Deschutes ‘Hop in the Dark’

Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark'

Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark'

Beer style names are often rather odd, when you think about them too much. Which I do on occasion, perhaps unsurprisingly. My favourite example of late concerns a recent (delightful) trend in craft brewing circles which has seen the release of several dark-and-hoppy / hoppy-and-dark beers.

If you take the rich black malty base as your starting point, you might see these as hoppy porters and one instance of the broader modern hoppy-x phenomenon. But if you start from the hop focus instead, then these look like IPAs with the malt darkened to the limit.

Both starting points lead to clumsy potential names for the style, as it emerges. “American style porter” carries the unfortunate implication that the United States is synonymous with hoppiness and that sort of lumping is just a bit much like suggesting that “Belgian” equals boozy and “English” equals not-very-bubbly. Even if a nation does do something particularly well, I just can’t shake my discomfort with having their name in the style’s name.1 The other extreme usually leads to “Black IPA”, which is peculiar for the rather-obvious reason that the ‘P’ in IPA stands for pale and ‘black’ pretty much entirely implies not pale.

I don’t really have a good suggestion for how to fix all this, but I can say that I emphatically reject Deschutes’ attempt here to coin “Cascadian Dark Ale” / “C.D.A.”. That’s just awful. It sounds horrendously smarmy in its full version, and too much like “seedy, eh?” in its abbreviated form. And what about beers that don’t opt for Cascade or generally-Cascadey hops? For what its worth, I vote No on C.D.A., while at the same time voting Hell Yes on another one of the beer itself, please.

I’m loving this style, whatever it winds up being called, and this is a bloody lovely example of it. Huge and rich, and with a many-fronted hoppy component that makes instant nonsense all over again of the one-dimensional name. Even when you know what you’re getting into with these things, the fruity nose is still a pleasant shock — the brain’s connection between this sort of appearance and more-traditional porter / stout is pretty strong yet, I suppose. This one just struck me like a fantastic fruit salad from some parallel universe in which chocolate is also a fruit.

Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark', signed

Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark', signed

And, enjoyably, this turned out to be a rare exception to the way in which taking photos of your beer tends to get you laughed at — here, it got me laughed with. My Newfoundlander friend Jillian (over here on an extended holiday, part of which she spent working with us at the Malthouse) took the opportunity to show off (or just entirely ad lib and invent; I’m not sure) her light-writing skill by ‘signing’ my glass with my trusty beer-illuminating cigarette lighter. It’s a pretty good result (though, if we’re being entirely honest, there were several hilariously-crap early attempts, which I’ll spare you), and gave me a crash-course in the long-exposure settings on my new camera. Bloody marvellous.

Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark'

Diary II entry #70, Deschutes 'Hop in the Dark'

Verbatim: Deschutes ‘Hop in the Dark’ C.D.A. 3/3/11 @ MH from my stash. 1pt 6floz ÷ 2 w/ Peter, after a nice night out @ Hop Garden. The Emerson’s dinner was on, which had a side-effect of letting us hang with a bunch of regulars. This seemed suitably weight[]y. I do love the Black IPA, as much as I resist this silly name. It’s massively dark, with a surprisingly fruit nose. Just what you need. Like fruit salad, if chocolate was a fruit, as well.


1: I’m okay with “American Pale Ale”, though. Which is possibly just old-fashioned inconsistency, though I might defend myself by noting that APA certainly did emerge from the U.S., and that the national adjective pegs to the varieties of hops and their character rather than just the raw notion of their presence and intensity.

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10 Responses to Deschutes ‘Hop in the Dark’

  1. Raffe says:

    I also share your annoyance with the naming of this ‘style’.

    And it’s not a new style either, as this research shows:
    And they used US grown hops too!

  2. Phil says:

    That’s freaking awesome. It’s a time-travelling linguistic nightmare in a glass.

  3. Raffe says:

    Yes indeed. They didn’t ever post a transcribed homebrewer’s recipe, and I have never bothered to try and work out the brewer’s script. Kelly mentioned in the comments he would give it a go, perhaps Epic need to open a historical ales department…

  4. Stu as "Stu" says:

    The bottle I had of this was rather dire… a shame because everything else I’ve ever had from these guys has been awesome.

    The Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Black Barleywine however… whoah!! Just me, a bottle of that and my Arab Strap collection. What a night!

  5. Phil says:

    I’m going to go ahead and assume you mean the band there, Stu…

    And will therefore add the Sierra Nevada to my list — I think there are a few left in the fridge at work; might split one with Peter later maybe.

  6. I really enjoyed the several bottles of this I had.

    Perversly I really struggled with the SN Black Barleywine. I found it serously over bittered and harsh. I had saved the bottle to celebrate the purchase of our bach when settlement went through and I found it hard going while Sarah couldnt drink it at all. I ended up rummaging through the cellar for an 06 Fullers Vintage.

  7. Matthew says:

    I realise I’m a little late here but I’ve just started going back through the podcasts and felt like splitting hairs. CDA is so named not for the Cascade hop (which is only sparingly used here anyway) but for Cascadia. This is the bio-region that makes up British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and parts of Northern California which has a proud cultural identity and a growing separatist movement. These are the largest hop growing areas in North America and as such the roots of most American-style hoppy beers can be found here. The style may originate in Vermont, but the hops were definitely Cascadian.

    Anyway enough of that, this is (in my opinion) the best example of the style. Especially when fresh which I’ve been lucky enough to have on a number of occasions. I managed to finangle some of this year’s batch before it was even on shelves. Delicious!

    • Phil says:

      I’m all in favour of splitting hairs. Especially when it involves neat little bits of geography and a burgeoning separatist movement! You’ve convinced me that “Cascadian Dale Ale” is slightly less bad a term than I previously thought — but I still prefer the generic and contradictory “Black IPA”, since it leaves it open that you’d make one with non-US-at-all hop character.

      It’s a problem we run into a lot, down here, with beer judging and awards and whatnot. A lot of new-ish “American-style” classes talk about US hop character, or hops used to ‘emulate US hop character’ — which can make us New Zealanders feel a little left out. (Though I think we should just feel free to write our own style guides, on top!)

      • Matthew says:

        You make a good point there. I guess the problem with BJCP definitions is that they’re US centric. I’m all for following wine’s lead (begrudgingly) and referring to the hop character as “New World”. I also really dislike the contradiction present in Black IPA. CDA is by far the most common name in Cascadia, for obvious reasons and I think the best examples are made up here, with an exception for Stone’s brilliant Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale out of SoCal.

        For what it’s worth, I’m also a New Zealander. I’ve just been living in the PNW for the last couple of years, although I’ll be returning home in December for the foreseeable future. I may have to bring a few samples home with me I think.

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