Maybe I’m a little late coming to this party, but I’ve been reading about a nascent battle brewing among the people who deign to be the gatekeepers of beer terminology and I thought I’d wade in with my two cents.

To wit: Should dark, hoppy ales such as Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Southern Tier Iniquity and Laughing Dog Dogzilla be called Black IPAs or Cascadian Dark Ales?

First of all, the obvious answer: Who cares? But that shuts off the conversation and would make for a boring column. So how about this?

The naming of beer styles seems full of nonsensical or outdated terms already. Is a “barleywine” made from squeezing the juice from kernels of barley? Does an India Pale Ale come from India? Or must it be brewed for the India market to be authentic? What about Russian Imperial Stouts? The Czars have been gone for nearly a century — where’s the empire? And what about the application of the word “imperial” to just about every style to connote extra strength or hoppiness? What the heck is an “imperial mild” anyway?

Terrapin Capt'n Krunkles Black IPA

Terrapin Capt'n Krunkles Black IPA

So, I guess that’s my way of saying that despite the apparent oxymoron of a “black India pale ale,” I don’t really see a problem. First of all, I think most people refer to the style as “black IPA” rather than “black India pale ale.” The thought of “pale” really doesn’t enter into it. Second, anyone who already knows what an IPA is can immediately grasp what a “black IPA”  is — a hoppy, dark ale. Beyond the minor semantic conundrum, it’s very straightforward. No more confusing than, say, “plastic glass” or “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence.” (My apologies to the late, great George Carlin.)

Now, for the suggested alternative: Cascadian Dark Ale. This raises several questions: What is “Cascadia”? Who wants to order a “CDA”? And, most important — what does it taste like? “Cascadia” apparently is an appellation taken by denizens of the upper Northwest U.S. around the Cascade Mountain chain, an area also known for hop growing. But not the only place for hops. Lots of breweries around the country are starting to grow their own hops. so, already, the “Casacadian” nomenclature falls apart. Honestly, this seems mostly like an attention-grab on the part of those who live in Oregon and southern Washington. Nonsensical to the rest of the world and unlikely to gain any significant traction.

For a middle-ground compromise, how about “India Non-pale Ale” or India Not-pale Ale (INA)? Nahhhhh, this, as with most compromises, leaves an acrid taste in the mouth.

Let’s leave the bitterness to the beer, not the name.

  1. […] Whither the Black IPA? ( […]

  2. abramga says:

    A couple quick notes- A CDA brewed with non-Cascadian hops is not a CDA, we had an excellent example at the CDA Symposium at Belmont Station in Portland. Pelican makes its “Bad Santa” with Goldings and Fuggles, the consensus was that as it lacked significant NW hop character it was not a CDA (it could still be a India Dark Ale).
    Just as English and Czech hops are grown here in Cascadia, Cascadian hops are being grown in other regions, the soil effects the flavor and alpha acid levels, but they still hold the characteristics of their home country as the dominant character. I would argue that New Zealand grown Cascades, or Argentinian grown Cascades (or Cascades grown in Vermont, Colorado, California or New York) could still be used to brew a CDA. A “Cascadian” beer from the Southeast or Midwest is no more ridiculous than an “India” ale, or Koelsch, these beers were pioneered in Victoria, British Columbia, and Newport, Oregon.
    As to being pretentious and unnecessary, the term was coined in mockery of “San Diego style” imperial IPAs. So if you want to lay the blame for the pretention, put it on Southern Californians.
    Here in Cascadia (see that’s a lot easier to say than Pacific Northwest) the local food movement is very powerful, (Hundred-mile diet, chef’s collaborative, farmers markets, etc) and Cascadian Dark Ale resonates with craft beer consumers.

    • beermudgeon says:

      Well, Abe, thanks for crystalizing my thoughts on this subject. By all means, let us name our beer categories “in mockery” of others rather than to define and describe the beers so that the most people can understand and appreciate them. To those of use who hail from, say, the Midwest, or live, say, on the East Coast, “Cascadia” is a meaningless term that is fraught with pretension. It holds no weight for those any “locavore” who doesn’t reside in the area and thus doesn’t resonate with anyone outside your small enclave. But I guess I can start planning on drinking “Virginia Dark Ales” or “Maryland Midnight Brews” or some “Chesapeake” or “Shenandoah” variant as an alternative, eh?

  3. Some guy named Bill says:

    Actually, the name is gaining traction in the NW. Many brewers are labelling their beers as CDA’s and consumers are increaasingly ordering CDA’s.

    Cacadia encompasses more than Oregon and SW Washington. It extends from Northern California up to BC (I believe the geographical area is designated by watersheds that comes from the Cascades, but I could be wrong on that). The CDA name is partly because the modern interpretation is widely credited to Rogue’s Skullsplitter (from Oregon) and Phillip’s Black Toque (from BC), both of which debuted in 2002.

    As for breweries growing their own hops – yes, it’s being done but it’s pretty limited. The vast majority of all hop production in the US is still in Cascadia: around Yakima, WA, near Salem, OR and in Idaho, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Sierra Nevada is a good example. The hops they grow are mostly for fresh hop beers and the vast majority of their hops still come from Yakima.

    The Brewer’s Association rejected CDA as a name and I believe is going with India Dark Ale, but the CDA adherents in the NW continues to grow, so no matter what the rest of the country calls it, CDA will likely continue as a regional name.

    Most of this info is purley informational and not editorial (but for full disclosure I’m a CDA adherent and was part of the CDA symposium that occured in Porltand late last year). Cheers

    • beermudgeon says:

      Thanks, Bill. I appreciate the thoughtful discourse. My problem with “CDA” is that no one outside the region knows what the heck “Cascadia’ is, however it is defined. Furthermore, what about black IPAs that are brewed with non-Cascadian hops? What if a Pennsylvania or Virginia brewery brews one with home-grown (i.e. estate-grown) hops? The bottom line is that people deal with oxymoronic terms every day without any major cognitive dissonance. “Black IPA” is self-explanatory, despite the apparent contradiction. To us out in the Midwest or the East, “Cascadian Dark Ale” just sounds pretentious and unnecessary.

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