There’s an oxymoron in the world of craft brewing, and fans can experience in two different ways with fresh releases from a pair of breweries in London.
Black IPAs, a style that lays to rest the notion that beers dark in colour are hefty, are back in town at London Brewing and Forked River.
A style that balances roast character with hoppy zing, black IPAs show up often as one-offs and seasonals. That’s an indication that they don’t sell well or that brewers are tinkering with recipes hoping to find a holy grail to get a permanent spot on the brewing calendar.
Still, it’s a big style in some regions. Wisconsin, for example, has several breweries with excellent black IPAs on tap, including New Glarus whose Black Top was the first to win a gold medal when the category was introduced at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
The plow-to-pint uber-local folks at London Brewing re-released Truly Local Black IPA this week. The recipe for this gem sprang from a 2019 homebrewing competition.
The support for local is a huge part of what makes London Brewing tick, and that extends to encouragement of the London Homebrewers Guild during the Truly Local Craft Beer Festival hosted by the brewery, explained Tim Stewart, taproom, retail and events manager.
“Their members used local ingredients — which could include hops, malts, fruit and herbs — to brew up some interesting beers,” Stewart said. “The homebrewers submitted these beers a few months before the festival so the London Brewing team could assess them and select one or two winners. Winning beers were then brewed on our large commercial system for release at the festival.”
With no festival in 2020 due to the pandemic, London Brewing decided to reach back to 2019 and brew the impressive black IPA again, with new batches of more 2019 winners also in the cards. The fresh black IPA batch went on sale in 473-millilitre cans on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, at Forked River, it’s a fresh batch of Black Sheep that’s commanding attention. This batch, dubbed Black Sheep 2.0, continues the collaboration with Lanni Marchant, the Canadian long-distance runner from London.
Black Sheep features a chocolate malt profile with a citrus hop finish. It’s 6.5 per cent alcohol and tallboy cans are $3.50 through the brewery.
I’m surprised, given the popularity of all things hoppy in the craft beer world, that a black IPA instead of a stout wasn’t the style of choice for last year’s Black Is Beautiful campaign involving more than 1,000 breweries around the world.
Maybe it could be for 2021. Who’d be up for that?
SCHOOL’S DELAYED, TURNING 21
The pandemic lockdown in Ontario has prompted postponement of the new Bruniversity at Railway City, but hasn’t dulled the brewers’ pencils.
Bruniversity, the St. Thomas brewery’s clever take on a monthly mug club where insider secrets and first tastings are shared, will have to wait until August to start after Railway City rejected the idea of doing it online. The Bruniversity journey includes topics ranging from how to drink beer (elementary, my dear) to the science of food pairing and beer philosophy. Convocation is now set for June 2022.
Meanwhile, there’s beer to brew. Railway City has 21 seasonals, rotated favourites and one-offs coming to the cooler in 2021. They include Honey Elixir rested in whiskey barrels to be released in late June; Cherry Creamsicale in late July; Mystic, a botanical lager, in April; and Jumbo IPA, which will not be imperial, in September. A former core beer, Witty Traveller, has a return visit in May. For those of you with wit, there are a couple of beer recipes on the Railway City calendar that don’t yet have names: a pine IPA and a winter ale.
NEW AND NOTED
If an IPA that’s black in colour and roasty in favour isn’t your thing, how about a black lager? Great Lakes in Toronto has brought back Black Jack for the first time since 2008. Black Jack nabbed a bronze medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup, but flagging sales caused its demise. Maybe now the world is ready for a lager that pours black and has a “touch of coffee, light chocolate and hint of smoke.” Available at the Great Lakes online store.
Henderson Brewing in Toronto marks pandemic playing of table hockey and the return of NHL hockey with its latest Ides series beer. Power Play is a light, 3.5 per cent lager brewed with rice. It’s a tribute to Torontonian Donald H. Munro Sr., who invented the table hockey game during the Depression.
Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist based in London.