The first time I tasted this beer, it was while we were staying at the cottages on Amandalia Farm – home to Saggy Stone Brewing Company. (Side note: make yourself a new year promise to stay at the cottages on Amandalia Farm – trust me). So, we were chatting and sipping and taking dips in the dam, and one of our party was drinking the new Black Brut IPA from the can. Being a bit of a beer purist -or snob, whatever you want to call it – I grabbed a can and poured it into a glass and my buddy was shocked. “Is that the same beer I’m drinking?! I never would have thought it was that colour!” (Yes, apparently he not only drinks IPAs from the can but doesn’t actually read said can before taking a swig. But he’s a lot of fun so we keep him.)
I feel like this was kind of always the point of the black IPA – it’s meant to be a bit of a mindfuck. Looks like brown, tastes like gold. (“Dark malt flavours are low to medium-low,” say the BJCP guidelines. “The flavour of darker malts is not a major flavour component”). One problem South African brewers have often faced with BIPAs is getting all of the colour from dark malts without getting the associated roast character – coffee, chocolate, charred toast – that those dark malts lend.
When we left the farm, I brought back a four pack to enjoy at home and one sunny afternoon last week I really fancied a beer. Meh, I thought, all I have in the fridge are dark beers and it’s pushing 30 degrees outside. But wait – in among those big stouts and hazelnut brown ales there was a beer that is dark in colour alone and so I cracked one open and took some notes. Now before I continue, I suspect Saggy Stone did cheat a little. The cans in their small batch series feature a lot of information – hops , IBUs, suggested serving temperature, food pairing and indeed, which malts were used. And since no dark malts are mentioned but “malt extract” is, I suspect they opted for Sinamar – a malt extract from Weyermann that gives colour with virtually no flavour – rather than actual dark malts.
But what the hell – it’s a great tasting beer and a fun one to use in a blindfolded tasting with a friend you want to mess with. It is beautifully crisp, with an aroma of festive pine and flavours of tropical fruits – notably mango and granadilla. I almost thought I picked up a touch of dark malt character on the finish, but if they did indeed use Sinamar then I must have been swayed by the colour just as my friend had been surprised by it. The long and bitter finish makes this a thirst quenching summer sipper that you’ll doubtless want more of.
Now as you’ll have noticed from the title of this post, this isn’t just a BIPA – it’s a BBIPA: a Black Brut IPA. When I recently posted about the beer on Twitter it was met with bemusement from some of overseas beer folk. “In a North American context it’s quite funny,” wrote Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont. “Hey, how about we take two previously trendy but now pretty much forgotten beer styles and make one beer out of them?”. “Sounds as yummy as it is dually archaic,” said Brian Yaeger, beer writer and educator from the US. And this is exactly what I love about it. This beer marks the coming together of two of my favourite IPA substyles – two which sadly never quite caught on. I would happily swap all the hazy IPAs in New England – and Old England too for that matter – to see a few more BIPAs (black), BIPAs (brut) or even BBIPAs on our shelves.