Friday Froth: Blacklight

James Gribbon

Have you noticed the black IPA trend lately? They're sometimes called Cascadian ales, but many brewers are experimenting with this hybrid style of beer which combines dark, roasted malts with punchy American hops, but leaves out the weighty feel of malty beers or getting too incisive with the hops. They're light dark beers. Check out Stone Sublimely Self Riteous or Pitch Black IPA from Widmer and you'll know what I'm talking about. Brewers, both those who actually make the beer and the executives who oversee them, seem to be trying to fill a market niche, which is how we ended up with Guinness Black Lager.

The push for the new Guinness lager seems to have spent itself by the end of last summer and, as you'd expect from anything crossing through the hallowed portal of St. James Gate, the beer is at least in the peripheral vision of guardian angels, but Guinness lager is somehow less than the sum of its Harps. 

It's watery Guinness stout, bluntly. The lagering process seems to do it no good. If one is in search of an easy drinking dark beer, try Xingu from Brazil. A friend of mine taught me to say "shing-GU" before she gave up, having decided butchered meats in the style of her country belonged in my mouth more than the butchered words of her country. The official story goes that a beer historian by the name of Alan Eames was researching a Brazilian native style of beer made from manioc roots and roasted corn, and approached a lawyer named Cesario Mello Franco to help him. Franco journeyed a thousand miles from Rio to Cacador, in Santa Catarina, Brazil, where he found a small and venerable, but desperate brewery who would work to recreate the style. Xingu is named after a tributary of the Amazon river, and is now made with barley, hops, yeast and water, and a small percentage of the proceeds go to Y Ikatau Xingu a project to help preserve the rainforest and the Xingu basin. The beer is smooth and dark, but refreshing enough to be had on a hot day. 

Speaking of traveling far afield under the banner of brew, Dogfish Head craft ales and owner Sam Calagione. Sam has taken samples from ancient Chinese pottery to create Chateau Jiahu, used Egyptian heiroglyphics to produce Ta Henket, and even used Antarctic water in his Pangaea Belgian ale. This multicultural style of brewing carries over to his Bitches Brew. The fusion of jazz, rock and electric sounds in what is arguably Davis' most daring album inspired Calagione to blend stouts and an Ethiopian mead known as tej which is bittered using the roots of a plant they call Gesho, but is also known as Shiny-Leaf Buckthorn. 

This brew pours black with a thick, ruddy head and a malty, sweet aroma with hints of alcohol belying its 9% abv. It is intense with roasted malt flavor, but this beer pads smoothly across the palate, like watching a ballerina walk across a warm hardwood floor. Like most Dogfish Head beers, this is an unusual creation, this time with the odd juxtaposition of the smooth mouthfeel and tangy notes I can't place my tongue on. Where does this profile come from? Is it the Gesho? The yeast they used? I'm not sure, but I didn't mind exploring my way to the bottom of the nearly 26oz. bottle in the search. 

We're going to stay black, and talk about Young's Double Chocolate Stout. This stout is carbonated, not using nitrogen like Guinness, and pours night sky black with a thick khaki head. Chocolate: that's the aroma. I may not be a bloodhound, but that is literally all I could sense. It practically smells like cookies baking. If I was selling a house, this is the scent I'd spread around before potential buyers arrived. I like chocolate a lot, but don't love it the way some people do, so I tend to think this is a bit overdone, but what the hell did I honestly expect from a "double chocolate stout," persimmons? I disgust me. ANYWHO, some people will really like this, and it would go well with a dessert course like cheesecake. Fitting, then, that we end with it. See you out and about.