Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Deschutes Hop in the Dark

From the nothing’s sacred Pacific Northwest comes a whole new beer style: Cascadian Dark Ale. Welcome to the curious place where the velvet dark of roasted malt meets the hop snap of IPA. Cheers.” –Deschutes Brewery

For a while now, the Northwest has been abuzz about a new beer style that the local advocates call Cascadian Dark Ale. Named for the Cascade mountains of Oregon, the beer style is essentially a black IPA.

Beer styles never stay confined to one region for long, so I offer a few thoughts about probably the most widely available example: Hop in the Dark from Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Ore.

Deschutes is arguably among the very best breweries in the nation. It complements an accomplished line of session beers such as Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter with innovative releases like The Abyss imperial stout and The Dissident, a Flanders-style brown ale.

Deschutes recently released Hop in the Dark in 22-ounce bomber bottles as part of its Bond Street series. I purchased my bottle in Denver, but Deschutes does distribute in Durango, so it should be on the shelves here soon if it isn’t already.

Hop in the Dark pours a deep black with a modest tan foam head. The beer style presents an immediate quandary: do you drink it immediately after pouring, as you would with an IPA, or let it sit for a few minutes to draw out the dark malt flavor?

I don’t know if that question has a correct answer, but I chose to start drinking with little delay alongside a dinner of homemade macaroni and cheese (not the boxed stuff).

The ale’s first taste contributes dark malt flavors of coffee and chocolate. The hop sharpness comes later, but soon cedes to a clean, malty aftertaste. Hop in the Dark does not carry the lingering, bitter aftertaste typical of IPAs.

Hop in the Dark comes in at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume and 70 IBUs.It is a somewhat hefty beer, but the malt nicely counters the hop bitterness.

Most beer geeks seem to agree that Cascadian Dark Ale (or whatever one wants to call it) is indeed a new beer style, but I was struck by how… familiar … it seemed. Dark malt, hop kick: Yeah, I can handle that.

Hop in the Dark was brewed with oats, dark, Munich and crystal malts, along with Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops.

It isn’t so dramatically different from imperial porter, although hoppier and not reaching the high alcohol content typical of that style.

Deschutes says its brewers made 22 test batches of Hop in the Dark before they were satisfied. It shows. Hop in the Dark is well-executed and nicely balanced.

Hop in the Dark is not stunningly exotic, but it’s a nice change of pace. It tastes good. And at about $5 per bomber bottle, it’s a reasonable value.

Add one more worthy ale to Deschutes’ quiver. B

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