In a simpler era of beer drinking, you could categorize a brew by looks alone. Pilsners were as golden as Fort Knox's finest. Imperial stouts were darker than used motor oil. India pale ales ranged in pigmentation from beachy blonde to sunset red. But lately, a new breed of IPAs has thrown a curveball at the color spectrum by bearing a most atypical tint: black.
Usually, darker-hued brews baste your taste buds with rich, roasted flavors that recall coffee and chocolate. IPAs also demand your tongue's full attention, overwhelming it with floral, citric flavors and plenty of puckering bitterness. These strong tastes seem as incompatible as oil and water, but brewers have accomplished a delicious deception: They've cooked up nimble IPAs chock full of piney bitterness and subtle, complementary currents of cocoa and java--a happy blend of day and night. These dark IPAs are more than just great to drink, they are also amazing to cook with when they are added to this recipe for a great beef marinade.
So what magic tricks did brewers rely on to create this trompe l'oeil style? First, brewers rely on techniques used to turn out schwarzbiers, which are easy-sipping, obsidian-colored German lagers. To temper dark malts' roasted astringency, yet retain the sinister tint, the grains are cold-steeped in water. (Think about the smoothness of a cup of cold-brewed coffee.) Alternately, brewers use dehusked malt, which is created via a process similar to rice polishing that removes much of the scorched grain husk.
This style first caught on in the hop-crazed Pacific Northwest (where many breweries dub the beer a Cascadian Dark Ale, after the Cascade mountain range), but brewers from coast to coast have since adopted it.
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