Developing a recipe for your next home brew day can be a rewarding experience. It’s also a chance to try new beer styles and techniques. I like develop recipes that highlight characteristics and styles that I prefer to drink. I use it as an outlet to put my own unique spin on a commonly available style.
Personally, I love IPA’s. More specifically, I love using citrus and piney hops. Much of my brewing follows this style. However, there is another reason that I home brew. I also like to brew styles that are difficult to find in my area or are less common. One such style that I’m interested in is a Black IPA.
You can find Black IPA’s commercially available in my area. There are also local breweries that are producing this style. It’s still sporadic and seasonal though that I can find a Black IPA that I really like. For that reason, I’m interested in developing and brewing my own Black IPA recipe.
Past Experience in Recipe Development
Creating a Black IPA recipe that is uniquely my own is important to me. I like being able to tell people drinking my beer that it’s my recipe that I developed. For me, this is a point of pride. However, I would be naive to consider myself an expert recipe developer. For my Black IPA recipe, I’m going to need help. Thankfully, I know just what to do to create an awesome recipe.
Not long ago I had a similar itch to brew a Brut IPA. They were soaring in popularity but I was unable to find them in my area. Problem was, much like with a Black IPA, I knew nothing about Brut IPA’s. I reached out to a few professional brewers and was awestruck with how willing they were to give advice and help.
(Check out my previous article Brewing a Brut IPA with Advice from Professional Brewers to learn about this amazing styles from commercial brewers)
When I started researching and reading about a Black IPA, I decided to reach out again and see what responses I would receive. I was blown away again by the responses and have compiled their interview answers in the following article. By then end of this article, you’ll know what goes into a Black IPA and have specific guidelines to follow when creating a recipe. You’ll also have advice on a generic grain bill, hop schedule, and yeast selection.
Weston Shepherd – Lead Brewer – Surly Brewing Co.
“I’ve been working at Surly Brewing Co. for four years. I started as a brew assist at the Brooklyn Center, Minn. facility (Surly’s still operational, original brewery) and worked my way up to brewing before moving to our Destination Brewery in Minneapolis three years ago. I am now the Lead Brewer at the Destination Brewery. Before Surly, I was working in Burlington, VT at a startup cider company called Citizen Cider.”
Justin Benvenuto – Head Brewer – Black Hog Brewing Co.
“I got into brewing after a brief stint in the US Army with 3rd Ranger Battalion. While enlisted I began to read about homebrewing and started to brew some of my own beer. When I got out of the Army (Fall 07’) I started looking for jobs in the industry. I started as a keg washer and volunteer, doing anything I could to learn the craft. Black Hog Brewing Co acquired the brewery I was working for in Spring of 2014 and it’s been a lot of fun growing with the company ever since.”
Glenn Allen – Brewery Manager – Revolution Brewing
“My craft beer journey started in 2007 when I got a part time job at the Goose Island brewpub near Wrigley Field while attending Columbia College Chicago. I worked at the brewpub until 2010 until starting at Goose Island Fulton, their production facility. While I was working there they had a great staff full of brewers like Tom Korder (Penrose), John Laffler (Off-Color), Patrick Reisch (6 th generation AB brewer still at Goose Island), Brian Taylor (Whiner), John J Hall (Metazoa), John Wyzkiewicz (Miskatonic), and many more. As this wave of brewers left Goose Island to work on their own projects I was eventually trained up to work on their brew deck. From here I went on to Lagunitas for a short stint and have been at Revolution for the last 4.5 years.”
About the Breweries
Surly – Minneapolis, MN
“Surly has been a proudly independent craft brewery for 12 years. It all started in an industrial abrasives factory in Brooklyn Center, Minn. when founder Omar Ansari, an avid homebrewer, became so frustrated, some might say surly, at the inability to find a good beer that he decided to make his own. The first beer was Bender, an oatmeal brown ale. It was quickly followed by Furious, an aggressively hopped IPA. This would become the beer that transformed Minnesota craft beer. Surly started to make best-of lists and Brewery of the Year honors. Something was happening. It soon became clear that the repurposed abrasives factory was nowhere big enough to keep up with demand. Trips to Europe and California sold Omar on the idea of a destination brewery, on that could produce enough beer for Surly Nation at large while combing beer, food and community in a singular experience.” – Weston Shepherd
Black Hog Brewing – Oxford, CT
“Black Hog Brewing Company originally started with the story of food, family, and a love for craft beer. Brothers Jason and Tom Sobocinski come from a Polish/Italian family where food and drink is always the focus of every gathering and roasting a pig has become the favorite way to celebrate any special occasion. When they do roast a pig, the Berkshire hog is the breed of choice, thus the name ‘Black Hog.’ Tyler Jones is an old family friend and a former brewer of The Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire. When Tyler contacted the Sobocinski brothers about moving to New Haven, they formulated a plan to start a brewery together – one that would celebrate family and food, and encompass all that they are passionate about.” – Justin Benvenuto
Revolution Brewing – Chicago, IL
“Our owner, Josh Deth, and Head Brewer, Jim Cibak, are also both ex-Goose brewers from an earlier era. Jim worked for Three Floyds and Firestone Walker before being recruited by Deth to help open Revolution’s brewpub in 2010. After quickly gaining popularity they began working out of the production facility on Kedzie Ave in 2012 and the rest is history. Quite a few beers and years later we’ve become Chicago’s largest independently owned brewery.” – Glenn Allen
Black IPA Definition
One of the most important factors in writing a Black IPA recipe is defining the characteristics that we’re looking for to be present. I always start by reading the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Beer Style Guidelines. This is a great first resource in defining a given beer style. I do find though that their definitions tend to be a bit broad. They’re also not very useful if the style is uncommon or new, such was my issue when developing a Brut IPA recipe.
According to the BJCP, a Black IPA is: “ A beer with the dryness, hop-forward balance, and flavor characteristics of an American IPA, only darker in color – but without strongly roasted or burnt flavors. The flavor of darker malts is gentle and supportive, not a major flavor component. Drinkability is a key characteristic.”
I wanted to know how each brewery defined the style. What were they looking for in a Black IPA and how could I develop a Black IPA recipe that would create an appropriate style? My question to each brewery was, how would you define a Black IPA and what characteristics are you looking for in a Black IPA?
“Black IPA’s need to be very dark in color and heavy on aromatic hops,” says Weston Shepherd of Surly Brewing Company. What sets black IPAs apart from other IPA styles is some roasted malt character. It’s necessary to use highly kilned, dark malts to give them their namesake color, and these malts bring burnt toast, coffee, chocolate, dried fruit, nutty and other flavors and aromas to the style.”
According to Justin Benvenuto, head brewer for Black Hog Brewing, Black IPA’s are designed to trick your senses. “They should look jet black like a stout but drink more like a traditional IPA with Citrus and floral aromas. Other than that there really isn’t much definition to it. For me the most intriguing aspect of Black IPAs is that they don’t really belong to any one style, so there is a lot of room for self interpretation and experimentation.”
Glenn Allen with Revolution Brewing says, “I would define a Black IPA as an ale that is dark brown to opaque black with a medium to strong hop character and bitterness. I’m looking for a bright and earthy hop aroma that melds with a decent amount of malt flavor without being overly roasty. When adding a darker malt to this style my goal is to use something that isn’t going to add a ton of astringency.”
My main takeaways are that a Black IPA recipe should create a beer with a deep black color. This is a contradiction to the flavors, mouthfeel and aroma of the beer. Instead of creating a viscus and heavily malted brew, the Black IPA is more like a traditional IPA with a toasted malt backbone. The malt though shouldn’t overshadow the hop flavors and aroma.
Commercial Black IPA’s
I certainly wanted to pick each brewer’s brain about what ingredients should be used to create an awesome Black IPA recipe. Before doing that, I wanted to know how they would describe their own Black IPA.
All three of the breweries interview have a highly rated Black IPA at their brewery. Interestingly enough, all three described their brews differently. Even their reasoning behind their brews are different.
Surly has brewed multiple Black IPA’s over the years. You can look forward to seeing their Furious Black IPA coming to stores in early October. For Surly, their Furious Black IPA is a play on their flagship Furious IPA.
“We brew it with lots of Carafa Special Type 3 malt from Weyermann. The carafa is an intensely dark malt that is de-husked before roasting which takes away a lot of the astringent bitterness you get from other dark malts. What’s left behind is a beautiful opaque black color and really nice coffee, dark chocolate and nutty aroma. When these characteristics combine with the intense citrus and pine hop aroma from a huge dry hop, they create a really unique, delicious and complex beer. I think it smells like an expensive chocolate bar with candied orange peel.” – Weston Shepard, Surly Brewing Co.
Black Hog Brewing goes for a strongly bittered Black IPA. Justin Benvenuto says their Black IPA is, “A West Coast IPA style made dark with select malts for a dramatic color with big bittering at 63 IBUs and hopped fairly aggressively with CTZ and Citra both early and late in the brew. I feel like Black IPAs need to be upfront and bold because ours comes out in the winter I went for bigger robust flavors but still a very light and easy drinking mouthfeel.”
Revolution Brewing says, “Our Black IPA, Jukebox Hero, has a little bit of everything going on. It is earthy and piney with a touch of citrus in the hop character that is backed by just enough chocolate, coffee, and toasted flavor. We unfortunately have not made this beer in a while, but it is one of my favorites of this style!”
Developing a Black IPA Recipe
When I start researching a style, I refer to popular recipes and take note of their ingredients. What I look for is a common thread among successful recipes. I wanted to take that same approach with the commercial brewers and see what they would suggest for a potential recipe.
Black Hog and Revolution Brewing’s suggested grain bill were almost identical. Black Hog suggested: 86% 2-Row Barley, 9.5% Crystal Malts, and 4.5% Darker Malts. Revolution Brewing said about 85% base malt to 15% specialty malt. With these two being so close to each other, I think it’s fair to say I’ll be following this formula for my Black IPA recipe.
One key to consider is that all three breweries call for the use of de-husked or de-bittered specialty malts. Glenn Allen of Revolution Brewing says, “My suggestion would be to use some dehusked/debittered malts to impart your color. This will help you avoid those acrid dark roasted flavors. Malts like Briess Midnight Wheat or Blackprinz, Patagonia Perla Negra, or something from the Weyermann Carafa line.”
Weston Shepherd of Surly Brewing did have an interesting suggestion to ensure your Black IPA recipe yields a dark final product. “Beyond the Carafa Type 3, another product homebrewers may find useful is Weyermann Sinamar, which is a reinheitsgebot-compliant liquid malt coloring extract. Sinamar will allow homebrewers to add lots of color to their beer with minimal flavor or aroma contribution. If you have a recipe you like, but you’re worried it won’t be quite dark enough, keep some Sinamar handy.”
When developing a hop schedule, you’re basically looking for a robust IPA hop profile. With the Black IPA having a strong malt backbone, you need to ensure that your IPA hop characteristics shine through. Just as you can expect each brewery to have vastly different IPA’s due to their choice of hops, the same can be said for a Black IPA.
Black Hog’s production Black IPA has 63 IBU’s through the use of CTZ and Citra hops. Benvenuto suggests a hop schedule with additions at 75 minutes, 30 minutes, 5 minutes, whirlpool and dry hopping. This is what I would expect to see in a traditional IPA brew day. The 75 minute and 30 minute hop additions provide a strong hop bitterness. Then you’re late additions and dry hopping provide a punch of flavor and aroma.
Glenn Allen says, “The hop schedule on the hot side should be reminiscent of a typical IPA while keeping the malt character in mind. A generous dry hop to amplify the fresh hop aroma is also a key component!”
Yeast selection, much like the hops schedule, follows a typical IPA selection process. You’re looking for an ale yeast that gets in, does the job, and leaves without off flavors. Though this is an area you could experiment, traditional basic ale yeasts are commonly used.
“Chico aka American Ale yeast is always a main staple at most production facilities but whatever your comfortable using making IPAs will always do the trick,” according to Benvenuto. Glenn Allen mirrors those sentiments, “As far as a yeast strain, I’d just say an ale yeast that finishes clean and crisp as you’ll already have quite a bit going on in the beer with the malt and hops.”
I have a few ‘go to’ ale yeasts that I like to use when brewing IPA’s. US-05 is a favorite standby that is always great to have on a rainy day. I have brewed some great beers with US-05 and would recommend it to anyone. Since US-05 is a dry yeast, it has a longer shelf life and ships better than liquid yeast.
For my Black IPA recipe, I’ll likely use a less common strain that I simply love. I have recently been playing around with San Diego Super Yeast from White Labs. It ferments rapidly and speeds up my time from brew day to consumption. It’s also extremely reliable and gets the job done cleanly and efficiently. If you’re looking to upgrade from a standard ale yeast, this would be my selection.
(There are many great ale yeasts on the market. See my article: Eight Awesome Ale Yeasts Strains Worth Fermenting for help selecting a great yeast.)
Things to Avoid
Two important points were brought up about things to avoid when developing a Black IPA recipe.
- Careful with the malt quantities! “I think the easiest mistake to make with this style is to end up with too much malt character that will overpower the hop aromas your want to get from an IPA. There’s a reason there aren’t many (any?) dry hopped porters out there. If You use a traditional porter or stout grist bill, you’re going to be hiding your aroma hops.” – Weston Shepherd, Surly Brewing Co.
- Select the right malts. Using dehusked and debittered grains is critical to avoiding unwanted flavors. Surly suggested using Carafa Type 3. There are others out there as well. Revolution suggested Briess Midnight Wheat, Blackprinz, Patagonia Perla Negra, and Weyermann Carafa.
I learned a lot thanks to our professional brewers. I want to thank Justin Benvenuto from Black Hog Brewing, Glenn Allen from Revolution Brewing, and Weston Shepherd from Surly. You’re responses have created a great starting point for any brewer to draft their own Black IPA recipe.
Developing the grain bill seems to be the biggest obstacle to overcome. You want to have a Black IPA recipe that is rich in color and has a malty backbone. However, you need to balance the toasty notes of the malt with the hop aroma and flavor of an IPA.
One key that every brewer pointed out is that we need to use the right dark grains. It’s critical that brewers use debittered or dehusked grains. Failing to do so will result in bitter off flavors that aren’t style appropriate. There are plenty of dark grains available, such as Carafa, that will get the job done. I have experience using Blackprinz and will likely be using that or Carafa in my Black IPA recipe.
For ingredients like yeast and hops, we want to stay true to the IPA style. I’m going to be looking to use IPA hops that I enjoy, specifically Citra. I need use ample late hop additions and dry hops for a strong hop aroma and flavor. Yeast, like hops, can be any yeast that you would regularly use in an IPA. There are multiple ale yeast strains that will be perfect to get the job done.
A Black IPA is a fun twist on a standard IPA. It’s really a mind game because the overall color look like the beer should be malt forward. Instead, the hops are the focus of this style. Striking the balance between a malt backbone and still showcasing your hops is what makes a Black IPA unique.
Be sure to check out all three of these breweries if you get the chance. Here is where you can find them:
Black Hog Brewing Co.
115 Hurley Road, Building 9A
Oxford, CT 06478
3340 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60618
Surly Brewing Co.
520 Malcolm Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414