Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Call of Duty: Black Hops

As you may know, I am  huge fan of super hoppy Indian Pale Ale-style beers.  In fast, as a general rule, I will not order anything else at a bar unless all the IPA taps are out, and then I do so only grudgingly, as if my displeasure can make a keg appear.  Over the years, I have developed a particular affinity for a few particular beers, which are my go-to when out at my go-to bars, like the Irish Village and The Burren.  Typically, I stick to Harpoon's IPA, but I am a sucker for trying micro-brews, and anything that came from VT.

I know a lot of people who share my love of beer, although not necessarily my taste for hops.  Improbably, I am even friends with a few people who dislike IPAs because of the hoppiness; I try not to judge but it is hard.  Most of "those people" tend towards Belgian style whites and unfiltered beers.  Those, to me, taste like death--because they are just 16 (or more) ounces of dead yeast floating around, clouding up your beer.  Again, I try not to judge.  The other beers that are popular among my friends, which I also enjoy, are porters and other dark-malt beers.  Since I hang out at a lot of Irish bars, I have seen an enormous amount of Guinness imbibed over the years, and it has been impossible not to develop a crush on it.

Guinness is a fabulous little brew, isn't it?  It has that dark, malty taste that is almost sweet.  In a pinch it can serve as a whole meal, yet it is surprisingly low in calories.  Every now and then, I do order a Guinness, or I wait until Matt leaves his on the bar, and then I drink half of it while he is gone.  But, the lack of hops always sort of bores me in the end, and I return to my IPA.  Of course, a poorly poured Black & Tan can get you the best of both worlds, but I don't go to places where the bartenders can't properly pour one, so for years I have contented myself with drinking a little bit of my beer, a little bit of Matt, back and forth until he catches on and sits farther away from me. 

And then my life changed. 

About a month ago, I was browsing the specialty beer selection at Dave's in Davis Square, when a bottle caught my eye.  Admittedly, I noticed it because the label said "KK", but it turned out to be divine providence.  KK is brewed by Pretty Things, in Westport, MA.  When I took the beer out of the cooler and read the label, this is what I discovered (and it changed my life):  "Once upon a time, on Friday November 15th, 1901, an Edwardian brewer stepped into a London brewhouse and brewed a beer that confounds expectations many years later.  An ale darker than most Porters that uses more hops than a modern IPA." 

Hold the phone: Porter and IPA in one?  Can I buy this by the case? 

KK turned out to be the single hoppiest beer that I had had in many years, but the dark malt balanced the bitterness perfectly.  At least, I thought so; several of my unhoppy friends just made weird faces and waved me away.  I, however, was in love.  And when you are in love, you want everyone to know about it!  So, I started telling people about it.  In my renditions of this life-altering experience, I made it sound as if this particular love was a one-off; one perfect night but unlikely to happen again because Pretty Things is hard to come by.  I was lamenting this fact to my friend Reid one night at the Burren, and he gave me a funny look and said, "Let's go to the front bar." 

Note: as a general rule, after what Reid showed me that night, I could probably be convinced to follow him over the Himalayan Mountains and through the jungles of the Congo if I knew there would be a bar at the end.

Turns out, Reid knows about two things: beer and Vermont.  And when you put those two things together, it changes everything.  One of my favorite breweries in VT is Otter Creek, and it turns out that Otter Creek brews their own black IPA, called the Alpine Black IPA.  Alpine Black is just one of many Black IPAs that have cropped up in several microbreweries around the country.  Typically, this style of beer has the hoppiness of a traditional IPA but dark roasted, almost caramel-like malt is used instead of the traditional pale malts.  Depending on the brewery, the balance of sweet and bitter varies somewhat.  Otter Creek's blend is a little sweet, while Clown Shoes Brewery's (Ipswitch, MA) black IPA (affectionately called Hoppy Feet) is more bitter.

As a true devotee of hops, I do actually enjoy the Hoppy Feet over the Alpine Black.  I am not going to go into that, however, because it is probably just a foil for the more complex emotions I have about VT and MA in general.  This is only further complicated by the assertion (via the internet,so who knows) that the original black IPA was brewed by Greg Noonan of the VT Pub & Brewery in Burlington.  Should I stay or should I go?  More on this later.

In scrolling through the beer-blogs of the interwebs, it turns out that I am not the only one with strong feelings about black IPAs.  Some people are nearly as infatuated with them as I am while others hesitate to accept them as an innovation, claiming they are neither new nor an IPA.  I am not going to rehash all of these arguments here; I will just note that there is debate about what to call this style of beer, and even some question of whether it is truly its own style.  I really don't care either way, as long as the breweries don't stop making it!  I don't want to go back to my old life of stealing sips of Matt's Guinness between sips of my Harpoon.  I have found my true love, and like any love, it is both bitter and sweet; my life would never be the same without it.   


  1. The Alpine Black IPA is amazing. And that's coming from a pregnant woman who can't drink it all that much. And by the way, we have Howl on tap in the basement waiting for the two of you...

  2. So, I'm going to say both you're welcome and I'm sorry for this recipe:



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