The new year is off to a great start for hoppy beer fans. Eric Brusewitz, brewer at the Great Dane in downtown Madison, just tapped a coal-black beer with the aggressive bitterness of an India Pale Ale. The phrase made famous by test pilots and astronauts, "pushing the envelope," that is going beyond what their vehicle was designed to do, applies to Brusewitz's creation -- and it's appropriately called "Parallel Universe."
What is it? Parallel Universe IPA from the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company - Downtown.
Style: Parallel Universe falls into an emerging style of beer called the American-style India Black Ale, or IBA. It also gets labeled "Cascadian Dark Ale" when the dominant hop in the recipe is the American Cascade hop from the Pacific Northwest. Brewers may also refer to them as black IPAs, despite the contradiction inherent in combining "black" and "pale." (IPAs are typically lighter in color, and packed with a hoppy bite.) The style is just beginning to be recognized in competitive beer judging events. The American Brewers Association describes the India Black Ale as having medium to high hoppy bitterness in flavor and aroma, along with a moderate degree of caramel maltiness and a roasted but not burnt character. The IBA ranges from 6% to 7.5% ABV.
Background: Parallel Universe is made with eight varieties of hops, added at five points in the brewing process. Cascade hops are featured prominently, and their spicy and citrus tones are evident in the later stages of the flavor profile. The beer is also dry-hopped in the serving vessel with whole leaf Cascade and Amarillo hops, which remain in the serving tank while the beer is being tapped at the bar. That should bring out more aromatic hoppiness over the life of the beer, depending upon how long it remains available.
But this beer is not all about hops. Brusewitz uses three different caramel malts that add body and semi-sweetness to the flavor. Its dark color comes from additions of Chocolate and Black malts.
Parallel Universe finishes around 6.75% ABV. It sells for $5.50/pint and $10/growler (refill).
- Aroma: Medium, firm, floral hoppiness.
- Appearance: Very dark black with a rocky brown head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, round and bubbly.
- Taste: Lots of citrus and spicy bitterness up front. Bitterness continues throughout with a light roasted background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Some hints of chocolate malt in the end, but the bitterness stays around and builds with some bitter dryness.
Glassware: The English pint glass is great for showing off this beer's beautiful dark black color.
Pairs well with: This is a beer that goes very nicely with char-grilled entrees. From the Great Dane's menu, match this beer with the Flat Iron Chef Steak and grilled asparagus. Its hoppiness will also stand up to the spicy heat of Tara's Cajun Chicken sandwich and its chipotle mayonnaise.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: I really enjoyed Parallel Universe, both for its flavor and because it gives the drinker something to think about. With all the hop varieties that get added at different stages of the process, its bitterness comes in waves, making it a beautifully "engineered" beer. This brew has a strong hoppy character with firm citrus and resiny bitterness. Served very cold and on a standard CO2-driven tap line, it really livens up the bitterness on the tongue. And while the rich caramel-and-chocolate maltiness adds flavor depth, even a little roasted dryness, it's not the in-your-face grapefruity-bitterness of many American-style IPAs.
While Parallel Universe may not be out of this world in International Bitterness Units, there is still plenty of assertiveness for the hop-head to enjoy. I also appreciate its deep color -- it's as dark as the nighttime sky, making it a stellar choice for the heart of winter.