Far From India: India Pale Ales in the 21st Century. Mad Fox XX (20,000) India Ink, Black IPA, Falls Church, Virginia
Date: March 30, 2019
The Story— The almost immediate success of Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale encouraged our brewer, Jerry Bailey of Old Dominion Brewery, to listen carefully to any new ideas we could suggest. He encouraged us to play a major role in formulating a new pilsner he wanted to brew and at least a part of him still regrets his decision. The pilsner was a huge critical success, winning national accolades and two GABF medals, but sales didn’t match Geek-ometer ratings, and Jerry was leery of taking a risk of brewing another beer he could neither sell nor discontinue.
In the 90s, Ellie came up with the idea of an “India Ink” beer that would keep most of the hoppy full flavored characteristics of an India Pale Ale, but use a dark malt. We didn’t know, but Greg Noonan of the Vermont Pub and Brewery, had come up with the same concept a year or two earlier. Noonan got some press buzz but certainly didn’t get rich on the idea, so it’s probable if Jerry had listened to Ellie’s pleas, we would have had another Keller “critics delight, stockholders’ fright” on our hands.
The name is an oxymoron. A black ale isn’t a pale ale and the only dark beers like it that got to India were porters that had a well-established name that didn’t need embellishment. Some brewers called theirs “Cascadian” IPA’s but it seemed to others as if the Western Brewers were trying to appropriate the style and even some of those Western brewers have rejected the moniker as implying a false regional origin. Brewery icon Greg Koch argues persuasively that “IPA” has a meaning beyond the literal words it represents and there’s no better way of describing this beer– it is, after all, an IPA with black malt.
Whatever the name, the style took off in the early years of the 21st century and almost every brewery seemed to have its interpretation of the style. Even the name, which I know Ellie thought of first, had been used here and there. Still, Mad Fox hadn’t done one yet and we needed a designated beer to celebrate our 20,000th tasting note. Bill Madden of Mad Fox did a near miraculous job of translating Ellie’s words into dark elixir. The key was using dehusked Carapils malt, which gave the beer a dark richness without the acidic darkness other malts can create.
We are, without doubt, biased, but we think Mad Fox’s version was as good as any of the over 170 Black IPAs we’ve sampled.
The Beer— Chewy rich malt. Toffee notes but with slight hints of chocolate. Mount Hood hops show sweet and herbal leafy flavors before leaving lots of leaf, a touch of citrus and a bit of pine late. Chewy but clean. It was pretty much exactly what Ellie had been dreaming of for many years. Her calm and measured reaction to it: “Wow! Complex and yummy; chocolate, spice, dry roast, pine and clean.”
Value —Excellent, especially during happy hours and half price growler fill days at Mad Fox.
Availability: Sorry, not now. I hope we’ll be able to do another batch of this either at Mad Fox or elsewhere, but for now the black IPA style is the only sub category of IPAs that is in significant decline.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.