You may call it a black IPA. You may call it an American Black Ale. You may even refer to it as a Cascadian Dark Ale (although does anyone really?). Whatever you call it, this is one of my favorite beers styles – the hops of an IPA with the roast of a stout, a magical combination. Today we’ve got the Tamamura Honten IBA and the Brussels Beer Project Dark Sister.
Tamamura Honten IBA India “Black” Ale
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 75
Pour – Cola black, almost no carbonation, slick
Aroma – Lots of fresh melon and citrus hops, very very slight roast
Flavor – Initially very mellow with fruity hops, then very nice transition that is hop bitter and then begins to accelerate into roast but still keeping bitterness
For the most part I really like the Harvest Brew series from Tamamura Honten, and the IBA as well is a pretty interesting beer. The wet hops used are Willamette and Centennial, and the fresh hops really lend it a soft and mellow character. The citrus and melon aspect of the hops are very prominent, and the aroma is basically like that of their Harvest Brew IPA with very little roast aroma. In fact, as a whole the roastiness is quite subdued, and this beer would probably be made better if they could bring the roast out some more. It’s there on the finish, but it definitely could be stronger.
It would also be interesting to try a regular (i.e. not wet-hopped) version of the IBA, but they rarely brew one. It’s been a few years since they made one, and it turns out that they don’t make a regular version simply because they don’t have the time, although I suspect it would be quite popular if they did brew one regularly. They did brew the Harvest Brew edition last year as well, so I’m not sure why they only brew the fresh hop version while at the same time not feeling too compelled to brew a regular version. I actually think a regular version might be even better – there should be a sharper hop presence, which might add a bit of bite to it to counteract the mildness of the roast. The Harvest Brew edition clocks in at 75 IBU, and while the bitterness is there, it’s masked a bit by the softness and the fruitiness of the fresh hops, and I’m curious to see what would happen if the bitterness were fully brought out.
Brussels Beer Project Dark Sister
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 45
Pour – Very frothy, very dark brown, lots of sediment (can even see it in the photo above!)
Aroma – Funk and dirt, also citrus
Flavor – Definite funk, earthy but with nice citrus hops, modest bitterness, sweet malts in the middle, and then strong chocolate roast on the finish
The Brussels Beer Project has a bit of a unique origin story in that they took the crowdfunding route to capitalizing themselves. Founded relatively recently in 2013, they basically offered backers 12 beers a year for life for free in exchange for 160 euros a person, and they got 369 takers initially to get the brewer off the ground. They actually underwent a second crowdfunding round recently to finance a new brewing facility, so clearly it’s been a pretty successful way of going about things for them.
The beers that they brew are also chosen in part by the community, and the plan is to let the community choose one beer a year that will be promoted to regular status. The very first one chosen to be brewed as a regular was their Delta IPA, and the Dark Sister beer that we are reviewing here is the black IPA version of the Delta.
This is quite a fascinating beer. If you want to be precise it would be a Belgian black IPA (black Belgian IPA?), which is quite rare in and of itself. As a Belgian black IPA, it’s brewed with Belgian saison yeast, and that really comes across in the aroma and flavor profile. It’s got that dirty funky element to it, although it’s also got a nice citrus hop effect going as well. While it’s not an overly bitter beer, the strength of the roast is enough to give it a memorable kick, and as a bonus you get some maltiness in the middle. It could perhaps use a bit more bitterness, however – if they managed to do that, this would be an amazing beer. As it stands though, it’s still a good one, so pick it up if you can.
This bottle, by the way, was acquired at Tanakaya. Brussels Beer Project are not widely distributed in Japan, but I’ve seen their beer at both Tanakaya and Pigalle. It’s actually relatively reasonably priced (570 yen for this bottle), so I find it to be a good buy.
Overall although they may not be the top of the class, these are both pretty good black IPAs. I do slightly prefer the Dark Sister, as it really manages to balance out the saison yeast, fruity hops, and roast. The Tamamura Honten suffers a bit from holding back on the roast, and while still enjoyable it’s actually quite similar in flavor profile to the Harvest Brew edition of the IPA. Let’s hope they decide to brew a regular version as well so we can see if that will make this an even better beer.