A cold wind blows in from the north, chilling all who dare to venture outside. The leaves have all but fallen from the trees, leaving only skeleton sentinels to guard the streets of Santa Fe. The ghostly wisps of snow have already begun to gather in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, watching as the last of autumn slips away. Fade to black. It’s November. Winter is coming. And while it may mean white walkers and wildlings to some, it means one thing to us beer fans — Santa Fe Brewing Co.’s Black IPA is back!
Santa Fe Brewing Company released their very popular winter seasonal, the Black IPA, on Nov. 1. Also known as the Hop Ninja of beers (well, to me, only), or Happy Camper’s Evil Twin, this beer settles in at a respectable 7.1-percent ABV, and at about 95 IBUs. With a solid base of Two-Row Pale malt, the Crystal and Chocolate malts really give it those lower layers of depth and complexity. It’s the Midnight Wheat, however, which maintains the balance and eases the transitions as you plumb those depths. Slightly sweet and smooth, the Midnight Wheat adds to that heart-of-darkness color, without imparting the bitterness of similar dark malts, thus allowing the rest of the beer to swiftly attack the taste buds. And attack, they do. The Columbus, Cascade, Eldorado, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops create the perfect balance of bitterness and aroma that never overpower the lightly roasted malt and chocolate flavors, yet still strike the palate in such a satisfying way that you never knew what hit you … but you’re glad that it did. To me, the beer satisfies my need for something substantial and dark for the winter, yet still provides that citrusy, piney, floral hop-smack that I crave all year ‘round. The whole encounter, however, is smooth and — dare I say — refreshing, thanks to the medium body and dry finish. Unlike the experiences many others tell me they have with big, dark beers, you can definitely enjoy more than one pint in a sitting.
This is only the third year that the brewery has sold this beer, but already it seems to have gained a cult following. (As proof, the folks at World of Beer in Tucson asked me back in August when they would be receiving more of this wonderful brew. — Stoutmeister) All across social media like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, I’ve seen tons and tons of pictures of Santa Fe’s Black IPA, in the desert, in the mountains, at the beach. Tons of folks from all over ask when the beer will reach their state. They say things like, “Oh, that’s my favorite beer!” “Save me some!” and “So happy Santa Fe is back in black!” I could go on, but you get the point.
Though I was brewing during much of the beginning of the release party, I could see six-pack after six-pack of those black and silver cans leaving the fridge, so I knew it wasn’t just the Interwebs a-buzz. That buzz was local, too. I could see that there was something special about this beer with the feeling all around the brewery. Now, I’m not new to Santa Fe Brewing Co., but I can admit that I’m pretty new to the Black IPA and the style in general. So, I had to ask, what is a Black IPA?
According to several different definitions, the Black IPA, or American Black Ale, or Cascadian Dark Ale, is a style that is supposed to be hopped like an IPA, with American hops. It should have a dark, malty, and chocolate profile, almost like a stout, but without being too far on the roasty end, and with an easier, lighter body, and a drier finish.
I think SFBC nailed the style, but it’s more than the style that makes it popular. Let’s be honest, nailing a style is generally only something that brewers, beer judges, and homebrewers concern themselves with. What about The People, the beer-drinking public? Is it simpler than that? Is it something beyond drinking just a well-balanced and great beer? Is it because we like the dark side of something we already love? Is it like when Spider-Man put on the alien suit? Is it like Dark Link? Is it Dr. Jekyll’s Hyde? The Dark Side of the Force? Happy Camper’s Evil twin … I like that. I think we like to embrace our darker side from time to time, because it gives us a new perspective, a new attitude where we can embrace our true potential without the usual limitations. With our dark side, we no longer play by the same rules, and because of that we might just be able to achieve new heights and more importantly new beer styles. But who knows? Maybe you, fellow beer drinkers, have the answers, so I spoke to a few locals at Saturday’s release.
Phillip from Espanola was trying the beer for the first time. He said, “It’s good. It has kind of a tart, lemon-y-ness to it.” Jacob from La Cienega (just across the street) had the beer a year ago. When I asked him what he thought of the beer, he said, “It’s excellent! It’s hoppy, but a little bit chocolatey; makes me smile.” The first thing that comes to his mind when drinking this beer is “Refreshing.” Roger Stukey, from Santa Fe, said this about the beer: “It’s good (and) tasty. I was worried that the beer would be overly intense, but it’s not. It’s very smooth.” So, I suppose it is mostly about the brew simply being delicious, and not my crazy psychological analysis. As well it should be!
The Black IPA is more popular than just a favorite seasonal. All over the Internet, fans of this beer are clamoring for more. Whatever the reason for its fame, it’s a great, solid beer that hits those hoppy high notes and satisfies our darker desires, so to speak. You only need taste it to know that’s not your usual pint of IPA and certainly not a stout; it’s something else, something special. And I’m pretty excited to announce that it won’t be going anywhere after the Black IPA’s season ends. That’s right, said Josh at the brewery, “The Black IPA will become one of our regular products, and next winter we will have a new seasonal (still to be determined).”
If bros could tingle, I probably would be tingling right now. That’s BIG news (and now big news for Albuquerque, too!)! I’m glad that I’ll have more time to get to know this beer, and have something dark and hoppy for those colder spring evenings. But also, I’m excited that in its “Seasonal Spot,” there will be a new brew. Oh, the possibilities! I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for next year’s winter ale. But for now, I’m going to settle into these cold dark months, with the comfort of a new friend, the Black IPA. And who knows, maybe this snowboarding season, I’ll take a picture of this beer, set in the snow, because now I’m a fan, and unfortunately for the Internet, I have an Instagram account.
Stay hoppy, New Mexico!