Monday, March 21, 2016

Beer Reviews: Wookey Jack by Firestone Walker and five other great Black IPAs

Wookey Jack by Firestone Walker
Wookey Jack by Firestone Walker
Over the past couple of decades, as folks have woken up to great beer, we've seen the emergence of new styles and flavours as innovative brewers put their own slant on old recipes, as well as the revival of very old styles.

One of the newer styles to gain popularity is the oxymoronic Black IPA.

India Pale Ales are heavily hopped light-coloured beers that date from the heyday of the British Empire. Black IPAs, however, hail from the 1990s, when craft breweries on America's East and West coasts started added heaps of their local hops to dark malty beers to create lip-smacking bittering, exciting aromas and juicy, fruity flavours.

"Black IPAs," explains Derek Hoy of specialists Hippo Beers in Glasgow, " are stunning and complex beers when done well. It can be really difficult for brewers to get the balance right but when they do, the results are incredible."

For an incredible example of the style, try Wookey Jack black rye IPA (8.3%) from California's Firestone Walker. As Derek Hoy says: "Until now Firestone Walker have been one of the many excellent American craft breweries largely out of reach of UK-based beer fans. They've won 'Best Mid-sized Brewery' four times at the Beer World Cup and rightly so; and their arrival in the UK has created a real air of excitement."

Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack is one of the best examples of the Black IPA style you will ever get your hands on. So take your time with this one. And buy two.

First off, the aroma is a pungent blast of fresh hops, caramel, orange, citrus and earthy spices. You could breathe it in and die happy.

The flavour, though, is just divine. The alcohol is there, but it's in no way distracting. Instead, you'll enjoy amazingly complex flavours of dried figs, raisins, roasted coffee, rye spices, plum, caramel and grapefruit.

But what makes this beer so great is the balance. The sweet malts and bittering and aroma hops all blend perfectly together, building up to a long, smooth and woody conclusion that closes with a long and multi-layered velvety finish. Beautiful.

Five other great Black IPAs

In the Dark We Live (7.2%)
One of the best Black IPAs around. This beautifully balanced and deliciously complex beer brings out flavours of coffee and toasted malts, citrus pine, dark berries and spices. The aroma is intense; the finish long. A triumph from the team at Tempest Brewing Co in Galashiels.

Bea black rye IPA (6%)
The sweet aroma of fresh hops and rich treacle doesn't prepare you for the black coffee bitterness of this beer from Rotterdam's Kaapse Brouwers. It's tangy with a long, salty finish with subtle tropical hop flavours easing in under the domineering malts.

Magic 8 Ball (7%)
Tropical fruits - pineapple, grapefruit and mango - abound in this dark velvety beer from Magic Rock in Huddersfield. Rich roasted malt flavours, hints of coffee and chocolate, and a juicy centre that evolves into medium bitter finish.

India Pale Ale Black (6.8%)
The big, big hops really overwhelm the dark malts in this black IPA, from Londoners Kernel, whose take on the style ramps up the juicy bitterness and grapefruit flavours.

Sanda Black IPA (5.5%)
A recent revision of Fyne Ale's recipe turned this black IPA from alright to awesome. Along with coffee-like bittering and toasted malts, it's heavily hopped using Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand, blasting out juicy-fruit flavours of gooseberry and passion fruit.

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