IPAs in black and white

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BLACK IPAs are so 2011.

Last year’s hot new style, which exploded in popularity before beer gurus could even settle on a proper name (Cascadian Dark Ale? American Black Ale?), is already getting shoved to the side by a new crop of India pale ales.

Would you believe white IPA?

OK, you saw that one coming – so, how about Baltic IPA?

Those are two of the new styles that found their way into my fridge before I even Black and White: Sam Adams Dark Depths and Saranac White IPAturned the first calendar page of 2012. And I won’t be surprised if there are more newfangled IPAs to come.

That India pale ale – a strongly hopped, 200-year-old British style named for its colonial exportation to India – has become the darling of small brewers in the United States is remarkable enough. Thirty years ago, you could count the number of American-made IPAs on one paw. Today, it is the single most popular judging category at the annual Great American Beer Festival.

Maybe there’s one or two out there among America’s nearly 2,000 microbreweries, but I can’t think of a single one that doesn’t make an IPA.

What’s fascinating is how these brewers – inspired by either creativity or sheer boredom – have been tweaking this fairly conventional beer style.

First came American-style IPAs, in which Northwestern-grown hops stepped forward. Then there were imperial or double IPAs, super strong ales with even more distinctively aromatic hops.

Then came the single-hop IPAs, fresh-hop IPAs and Belgian-style IPAs with fruity yeast strains.

We’ve seen honey IPAs and oak-aged IPAs and brown IPAs and, in a collaboration between the Stone, Ninkasi and Alchemist breweries, More Brown Than Black IPA.

What a mouthful!

Recipe adaptations are hardly new in brewing. Over the centuries, brewers have added fruit and spices and herbs to create all manner of new styles. Yet traditionalists cringe when rule-breaking brewers fool with IPA’s fairly well-defined and historic recipe. Don’t call it an India pale ale, they gripe, if it’s sour or sweet or black.

Which brings us to the inevitable white IPA. And, no, that’s not a joke.

F.X. Matt of New York just released Saranac White IPA, and Boston Beer stuck bottles of Whitewater IPA into its Brewer’s Choice Variety 12-pack. Both are hybrids of traditional IPA and Belgian witbier, made with wheat malt and oats, coriander and orange, and then hopped out the wazoo.

They’re hazy and white and aromatic and very refreshing. Think Hoegaarden crossed with Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.

It’s a cool idea and I can see the style getting some traction when spring arrives.

But white IPA is hardly a radical idea. Heck, five years ago, the tradition-bound brewers at G. Schneider & Sohn collaborated with Brooklyn Brewing to produce an exceptionally hoppy wheat beer called Hopfen-Weisse.

No, for a truly revolutionary IPA shake-up, you need to track down a bottle of Samuel Adams Dark Depths.

The label describes it as a Baltic India pale ale, which would be completely accurate, except it has nothing to do with India, it’s not pale, and it’s not an ale.

Instead, it’s a nod to an iconoclastic variety developed by brewers in Poland, Finland and other Baltic countries during the 18th century. The style, known as Baltic porter, is strong, like English dark ale, but brewed with lager yeast.

Dark Depths was made with roasted malts, like an English stout, bittered with Saaz hops, like a Czech pilsner, and fermented with a lager yeast, like a German dunkel.

The result is an offbeat bottle that is dark and snappy, yet smooth and mellow. It reminds me of an imperial stout on quaaludes. So, “Baltic IPA” makes as much sense as anything else, I suppose.



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