Cascadian Dark Ale: A Rose By Any Other Name

By Matt Van Wyk, Oakshire Brewing

Lately there has been much fuss over a new—or is it old—beer style and what it should be called.  The style I’m referring to is known by three different names; Black IPA, India Black Ale (IBA), or Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA). In short, it is a dark hoppy beer. But in truth, it is so much more. So the questions remain; what do we name it, who made it first, and what defines the style? And, do any of these details even matter?

Many folks want to call it a Black IPA and most in the Republic of Cascadia are using the CDA moniker.  The Brewers Association recognized it as a style for the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, and dubbed it American-style India Black Ale. Well, at Oakshire Brewing, we proudly produce a Cascadian Dark Ale, O’Dark:30, and I’d like to give you some insight on what we, and many others in the Pacific Northwest, are thinking when producing CDAs.

Although it seems that dark and hoppy beers are popping up all across the country, I’m certain they have been made by adventurous craft brewers for years. Many, especially on the east coast, attribute one of the first to the late Greg Noonan of the Vermont Pub and Brewery. Others on the hop-crazed west coast attribute early versions to John Maier of Rogue or Matt Phillips of Phillips Brewing in Victoria, BC. Whoever began weaving dark malts and American hops together should be applauded, but in reality, it doesn’t really matter who made it first. The question is what to do with it now.

In my area of the country, breweries like Widmer Brothers Brewing Company and Deschutes Brewery are making a version of this style. Even medium and small craft breweries like Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, the 2010 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner in American-style India Black Ale category, are getting into the fun. So we owe it to our customers to help define the style.

Oakshire Brewing’s Definition

First, let me tell you what we feel defines the Cascadian Dark Ale style. It’s dark in color of course, with a prominent “Northwest” hop aroma—citrusy, piney and resinous. The body has some sweet malt flavors, with hints of roastiness and toasted malt. The flavors should strike a beautiful balance between citrusy-resinous Northwest hops and, to a lesser degree, roasted, chocolate malt or caramel notes. The finish should be semi-dry, not heavy like a porter or stout. Hop aromas and flavors should be prominent, but the malt balance should not be lost in an onslaught of hops. In other words, when closing your eyes, it should not simply taste like a typical American IPA.

Abe Goldman-Armstrong’s Definition

One of the main, if not the original, proponents of the CDA style is Northwest Brewing News writer Abe Goldman-Armstrong. He has led symposiums and tastings and will be a featured speaker at the Master Brewers Association of the Americas Northwest Fall 2010 conference. Goldman-Armstrong proposes the following guidelines for CDAs:

Specifications:

Original gravity = 1.060 – 1.075 (15-18 ºPlato)

Final gravity = 1.008 – 1.016 (2-4 ºPlato)

Alcohol by volume = 6.0 – 7.75%

Bitterness = 60 – 90 IBU

Color = 40+ SRM

Aroma – Prominent Northwest variety hop aromas—resinous pine, citrus, sweet malt, hints of roast malt, chocolate, can include mild coffee notes, dry hopped character is often present.

Appearance – Deep brown to black with ruby highlights. Head varies from white to tan/khaki.

Flavor – A balance between citrus-like and spicy Northwest hop flavor, bitterness, caramel and roast, chocolate malts. Any roast character should be subdued. Black malt is acceptable at low levels but should not be astringent. Any burnt character is not appropriate. The finish should be dry with caramel malt as a secondary flavor. Diacetyl (buttery off flavor) should not be present. The main emphasis should be on hop flavor.

Mouthfeel – Light to medium, hop bitterness and tannins from roast malts combine to create a dry mouthfeel. Resinous character from high levels of dry hopping may create a tongue coating sensation.

The Brewers Association Definition

The Brewers Association, on the other hand, developed the following for the American-style India Black Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival:

American-style India Black Ale has medium high to high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content, balanced with a medium body. The style is further characterized by a moderate degree of caramel malt character and medium to strong dark roasted malt flavor and aroma. High astringency and high degree of burnt roast malt character should be absent. Fruity, floral and herbal character from hops of all origins may contribute to aroma and flavor.

Specifications:

Original Gravity = 1.056 – 1.075 (14-18.2 ºPlato)

Final Gravity =1.012 – 1.018 (3-4.5 ºPlato)

Alcohol by Volume = 5-6% (6 -7.5%)

Color = 25+ SRM

Bitterness = 50 – 70 IBU

Oakshire’s Conclusion

You can certainly see some similarities in the beer specs and descriptions. The main difference is simply the name of the beer.  That leads to my main  point, the real argument going on across the country: the naming of such a beer style.

Here are the reasons we feel Cascadian Dark Ale (and not black IPA or India Black Ale) should be used as the style name:

  1. Using the term “black” and “pale” in the beer name is awfully confusing to a consumer.
  2. Using the term ‘India” to let the consumer know that it is a hoppy style is expecting a lot of a novice craft beer drinker and this style of beer does not have the same “British sailing to their colonies in India” history as the IPAs do.
  3. It does not taste just like an IPA.
  4. Asking for an IBA or and IDA in a noisy bar or restaurant sounds too much like IPA and could cause confusion. CDA is a better bar call.
  5. Much of the ingredients for a CDA should be sourced from the Cascadian region.
  6. Many early pioneers of the style hailed from the Cascadian Region.

At Oakshire Brewing, we’re not looking to revolutionize the craft brewing world. We just have a beer that we’d like to refer to in a different way, a way that makes sense to us and to many Northwest Craft Brewers. Will the rest of the country follow our lead? Probably not, but if you come to Eugene Oregon in the spring, you are bound to try a Cascadian Dark Ale and we can debate the style name until The Publican sweeps us out the door. But remember, the beer itself is always much more important than what we call it. A rose by any other name would be as sweet…


Mattvanwyck3Matt Van Wyk is the brewmaster at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon. Oakshire is a small and growing production brewery selling beer, in both draft and bottles, throughout the state of Oregon. Founded in 1996 by brothers Jeff and Chris Althouse, Oakshire plans to produce 3,600 barrels of beer in 2010 on their 15 barrel brewhouse. Matt previously brewed in Illinois, most recently at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery, where he earned the Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. O’Dark:30, a Cascadian Dark Ale is the brewery’s spring Seasonal.