All of the best examples of this style have had two characteristics worth noting. The first is a clear hop forward presence. It can be Citra, Cascade, Amarillo/Simcoe, etc., but it must be clear and forward. Behind the hops is where the American Black Ale distinguishes itself from an IPA; this is where you'll find a unique maltiness. This malt flavor has notes of a subtle porter; not caramelly, but roasty; not harsh, but additive. The flavors of dark caramel malts, chocolate malts, and de-husked roasted malts are the flavors that work well with hops and add to the flavors. A beer advocate review of Hill Farmstead's Society & Solitude #2, an experimental american black ale, reads:
"A beautiful marriage of pine and roast. Additional notes of chocolate and citrus. Lovely malt body. Medium bodied and easy to drink too quickly."I found this review spot on with my experience while drinking the beer. I enjoyed it immensely and it helped to challenge my paradigm of what this style was.
(please read more about this style and my beer after the break.)
In his new book IPA author/brewmaster Mitch Steel writes that:
Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale is made using a similar approach to a double IPA. Gravity, alcohol, and hopping rates are very similar; and very little crystal malt is used. The only real difference is the addition of Carafa Special III to the grain bill.In my experience I find this to be a very good description. He is spot on about the essence of what an American Black Ale is: A DIPA with added dark malts. Carafa Special III is a highly roasted malt that has been dehusked to contribute a dark color, and roasted aroma to a beer without the astringency of black malts.
Technically Speaking, What is an American Black Ale? (Emphasis Mine):
Original Gravity: 1.056-1.075
Final Gravity: 1.012-1.018
Alcohol by Volume: 6.0 -7.5%
Bitterness (IBU): 50-70
Color SRM: 35+
American-style Black Ales are very dark to black and perceived to have medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute character. The style is further characterized by a balanced and moderate degree of caramel malt and dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. (Credit: GABF Standards)
One More Thought:
Before I reveal my recipe I want to talk about fake black IPAs. These are black beers with the color of dark malts, but no flavors. Brewers of these faux black ales go to great lengths to cover and minimize the dark flavors that should make this style unique and, in my opinion, desirable. Don't do this. Brew a American Black Ale if want exceptional flavor above and beyond what an IPA should be; otherwise why bother?
My recipe is reminiscent of my earlier attempt into the American Black Ale Style. That beer failed because my apartment water isn't suitable for brewing. Under the horrible metallic taste was a great smelling, great looking beer. I formulated this recipe from the ground up to highlight what I like. The recipe starts with a pound of Carafa III Special malt to contribute color and roasted aromas. Victory malt will add a toasted maltiness, and a very notable biscuit flavor. By including chocolate malt I'm hoping to add a roasted flavor reminiscent of chocolate or coffee without becoming too astringent. I selected caramel 60 for my caramel malt after sticking my face in front of the bins of caramel 20-120; it had that 'it' factor I wanted in this beer. Caramel 60 has aromatics balanced between sweet grain and roasted caramel. All of that combine with premium Briess pale malts will add up to an american black ale.
10.0 lbs 10.0 oz 2-Row Pale Malt 78.4%
1.0 lbs Carafa III Special 7.4%
1.0 lbs Caramel 60 7.4%
7.5 oz Chocolate Malt 3.4%
7.5 oz Victory Malt 3.4%
The Hop Schedule:
I'd like this beer to have a dichotomy in aroma and flavor. I'd like a best of both worlds with flavors of Pine and Citrus/Tropical Fruit. The should accentuate the flavors well. To achieve that profile I'll be bittering and flavoring with Galaxy and a touch of Simcoe; I'll use a healthy dose of Simcoe and Galaxy in the kettle for aroma; I'll finish this beer with a generous dry hop and keg hop with some leafy Simcoe.
0.25 oz Galaxy [12.8 %] - Boil 60.0 min 10.1 IBUs
1.25 oz Galaxy [12.8 %] - Boil 17.0 min 27.4 IBUs
0.50 oz Simcoe [12.2 %] - Boil 17.0 min 10.4 IBUs
1.00 oz Galaxy [12.8 %] - Boil 7.0 min 21.7 IBUs
0.50 oz Simcoe [12.2 %] - Boil 7.0 min 5.2 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [12.2 %] - Boil 0.0 min 0.0 IBUs
0.50 oz Galaxy [12.8 %] - Boil 0.0 min 0.0 IBUs
2.00 oz Simcoe [12.2 %] - Dry Hop 7 Days
2.00 oz Simcoe [12.2 %] - Keg Hop
If Everything Works:
My goal is to fill the glass with appealing dark ale. When the glass arrives on the table I want it to announce its own arrival with a hop cone and pine scent. When the glass is lifted to your nose I want some roast to be apparent but to be overwhelmed by piney hops and tropical fruits. When you take a sip I'd like the pine to give way to juicy tropical fruits in your palate. As you swallow I'd like your mouth to revisit the roasted note you first perceived in the aroma, as the resinous hops linger and fade from your palate, that rich roasted malt flavor should bring your mouth back to the glass until the last sip is gone.
Boil Size: 6.43 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.069 SG
Estimated Color: 45.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 74.7 IBUs
Boil Time: 60 Minutes
Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 13 lbs 6.9 oz
Mash In Add 16.79 qt of water at 162.5 F 151.0 F 60 min
Sparge: Batch sparge with 4.09 gal of 168.0 F water
I got a late start. I turned 29 the other day and I had to renew my drivers license. Legally able to drive and purchase alcohol again I set about brewing. I started boiling water and measuring hops. The hop picture above is the amazing amount used in this ABA. Brewing went smoothly, I dialed in my burner a bit better than usual and that made a huge difference. The hop bags 1 giant and 2 medium worked really well. Everything went super well. It's almost suspect when things go as well as they did here.