The India Black Ale, or IBA, generates a great deal of conversation among hoppy beer enthusiasts. It's a relatively new and evolving style of beer modeled after the assertively bitter India Pale Ale, and because of that it's sometimes called a black IPA. Lake Louie Brewing just released a version. Brewmaster Tom Porter says debate over the style's name made it difficult to get the label approved by federal regulators, delaying the release of the beer by several weeks, but it's now available.
What is it? Radio Free I.B.A from Lake Louie Brewing of Arena, Wisconsin.
Style: The India Black Ale is rapidly catching on among brewers looking for a distinctive twist to the very popular and assertively bitter India Pale Ale. As the name indicates, this beer is very dark. Some professional style guidelines, like the Beer Judge Certification Program, refer to it as American-Style Black Ale. The style offers medium to high hoppy bitterness in flavor and aroma, along with a moderate degree of caramel maltiness and a roasted but not burnt character. It ranges from 6% to 7.5% ABV.
Background: In naming his beer, Tom Porter drew from memories of the late '60s and early '70s when he was a fan of WIBA-FM, which played a free-flowing, unrestricted, album-oriented format that was dubbed Radio Free Madison. As Porter recalls, the station played the acid rock he was into at the time, presented with few or no commercials. Radio Free I.B.A fits in with the other hyper-local names Porter gives to Lake Louie brews.
Porter wanted to make something a little different from what fans of the style might expect. Lake Louie Radio Free IBA does showcase lots of hops -- four different varieties are used. However, the challenge in making a dark beer is to provide the hoppy pine and citrus flavors that many look for in an India Pale Ale. And the dark malts that give a beer black color can also add a roasted or burnt type of bitterness; when not kept in check, all that bitterness can become astringent, even medicinal. To avoid that, Porter's choice of ingredients includes a de-bittered malt called Midnight Wheat -- it adds dark color, promotes softness in the mouthfeel, and helps create a thick-soft head of foam.
But Porter's most distinctive departure from the pack of IBAs is the addition of raspberries, which he has flown in from Oregon just for this beer. Two hundred pounds go into each batch of Radio Free I.B.A Despite that, Porter is adamant that he doesn't want his beer to be seen as a fruit beer. "I'm not a fan of that stuff." he adds. "The Pacific Northwest hops make it bitter with a whisper of chocolate and real raspberry."
Lake Louie Radio Free I.B.A finishes at 7% ABV, and four-packs sell for around $10. The beer is a limited release for the summer.
- Aroma: Mild chocolate maltiness, with light roastedness qualities and just a hint of fruitiness in the nose.
- Appearance: Very dark body, with a thick brown head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, bubbly and slightly soft.
- Taste: The maltiness, with hints of chocolate malt, is strongest up front. There is some roastedness alongside hoppy bitterness, but it's not overwhelming. The hints of raspberry are mostly in the background, and they stick around into the beer's finish for a nice fruity blend that takes the edge off the bitterness. The raspberries mostly ferment out, so what's left is more of a subtle berry accent.
- Finish/Aftertaste: That raspberry and light chocolate maltiness compliment the citrus-bitterness of the cascade hops in the end. There is also a lingering dryness and alcohol warmth on the palate.
Glassware: With its strong aroma and flavor, this IBA will stand up fine in the common bar pint. For hopheads looking for bitterness, serve it very cold. However, if you're looking to bring out the chocolate malt and hints of raspberry, serve it at room temperature in a Willi Becher; its inward taper near the top of the glass will focus the aromas under the nose.
Pairs well with: You'll want an entrée with lots of flavor. The IBA's assertive hoppiness goes well with heavily spiced dishes, especially Asian, Thai and Cajun cuisines. It's also a nice companion to sharp cheddar cheese, which brings out the beer's bitterness, or to a soft Mobay, which brings out more of the chocolate maltiness.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: It took more than one bottle for me to develop appreciation for Radio Free I.B.A. At first I wasn't too excited, but it grew on me. My frame of reference has been poorly constructed IBAs that allow the harshness of highly roasted black malts to overshadow everything else in the beer. So, as I thought about Tom Porter's recipe that avoids such astringency, my appreciation grew.
It's certainly a style that speaks to those with a taste for bitterness, so it's not a beer for everyone. I like IBAs that are more than just black color and bitter intensity in a glass. Lake Louie Radio Free I.B.A, at a modest but respectable 48 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), allows the hops to dominate, but its chocolate maltiness and hint of raspberries make this beer much more interesting than other IBAs.