaps just give it some body and depth and colour, but no more than that. Oh, and tons of dry hops…”
Tons of dry hops is definitely no joke. If there’s one thing that can kill a Black IPA, it’s when the hop aroma leaves. You’re then normally left with a pretty bland beer, so it’s best go big when you can. My own take used Mosaic and Citra, two hops known for being pretty pungent and able to hold their own.
The re-brew at Anspach and Hobday went without much of a hitch, with head brewer Paul Anspach guiding me through the kit, and generally being a very accommodating fellow. We missed our target OG a bit, but a 6.5% IPA is probably a better idea for those drinking a lot on the Bermonsdey mile on a Saturday than a 7.5% one.
The day included sampling a few other Black IPAs, alongside homebrews and experimental batch bottles from both Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch, the other brewery sharing the site with A&H. Both Paul from A&H and Ryan from Bullfinch started as homebrewers and still keep that experimental fire alive, with crazy batches of ‘Umami beer’, brett spiked bottles and even a Gose’ or two. It’s obvious that if you start as a homebrewer, it always sticks with you.
All in all, we got around 90 litres of the good stuff. We had to reach out to Kernel to source some of the Mosaic hops, and then dry hopped it to hell. The beer’s name, “Sasquatch” is a bit of a nod to its furry inspiration, Firestone’s Wookey Jack.
The beer will available to try at Anspach and Hobday this Saturday, the 6th December. So if you like your IPAs with a bit of darkness and dankness, come and have a try.