Beer Styles Bastard Children

Posted by Darryl | Beer Styles, Educate Me, IPA | Posted on October 14th, 2011

It’s entirely too late (3:51 AM PDT), and I probably shouldn’t be writing because I suspect that I’ll ramble, but if not now…when?

The Beer Wench (her blog & Twitter) tweeted a link to, and some comments about, Greg Koch’s blog post titled “In Defense of Language: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Black IPA“. (Greg is the CEO and Co-Founder of Stone Brewing Co., and is on Twitter at @StoneGreg) Go read that post, then come back here, otherwise this may not make sense. Go ahead… it’s okay… I’ll wait.

Now maybe I missed it completely, but it seems to me that what Greg is saying that if a style has become diluted and divorced from it’s origins, then the origin and the meaning of the style should be abandoned and disregarded while we effort to rename the “mutations” that have sprung from their long-ago ancestors.

Greg’s post is primarily in support of the name “Black IPA” for IPAs that are, well… black. But in doing so he indicates that the origins of the name IPA are meaningless in this day and age.

Greg states in his post:

First, I will suggest that the words India Pale Ale when written out, no longer have much of a relationship to the IPAs being brewed by craft brewers in the U.S. today, and many other places in the world.

On this point I would disagree. Greg points out that India Pale Ale got its name because it was being sent to India. As any frat-boy who “knows everything about beer” (but really doesn’t) can tell you, the an IPA had extra hops added for that long journey by sea from Britain to India. To me, this provides a simple definition of the style: a pale ale with lots of hops, readied to survive a long journey.

Greg is looking for justification of the name “Black IPA”, but in doing so he is unconsciously saying that the origin of the term “IPA” is now meaningless; they are no longer shipped by sea to India (usually), so since “India” is no longer relevant to the style, they may no longer be pale as well. Shouldn’t we then also accept that an IPA does not necessarily have to be an ale?

If we were to accept “Black IPA” to mean any dark hoppy beer, then why would we continue to accept “IPA” to mean a Pale Ale at all? Or hoppy? Will we soon see “Strawberry IPA? (Which in my mind makes more sense than “black” contradictory to “pale”.)

As Greg says, an American IPA has very little relationship to it’s IPA namesake; using entirely different malts and hops than original IPAs. But, an American IPA still holds to my simple definition of the style; pale ale, lots of hops, can survive a journey. The BJCP Style Guide says it clearly:

An American version of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude.

So what would a Black IPA be defined as? An IPA that’s black? Would it use American ingredients? What if it was black but used European ingredients? What if we just decided to forego the hops altogether? Can I still call that an IPA? So what if it taste like a porter!? Wouldn’t we have “Black American IPA”? “Black Imperial IPA”? Where’s the line.

If we are willing to overlook the history and meaning behind IPA in order to justify the name “Black IPA”, then we are simply saying we are willing to allow the name IPA to be used in reference to any beer, of any color, of any alcohol content, and eventually it would man any relevance to hoppiness, both high and low.

Do “Black IPAs” need a name? Are they in need of a style classification? Yes, absolutely they are. Should that name include “IPA”? I do not believe so. I think that you are able to justify prefixing IPA with “Black”, then you negate the meaning of IPA, and therefore could simply call the beer “IPA” since it’s now meaningless anyway.

I believe that “Black IPAs” are deserving of their own name, their own style. Not only would this allow beers of that style to receive the unique attention they so richly deserve, but it also helps to avoid diluting the selection of beers that are truly IPA and allow them to be continued to be known as “IPA”.

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One Response to “Beer Styles Bastard Children”

  1. Derek says:

    “I think that you are able to justify prefixing IPA with “Black”, then you negate the meaning of IPA, and therefore could simply call the beer “IPA” since it’s now meaningless anyway.”

    Simply saying this is so doesn’t make it so.

    The simple truth is that the majority of people (or at least a plurality) call Black IPAs: Black IPAs. This has neither led to confusion over the meaning of the phrase nor the erosion of understanding or meaning to the term “IPA.”

    It’s like arguing: if we let the gays marry, who are we going to have to let marry next? Or 100 years ago: if we let women vote, who are we going to have to let vote next?

    “Greg is looking for justification of the name “Black IPA”, but in doing so he is unconsciously saying that the origin of the term “IPA” is now meaningless;”

    In fact he didn’t “unconsciously” say anything of the sort. He in fact, very explicitly discussed that the term IPA now has a connotation that is divorced from the partly-mythic populist “origin” story.

    As for whether or not it needs to be an ale? Well, for now, the term IPA very distinctly in the popular lexicon means a hoppy ale. If at some point that distinction were to become blurred, if we became comfortable with the idea of IPAs brewed with lager yeast, then sure.

    “If we are willing to overlook the history and meaning behind IPA in order to justify the name “Black IPA”, then we are simply saying we are willing to allow the name IPA to be used in reference to any beer, of any color, of any alcohol content, and eventually it would man any relevance to hoppiness, both high and low.”

    This is untrue for two reasons.

    1) The history and meaning of IPA are fluid, and the origin story is a bit apocryphal. Neither are needed or required to understand what an IPA actually is.
    2) The phrase “IPA” has meaning. Applying a contradictory term that provides new meaning is actually building off of that existing meaning, cementing the characteristics of the IPA as a hoppy, PALE ale. It doesn’t undermine the common understanding, it supports it.

    Cheers,
    Derek

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